Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Raj and His White Girlfriends

I recently came across this Buzzfeed video about why Asian men aren't considered attractive by Western society:

Don't be fooled by the provocative thumbnail. The video is actually filmed in an discussion format, with fully dressed men talking about some serious issues of race and discrimination. I would suggest you watch the video, but if you decide not to, here's the summary - four representatives of the Asian community voice their concerns about Asian men being emasculated, infantilized and disrespected by Western media, perpetuating the myth that Asian men are unattractive. Of course, there are male Asian celebrities who are considered very attractive, but it feels unfair to name genetically-blessed celebrities in this argument because there's always going to be some attractive people in every community, but if that community has negative stereotypes associated with it, these people will be considered the exception. Also, the discussion is about average guys of all races. I mean, think about it. Nobody says, "White men are so not attractive," with someone replying, "That's not true. Just look at Tom Cruise." In fact, the reply will most likely come in the form of collective raised eyebrows doubting the naysayer's sanity. Lastly, it is important to understand that even though this may feel like a trivial concern at first glance, the impression you form of someone based on their race is, at the end of the day, a manifestation of racial discrimination, and is likely to seep into other, more important matters. For example, Americans are less likely to accept an Asian president as they are often portrayed and perceived as less "manly" than their counterparts in other races, and people would think they're better suited for Silicon Valley than the White House.

I agree with most of the things they say in the video. To be honest, it riled me up.

But then I started thinking about it more, and there was something disturbing happening here, in my opinion.

On of the most famous Asian characters in recent times is Raj Koothrapalli. For a second here I'll ignore the ridiculous surname. When I was in high school, some of my friends picked up on how Raj got the fewest lines because he couldn't talk in front of women (which is just taking a stereotype too far), and is the only character to not have a long-term girlfriend even in the eleventh season. He's portrayed as having feminine characters, and there's nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that Hollywood reserves these roles for gay and Asian men. So, yeah, there's a lot of things that are wrong with how Raj has been characterized, and it's all pretty racist.

There's one thing that always bothered me, though, and I am sorry to say that I have, in fact, noticed this characteristic in a lot of Asian men.

Still from an episode in which Raj invites all his ex-girlfriends to talk while Howard takes notes

While Raj may not be very attractive to most white women he encounters, the real issue here is that Raj himself seems to only want to date white women. He's at a university. You could find hundreds of Asian women at most good universities in America, women who wouldn't look at his Asian-ness as a negative. He probably didn't go mute around all the girls back home, right? Is it just a nervous tic for attractive women, which in this case seems to imply mostly white women? I often feel infuriated by the way Raj talks about his life back in India, as if coming to America was all that matters, as if his education prior to the part he is pursuing in America was worthless (even though that education gets thousands of Asians to prestigous universities around the world every year). I will openly admit that I actually kind of hate Raj as a character, which is why I find it difficult to sympathize with him.

It's not just Raj. While Asian women have been historically sexualized and commodified by white men, Asian men have also been guilty of idolizing white women as the pinnacle of beauty and sophistication. This is especially true in Indian men. Indian society values "white" features (straight noses, high cheekbones, and most importantly, fair skin), and a lot of men are fascinated by white women, placing them higher than Indian women in terms of attractiveness. One might argue with me on this in the comments, but the sales of fairness creams and magazine covers featuring Indian actresses who've used plastic surgery to eliminate the Indian-ness of their features will speak in my defense.

Why is it that members of Asian media suddenly seem to mean more when they succeed in Hollywood? More importantly, do you think any white men would really care if Asian women didn't find them attractive?

At some point, I stop to question : Are we fighting for representation, or are we begging for approval from a politically more powerful and represented community, hoping that we'll be let into their elite club?

What we need is a thorough acceptance of our Asian-ness and the creation of a culture that caters to us. A community doesn't become powerful by seeking approval. It does so by sticking together, with the members building each other up instead of striving for ideals set by a different community. In order for people to see the attractiveness in us, we must first see the attractivenes in ourselves, and do so without changing our accents or the way we dress or how we naturally look.

