Queer South Asian spoken word artivist duo DARK MATTER had the Anabel Taylor chapel snapping on Monday night. The Sun caught up with them after the show for a conversation on white supremacy, Hinduism and queer politics, both inside and outside the Ivory Tower.
The Sun: It seems you’re trying to instigate a culture shift among South Asian Diaspora communities. What shift? And how?
Janani Bala: Part of it is reclaiming the histories of struggles that we’ve already had, and undoing, unlearning, a lot of these assimilatory strategies that we’ve learned by moving to the West, and feeling that the models of success that we had to build were constructed along the lines of whiteness. We talk about anti-blackness and other forms of racism that take place in South Asian communities, because racism is an easy way to mark yourself as assimilated, and as aligned with the actions of white supremacy.
Sun: That’s fucked up.
J.B.: Yeah, it’s really fucked up. It’s white supremacy. It’s really fucked up.
It’s a lot about reclamation, about relearning the histories that have already been taught to us, but with the perspective of mobilizing our people. We were talking about how, once you have news about something in the family, everybody knows all of a sudden. And what if you applied that to a political mobilization model? Our people already know how to communicate very rapidly, intensely, and intimately with each other. Now use that to dismantle capitalism! It’s possible. It’s a process of unlearning, relearning, producing hybrid models for ourselves that need to be modern, politicized, and also deeply rooted in culture. Not in India, as this exotic object thing, but India, as this site of struggle and anti-colonial resistance.
Sun: How can students at elite universities authentically take part in anti-racist, anti-colonial struggle?
Alok Vaid-Menon: I think the first step is recognizing that you have almost unlimited access to capital, in terms of funding. So you can host events like this, or seminars, or talks, where you can bring people from outside of the community, and you can fund a lot of people who are doing great social movement organizing outside. Bring in people from working class N.G.O.’s, or artists and community leaders, who could really benefit from finance from the institution.
Second, consciousness raising among the elite members of society. Students should graduate from these universities understanding that it’s not just a position for them to be successful, but that they also have a moral responsibility to give back. That can make a big difference.
Third is really just spending time outside of the university, and not thinking that all of your knowledge can come from the books you’re reading. You need to have much more applied experiences, and not allow the university to make you distanced from the reality of the situation of most people.
Sun: Is there useful radical work happening in the university? Will the next generation of radicals go to college, or will they operate more effectively and in a more revolutionary way by not enrolling?
A.V.: There’s already a generation of radicals that aren’t in the university, but they’re not called radicals. The very project of identifying as a radical is already a class project. The truly radical people are those who are able to maintain and exist in the conditions of incredible capitalism. So workers, laborers, janitors, who are finding ways to maintain their culture and persevere in the face of these systems, to me are already radical.
But if we’re talking about middle class radicals, I think people are beginning to doubt the efficacy of the university, as a place to actually do revolutionary politics, because the university system co-opts radical activism and makes it just another thing that you can learn. I think middle class radicals are increasingly going to try to explore avenues outside of the university system.
J.B.: My hope is that the university system can be dismantled, so that we can start to think about knowledge production and sharing as a collective process that doesn’t happen on the backs of the unwaged laborers, or the people who are in social movements, or are surviving.
Sun: Tell me about your experience of Hinduism.
J.B.: What I’m trying to do through my art and my art as political work is to advance the ways that Hinduism and the Global South already have of expressing and articulating queerness, not understood in the Western sense. It’s really colonization and its imposition of a Victorian moral system that introduces sodomy laws and the policing of gender sexuality, in this intense, Western, Victorian way.
I was given all these Hindu narratives as a young person growing up in a Hindu household, but there was always this silence around the sexuality that was hinted at in those narratives, and was actually really intense and seething throughout them. My attempt at getting at characters like Kali is not necessarily to say, oh, Kali’s a femme. I’m not trying to apply Western frameworks to them, but basically trying to get from the narratives that I grew up learning a sense of how to build a new old kind of hybrid queerness that is locating and launching from my position as a diasporic South Asian with religious roots in Hinduism.
Original Author: Tom Moore