Being an Activist of Color on Social Media: An Interview With Nainika Agrawal

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In a largely westernized view of world affairs, the term ‘feminism’ has been battered and bruised, with people picking and choosing what benefits them while ignoring and erasing the struggles of minorities. Your feminism isn’t feminism until it is intersectional. With increasing discussions and debates about the term feminism, a lot of activist Instagram accounts are doing their best to reach out to the masses and educate and inform them. These accounts, just like every other feminist, have to face their fair share of hatred and trolling from a large part of the Instagram community.

Sometimes, apart from being a feminist account, being a POC or a part of the LGBTQ community also invites an insanely high number of trolls. A lot of accounts struggle with stereotypes regarding their language and knowledge. In this interview with Nainika Agrawal, @badassfeminist on Instagram, she talks about what it is like being an activist of color on Instagram, dealing with trolls and how people mistake her to be from America.

Tell us how @badassbrownfeminist came about?

I had been following feminist accounts like @/feministastic and @/d.esifeminist from my personal Instagram for a few months, and always felt very interested and inspired by them. I had been toying with the idea of starting my own activist account for a few months by January 2017 because I felt that my personal Facebook, the only platform where I shared feminist posts and thoughts, was too restrictive because it only allowed me to reach a few hundred people I already knew. But I was afraid that no one would follow me, so I was reluctant to start an Instagram. But then I finally started it one day when I was bored because I was like “what the heck, it’s worth a try, my favourite accounts probably started from scratch too.”

There is no denying that Feminism in media is extensively Westernised. Did this phenomenon act as an obstacle on the way to the growth of your account?

A lot of my content is about global affairs and general feminist concerns, so no, I wouldn’t say that has impeded the growth of my account. It does, however, bring me a lot of comments that assume I’m American, and that everything I post about centres around Americans. Also, I’ve often received scornful comments and messages telling me that feminism isn’t required because women have equal rights, from people whose gaze is completely focused on first world countries, and not the numerous third world nations where the state of women’s rights is still abysmal.

I’ve been following you for a while now and although your account is primarily aimed at South Asia, you never neglect matters of significance that are not South Asian. Does that invite ignorance?

It absolutely does. Whenever I’ve used my account to convey thoughts such as my disdain and outrage towards Donald Trump’s racism and misogyny, many American trolls have told me to shut up when they realized I’m Indian, because they feel I’ve got no right to comment on their affairs. That’s frankly the most ignorant and hilarious thing ever because on one hand they feel that the US is the center of the world and that everyone should look up to it, but on the other hand, they feel no one else is allowed to comment on their government.

How has your degree in Mass Media and your current education in Law helped you in gaining a rather descriptive view of world affairs?

I would say that my education definitely opened my eyes in the sense that it taught me to stop believing everything that was told to me and to start questioning everything more. This shift in attitude led me to examine our society and the way it brainwashes people about everything from gender roles to heteronormativity.

India, at its worst, can be ignorant. Feminism viewed as a disease and posts about the LGBTQ community lead to people tagging their friends in the comments sections with snickers and shocked emojis. How difficult has it been for you to encounter such people online and in real life who either pretend to respect your opinion whilst simultaneously dismissing it or shrug your opinions off instead of educating themselves?

For every open-minded, woke person I meet, I’d say I meet five people who are what you just described.

For starters, I’d like to mention how the term “feminist” is very misunderstood in India. Instead of a person who believes in gender and racial equality, most people here (men and women alike) seem to think it means a man-hating troll who is offended by everything.

This causes most people—primarily men—online (for example, in the comment sections of public Facebook posts made by pages like Scoopwhoop*) to shrug off my opinion or even viciously cuss me out.

In real life, people are a little more receptive, or at least they act that way. At the very least, they’re not rude and dismissive, because I guess that it’s socially acceptable, right? Most people usually at least hear me out, which is more than I can say for a majority of people on the internet.

You talked about how a lot of people assume that you are from America. Do you there is an underlying sense of prejudice that leads people to suppose so?

Yes, there definitely is. I think this assumption from Americans primarily has to do with two things:

a) The self-centredness of America as a nation in terms of world affairs. Most Americans are incapable of seeing past their own country, and so they assume anyone who speaks substance online is American.

b) The misconceptions in the West of what South Asia is like. Instead of realizing that we’re pretty darn modernized and live similar lives to them, most Americans think that Indians are village bumpkins who can’t speak proper English (even though India has the second largest English-speaking population after the States) and live without technology. So the idea of an Indian being an activist on Instagram simply doesn’t even strike a lot of them!

You also mentioned how people often fail to acknowledge the dissimilarities in prejudice faced in South Asia and western countries. They end up making a case that this isn’t the case in their country, without realizing that you never really talked about it. Does that happen often?

It definitely does! In the 3-odd months I’ve been running @badassbrownfeminist, it’s happened at least 10 times that I talk about an issue faced by women or minorities in India and other third world nations, and an American jumps down my throat, outright telling me that I’m incorrect or making stuff up because they automatically assume that I’m talking about the U.S., even though I never said that.

8. In your view, would you differentiate them as white feminists- feminists who are white and ‘white feminists’- feminists who fail to address the oppressed?

Most people (white women, in particular) who hear the term “white feminist” being used derisively in the Instagram activist community instantly get offended by it because they think that feminists of colour are criticising all white women who are feminists.

But that’s not the case.

“White feminism” specifically refers to a brand of feminism that only caters to cisgender, straight white women, and erases the oppression and struggles of women of colour and minorities. So, obviously, not every feminist who’s white is a “white feminist”.

I do wish that we had a less general, more specific term to define this brand of feminism, to avoid confusions and misunderstandings.

Nainika Agrawal is a 23-year-old intersectional feminist from Mumbai, India.  She has a bachelor’s degree in Mass Media and Journalism and is currently studying Law. You can follow her on Instagram @badassbrownfeminist.




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