And FYI, I'd be lucky to be able to date a lot of Asian men. But also, somebody like Raj Koothrapalli would need to be born again as a different person to be able to date an Asian woman like me, and I'm not even bragging here.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Some Shows I'm Currently Loving

It's the summer before I move abroad, the lull period before the next phase of my life. WIth very little to do and few obligations to fulfill, I've retreated to television land. Here are some shows I've been enjoying.

1. Finding Carter

A sixteen-year-old girl finds out that the woman who raised her is not her mother, but is, in fact, her kidnapper. Her real family, the one she was taken from at the age of three, lives just two hours away. Talk about an elevator pitch! I can't imagine hearing that premise in those two neat lines and not watching the show. But the best part is that the show goes beyond its premise, and delves into the lives of all its characters. Special shoutout to Maxlor, which is my name for the Taylor-Max ship, and I'm going to write Finding Carter fanfic soon. Too bad the show got canceled, which seems to be a going concern for a lot of great shows.

2. Bunheads

I read about Bunheads in Rainbow Rowell's Landline, in which the MC is an aspiring Amy Sherman-Palladino. I loved Gilmore Girls, but the revival left me a little disappointed, which is why I was skeptical about Bunhead. But guess what? I fell in love with Bunheads, more than Gilmore Girls, and I fell in love with Michelle more than Lorelai (sorry, Lorelai!). It inspired me so much that I started looking for ballet classes in the State College area, and even started writing a few short stories about ballet. Sherman-Palladino is definitely lucky with her leading ladies, and Boo, Ginny, Sasha and Mel were the friends I wished I had in high school. It has some spectacular dance routines and the small town charm that Gilmore Girls had, too. I just wish they'd given more time to mourning Hubbel, and to developing Mel. This show got canceled, too, with a lot left to explore. But Netflix gave us the Gilmore Girls revival, and so, I'm keeping my fingers crossed and hoping the same will be done for Bunheads.

3. Switched at Birth

This show is an 'issues' show, and there's never a time when it's not dealing with some serious problems teenagers and young adults face. But the thing is, it doesn;t feel like an issues show, which was my problem with another hit Freeform show, The Fosters. Also, a huge chunk of it is filmed in ASL, and it serves as bridge between the deaf and the hearing. I loved the alternative route Bay takes to become an artist, and Daphne's aspirations to become a doctor, and also that the show didn't end with neat happily ever afters. It felt like the journey would go on, and the sisters that were switched at birth would always be together.

4. Younger

I forty-year-old woman pretends to be a twenty-six-year old to land a job in the ageist publishing industry. That's another great elevator pitch, and a fresh new take on ageism. Sutton Foster (previously on Bunheads)  completely sells the idea that she's in her mid-twenties, and I guess if someone didn't know the story, they'd have no reason to suspect otherwise. Our favorite early 2000s star Hilary duff (of Lizzie McGuire fame) plays the best friend/co-worker. I know a lot of it will look down upon a show that's reminiscent of SATC, but the reality is, that this is a show about women, for women, and that doesn't make a show frivolous.

I'll be on the lookout for more shows to watch, but I really hope I don't come across more great shows that, in my opinion, got cancelled before their time. It really says a lot about how quality of entertainment has very little to do with its life span.

Are there any shows you like that got canceled? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, May 1, 2017

When Businesses Became Start Ups

These days, everyone wants a startup of their own.

Okay, so maybe that's too generalized. Not everyone wants a startup of their own. But a lot of millennials do.

Before further discussion, this is how Wikipedia defines startups:

startup company (startup or start-up) is an entrepreneurial venture which is typically a newly emerged, fast-growing business that aims to meet a marketplace need by developing or offering an innovative product, process or service. A startup is usually a company such as a small business, a partnership or an organization designed to rapidly develop a scalable business model.

Now, I don't mind start-ups, even though I don't have the inclination or ability to start one. My problem is with the fact that today, startups are being presented to us a solution to all our problems. In an age when all things Internet are the definition of cool and a generation whose heroes are Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, startups have become the generational dream. You just start a business on the Internet, code like a boss to set up the site, and suddenly you're the next big thing and maybe you're helping people and decreasing unemployment. Startups peddle the hipster-y image in which offices are relaxed, bosses are cool and hey, every day is casual Saturday. It's hip, it's cool, it's fun and it makes money. Startups feel like the next big thing that's pull us out of....I don't even know what, and a lot of people are buying into this dream.

