Stance | Why I won’t be a part of #CurryScentedBitch as a Desi

Words and .gif by Darsha Indrajith

CN: Racism, islamophobia, homophobia

Azealia Banks has a history of using homophobic slurs. Earlier in May, she tweeted a homophobic slur and a few racist remarks at Zayn Malik after accusing him of copying her ideas in one of his music videos.

One of the more creative, and hilarious if it wasn’t so offensive, remarks she made towards Zayn was a “curry scented bitch”

The South Asian diaspora, sometimes self-referentially called Desi’s, and others started using the hashtag #CurryScentedBitch on Twitter, with photos of themselves as a way of “reclaiming” the slur and calling out Banks’ racism.

It doesn’t seem like an offensive campaign, but it’s also not a campaign that I, as someone of South Asian heritage, can support.

“The energy employed by Desis in opposing Banks’ comments is not evident in opposing racism, white supremacy, misogyny and homophobia.”

Firstly, Banks as the focal point of the campaign is one of the aspects I take issue with. Yes, Banks’ use of those slurs was wrong — but her use of derogatory words invoking degrading ideas/stereotypes is not the same as structural racism and the systemic and systematic ways in which people of colour are discriminated against. The force of the #CurryScentedBitch campaign and the number of Desis that supported it are not in my experience, and particularly in my experiences of South African Indian communities, reflected in anti-racist activism.

In fact, anti-black racism/anti-blackness (directed at Banks) has been a feature of the campaign as well as in my experience, South African Indian communities. This insistence to not identify with black as a political category was evident in MIA’s misunderstanding of the Black Lives Matter movement, and is evident every time one of my family members refers to my “black friends” or tells me not to spend too much time outside because I’ll “get dark”.

The energy employed by Desis in opposing Banks’ comments is not evident in opposing racism, white supremacy, misogyny and homophobia. It’s also pretty revealing that the #CurryScentedBitch campaign focused on the racial slurs but largely ignored the homophobic slur Banks used, and has used in the past (and attempted to defend quite poorly).

The anger and shock at Banks’ use of racial and homophobic slurs isn’t inappropriate, but it fails to take account of the societies and power structures that we, as people of colour, find ourselves in.

The mere act of being a person of colour who exists in a world that is structured against you should provide enough perspective. So, part of the problem I had with the #CurryScentedBitch campaign was that it failed to take into account the context. It was directed at Banks rather than at white supremacy and anti-blackness and ended up being used as a tool for anti-blackness. It failed to take into account that the slur #CurryScentedBitch is a product of white supremacy.

This is also why I don’t think the slur can be reclaimed. For me, it isn’t a reclamation because the power dynamics don’t exist in the same way that they exist when, for example, feminists reclaim the word “cunt”. #CurryScentedBitch is not being reclaimed in the context of white supremacy, but is being reclaimed in the context of this single incident involving Banks and Malik.

“In fact, anti-black racism/anti-blackness (directed at Banks) has been a feature of the campaign as well as in my experience, South African Indian communities.”

Twitter’s suspension of Banks’ account is a further example of how white supremacist patriarchy operates, even online. While racist, misogynistic content is reported, social media sites are hesitant to take content down or suspend accounts. In the case of a black woman using racial and homophobic slurs, however, Twitter was pretty swift to suspend her account. While her prominence as a celebrity is probably a factor, it doesn’t remove the context or justify Twitter’s inability and unwillingness to do the same to racist, misogynistic trolls.

As a brown person of South Asian lineage in a society that values and normalises whiteness, I’ve been made fun of for eating with my hands, for having turmeric-stained fingers and for the way my food smells and looks. But, these experiences aren’t the ones that the #CurryScentedBitch campaign is calling out.

It’s not calling out or rejecting the normativity of whiteness and white supremacy in our societies, nor does it critique the assimilation and aspiration to such whiteness in many South Asian diasporic communities. So, I refuse to be part of this “reclamation”.

This piece was originally published in Edition 9 of Ja. magazine.