It's time I tell you why I have a problem with this startup craze and bear with me here while I, a non-economist and non-sociologist, explain why the 'startup dream' is problematic. I guess that clarifies that I have an issue with the startup dream and not the basic idea of startups, or even the great startups that went on to make a difference in my life.

A few months ago, I met an old friend after having no contact with her for 8 years. During all the catching up conversations we kept running into the 'what are you planning to do with your life' topic. I explained to her that even though I haven't thought too seriously about it, having a small architecture firm of my own would be nice. She looked at me and said, "So,,,like a startup?" And I didn't know why she needed to bring the term into a discussion about good old fashioned architecture firm. Is that the term one would use for a new law firm or a medical practice? I am guessing not. So I assumed that the problem with her understanding lay either in her idea of a startup or her limited knowledge of service-providers and businesses that have been operating for decades in this world without the need for a special name.

See, I believe that we've been led to believe that startups are something new and different when in reality, they entrepreneurial ventures just like all the entrepreneurial ventures that came before. The basic idea is still to do business, right? B-U-S-I-N-E-S-S with a capital B. But that's not how startups are being presented to us. Instead, they are being presented to us as an alternative lifestyle, an alternative to cold hard business sometimes. Startups are more commonly associated with the tech space. From the outside, it looks like startups are all about coming up with creative concepts and coding and changing lives, but it's also about balance sheets and profit margins and customer acquisition costs and marketing budgets. But how many people actually think about all that while dreaming up their next-big-thing internet startup? How many times do the Gates' and Zuckerbergs and Musks of the world lay off on the all the philosophical speeches and talk about this aspect of their work?

Another problem with people' interpretation of a startup is that the term has become associated with youth, which means that everyone is in a hurry to start. In my observation what that has done is that it has limited people's ability to actually come up with ideas that will help people when implemented on the suggested platform. Any invention or business is about innovation. A semester of classes in Entrepreneurship has taught me that any kind of entrepreneurial activity is all about innovation. But the key to innovation is to observe the needs and difficulties of people around us, and coming up with a solution that can be implemented to reach and be accepted by a reasonably large target market. This can't happen if you've already decided to go the startup route or have had that dream for a long time, before coming up with an innovative idea. What that does is cause people to develop a cool product or idea, and then try to find a market for it, which (apart from a few exceptional case) is the backwards way of going about it. A lot of people take a few personal experiences and work on a startup around those experiences, without thinking about all the stakeholders.

If you're thinking about a startup, or have already started one. have you thought about the following things:

1. Who will be your direct competitors?
2. Who are all the stakeholders?
3. What is the target market?
4. Who could potentially be your investors?
5. Do you have any competitive advantages?
6. How big is the gap in the market that you are aspiring to fill?

Have you honestly answered these questions yet? Without cheating on the answers to convince yourself that your startup will work? If yes, good. You're probably on the right track. If no, think about these questions, be brutally honest while answering them and if you can't find the answers maybe you have a little bit more work to or maybe you don't like the business aspect of things, in which case you'll at the very least need a strategic partner who really is thinking about financial success.

Let's not ignore the fact that startups, more often than not, fail. It's a fact that can evade us is we're too focused on the success stories, but it's the most important fact to keep in mind. You can't let 'startup' be the keyword of your dream plan and then feel like a failure if it doesn't work out.

So that's my take on the startup craze. But I sincerely do hope that if 's your dream, I hope it works out, and a startup ends up being everything you thought it would be. If there are any stories you'd like to share, the comments section is open...

Monday, April 17, 2017

A Very Important, Very Open Letter To Grown Ups With Cell Phones

Dear Grown Ups,

If you're in the plus-40 age group you've probabaly looked at a teenager or young adult, rolled your eyes, and made a comment about 'today's generation'. You've probably also complained about how attached we are to our cell phones, and how we never look up from those screens, and how we have no appreciation for life outside of the virtual world.

Look, I'm a balanced person. I'm not a tech addict in the sense that you mean. I'm barely on social media and to me, the web and all the electronic gadgets which serve as its channels are merely creative and educational tools sometimes used for entertainment. (TBH, as an architecture student, entertainment is working on drawing on AutoCAD while a movie plays in the background or in a much smaller window). I don't count likes, I don't know what people are posting. I'm just a girl who uses technology because she is belong to her generation and has adapted to the world around her. I have a life outside of the web as well, but I often use my phone or laptop to support it. I exercise regularly and use Youtube for guidance and fitness, I read articles about topics that appeal to me, I discover movies and books from all over the world, and to me, my phone and laptop are tools that help me access so much more.

Recently, I asked one of my professors for a recommendation. He was busy and therefore couldn't get right back to me. A few weeks later, I texted him, saying I need the recommendation ASAP. And then, I went out with some friends for three hours. Just three hours.

Unfortunately, my professor called during those two hours. He called me thrice, with a gap of say ten minutes between calls. I missed these calls and called him back 3 hours later, when I was back home. His response was cold. I'll paraphrase what he said- How dare you not pick up my phone when I called? How dare you call back three hours later?

A similar incident happened a year ago. A friend of mine didn't have cell service for a while. His mother started calling his friends to check up on him and I didn't realize it because I was busy doing some very important paperwork at my university. When I called her back, she barely deigned to speak to me till I explained the entire situation to her like I had committed a huge crime.

Grown ups, go back to the time when you were our age. There were no cell phones back then. People managed. It wasn't just cell phones that were absent, it was also the expectation to be heard whenever we had something to say. You didn't expect to call someone at one o' clock in the afternoon and pick up just like that. We were mindful of the right time to call. And we respected that other people, no matter young or old, have their own schedules they need to attend to before catering to us.

I don't spend every waking minute with my phone. In some ways you'd agree that's a good thing. But not when I miss your call or am late in texting you back. How does that make sense? Am I supposed to keep an eye on my phone when I am at a social gathering? When I am walking across a busy intersection? When I'm studying? When I'm charging my phone?

I guess what I am trying to say is that no matter how accessible people become through technology, there will always be boundaries. There will always be the disappointment of calling someone only to have it ring on for a minute. It's nothing to take personally. If they call you back, they're not ignoring you or disrespecting you. They're probably just busy. I think the whole point of being connected through cell phones and all its services is that it enables us to schedule points in time when both parties are free. That's the way life gets easier.

SO next time you call up a kid and they don't answer back right away, don't mind so much. They're busy not being slaves to technology, just like you told them to be.

Yours sincerely,
A 23-year old normal person

P.S.: If they don't call you back, you have every right to mind. Hey, these youngsters can't just get away with everything, okay?

Thursday, February 16, 2017

We Are Not Special

I saw this TED talk today: 

In the beginning of her talk, Mariana talks about how, when she was a kid, she was bullied at her summer camp in Minnesota, America. Well, maybe 'bullied' isn't the right word. It's just that the other kids seemed to think she was different with a capital-D, and this difference not only made her stand out, but it also gave the other kids the right to have an opinion about her background and her accent. She had come from a land far, far away, at least in the eyes of the other summer campers, and to them, laughing at Mariana's broken English wasn't mean. It was the natural reaction.

It reminded me of my childhood. I am a Bengali girl who grew up in New Delhi, which doesn't sound very exotic in today's expatriate riddled world. But the thing is, that in my five- to thirteen-year old eyes, I was different. I was the kid who was having just a little bit more difficulty learning Hindi than all the other kids, especially when it came to learning the elementary school Hindi slang. My family didn't eat the same things everyone else's did, they didn't have the same folklore and anecdotes to share, my cousins lived far away. It was all small, harmless, but they were differences. Most of the time I had no issues with being different. We were prabashi Bangalis, Bengalis who live outside of West Bengal. But like the movie Piku, it's very true that you can take a Bengali out of Bengal but you can't take the Bengal out of the Bengali. We lived with one foot in our home state, and one foot in the state our address categorized as our home. 

There are a lot of Bengalis living in New Delhi. In fact, these days, in our cosmopolitan world, moving away to another state is the norm. But believe me when I say that it didn't feel like that to me back in the day. Most of my classmates were north Indians. There families belonged to Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, sometimes Rajasthan. There was one or two other Bengali and South Indians kids I knew, but we were clearly in the minority.

And we knew this because there were lots of times when my friends would ask me to speak Bengali for them like it was some kind of party trick. They commented on my diet, about how it must have only consisted of fish and sweets. Anything in my tiffin box that they couldn't instantly recognize was labeled Bengali dish. Some of the relatively meaner went ahead and told me that Kolkata (capital of West Bengal) was the dirtiest, most uncivilized place in the world. They talked about how I belonged to a place less developed than the city my parents had decided to move to, and to them, I would always be the outsider. These incidents were not an everyday occurence, but they happened often enough, I didn't understand it at the time, because India, by definition, is full of diversity. Every state is different, so how could it be that my origins were perceived as unusual, while my classmates were the norm?

I slowly came to realize that for a lot of kids in my school in Delhi, speaking Hindi at home was normal. Normal. A word tied so tightly to the word accepted. To them, what they were was the right cultural background, and everything else was alien. To  them, being North Indian was the default, and in this case, default is a strange word.

Maybe it didn't get to me, but a lot of my friends were affected by being singled out because of their 'different' cultural background. As adolescents, they all but abandoned their cultural heritage. They claimed not to know their own language, refused to speak anything but Hindi and English, downplayed their own festivals and traditions. They wanted to be cool, and being cool meant assimilating. Yes. It is possible to have to assimilate in your own country.

Then I went to Mumbai, and for a while, things seemed better. Seemed. My friends had their origins in many different states in India. But it soon became clear to me that the same perceptions existed, just in a different way. One day, my best friend overheard me talking to my mother in Bengali. We were on the phone, and I placed my hand on the receiver as I mumbled in Bengali a reply to some question my mother had asked. When I returned to my conversation with my best friend, she was evidently perturbed. She asked me what I had said to my mother, and at first seemed offended that I had chosen to speak a language she didn't speak. Then, it felt as if she was just uncomfortable. One part of my life that was different from hers didn't sit right with her, and she needed a few minutes to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't default.

Finally, I came to Kolkata for college. Yes, people here believe Bengali is the best language to have ever existed. And North Indians here seem to be a separate community, with its invisible walls separating it from the Bengali community. The North Indians maintain their culture, are never ashamed it. Yes, they learn our language, but not at the cost of slowly, over the course of one or two generations, forgetting their own. Perhaps I am biased. Since I'm in a city where my roots lie anyways, I can't feel the pressure of being different. But this is my observation, and I hope you bear with me on this one.

Sometimes I wonder if Hindi speaking states believe themselves to be the default, the ones that define normalcy. To them everything else is marginalized. As mean and judgmental as I sound, I think this is nobody's fault. How did my Bengali friends in Kolkata learn to speak Hindi? By watching Bollywood movies and Hindi television shows. That was mainstream entertainment. The kind of entertainment our grandparents liked could be found on the Regional Entertainment section of the set top box menu. Anything other than Hindi was 'regional'. Culturally, it feels a lot like being marginalized.

If you're having difficulty understanding this, consider this analogy. When you go to a bookstore like Starmark or Crossword, you'll note that Indian authors have a separate category for themselves in their own country. There work isn't just mystery or thriller or humor, it's characteristically defined as Indian, as if Indian is a genre and books written be international authors are the default. Tell me that doesn't seem strange to you.

What I'm talking about here is that no matter how diverse our country is, how much we know that we're all different and that's a good thing, we are still unable to break out of the convention of segregating cultures to mainstream and marginalized. It's engrained in us, and its what we pass on to our children. It serves to tell us that maybe bigotry is in all of us, in different degrees, and even if you don't publicly demean large groups of people, there's a chance you still haven't reached that stage where you can look at a person and see differences as the normal course of being. Now, like any under-researched blogger who is too under qualified to have a book deal, I don't really have a solution to this problem. Maybe a certain section will always be mainstream and all others just...enough to widen someone's eyes. But I do want to point out the situation as a problem till we're all so assimilated to whatever is the norm that there are no differences anymore, not even the differences that we celebrate.