On Mississippi Masala and Being Seen

Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.

I don’t remember when I first learned about the idea of “model minorities,” but when I was younger, it seemed like a good thing that people would assume I was smart, high achieving, and loyal to my family. My first thought was always “Look, there we are!” when I saw brown people on TV, even if it was another nerdy engineer, a store clerk, or another tiny genius winning the National Spelling Bee. But as I got older, I realized I was mistaking visibility for representation, and ignoring the fact that most of the images of South Asians that I saw in pop culture were stereotypical and sometimes racist.

As the visibility of South Asians has increased in American pop culture, and as more Indians immigrate to the U.S., there are still very few depictions of South Asians that are complex in their treatment of South Asian cultures and the issues that surround immigration and integration in the United States. Most pop culture depictions of South Asians in the U.S. uphold many aspects of the model minority myth that stereotypes South Asians (and, more generally, Asians) as meek, high-achieving, nerdy, and, in the case of South Asian women, sexually submissive. In the past fifty years, South Asian immigration to the United States has increased significantly, and in 2013, Indians were the second-highest number of immigrants to the country. Despite the fact that more South Asians come to the U.S. every year, and despite their increasing visibility in American popular culture and politics, they are often ignored in discussions of diversity and racism in America. When Asians are represented using model minority stereotypes, a hierarchy is created between acceptable and “unacceptable” people of color, with whiteness at the top of the ladder, and blackness at the bottom. As Rachel Kuo points out, the model minority myth divides immigrant groups and people of color along racial and color lines, which in turn upholds white supremacy. She writes: “To accept any positive stereotype about the model minority myth is to also comply with a racist system that favors and privileges whiteness—and that is something that not only harms other people of color, it hurts members in our own communities.” 

It’s rare to find pop culture products that confront issues of racism within communities of color, especially when immigration is thrown into the mix. Mira Nair’s 1992 film Mississippi Masala acknowledges the diverse and complicated experiences of people who move to the U.S. and the inter-cultural racism that they deal with and perpetuate upon arrival.

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Body Politics: A Trip to the Gym

Would you like to hear a really awkward gym story? Okay.

Once upon a time a lady named Njeri (#womanofcolor, #blackgirlmagic) diligently made her way to the gym, set on re-inaugurating herself back into hot yoga. She has some anxiety. She has some thighs, too (no shame). Even though she used to regularly practice heated vinyasa at her local studio a year or so back, at the back of her mind she imagines arriving at the new studio and finding a gang of lithe and Lululemon-clad yoga warriors judging her for the type of milk she doesn’t actually drink.

She reminds herself that that is silly, that this is her gym (THESE-ARE-MY-THINGS.mp3), and that she will use all the resources she wants because they are also hers and she pays for them. And when that type of logical reasoning doesn’t work, and those yoga warriors actually show up in all their pricey spandex and ponytails looking like money, she has a litany of other arrows to slay the body anxiety and self-judgement monsters: “people are paying more attention to themselves than to you,” “worry is constructing a reality that you’re not interested in,” “get into your body, get out of your mind,” etc., etc. She says a prayer, pulls on encouraging scripture, recalls some half-digested inspirational sayings from Pinterest, and throws on the spandex.

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A Letter From Chris Kimball

Previously: If you can swallow an oyster, you can swallow a man’s heart

Each issue of Cook’s Illustrated begins with a folksy letter with news from down on the old Vermont farm by founder and editor-in-chief Chris Kimball. These charming, old-timey updates remind us all of a slower, simpler way of life, where neighbors stop to swap plowing tips out by the trading post and run when they see Old Henry coming. Who’s Old Henry? Why, what a question, stranger. Old Henry knows who you are. That much is certain. Old Henry knows who you are just fine.

The Toast has received an advance copy of Mr. Kimball’s most recent letter, which we are proud to publish in full here.

There’s some work hands weren’t meant for. What kind of work that is, I don’t believe you home cooks ought to know. Keep them busy kneading dough, and pitting stone fruits, and soothing a chicken before wringing its neck; keep your hands doing their own work so they can’t find any other, that’s the key, friends.

If you hear a sound at your door that isn’t a knock and isn’t a hello, you ought to turn right around and leave what you’re doing – leave the sauce on the stove, leave the fire on the hob, leave the iron in the grate – and put yourself in the sewing-closet, door locked tight like a heartbeat, until the sound passes. But if you were to go to your door, which no true Vermonter would do, you would see a shape that wasn’t a dog and wasn’t quite something that wasn’t a dog, neither. And you’d have to follow it.

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We Don’t Hang Out Much Since the Apocalypse

Hello? My name is Naomi Brattner.  I’m using the last of my walkie-talkie’s battery life to reach out to my best friend in the whole world, Jenn. Hey, lady, if you’re out there and can hear this, I just want to know, are you avoiding me? Or are you so busy dealing with the nuclear disaster that scorched our planet and extinguished most of humankind that you can’t return my broadcasts? You have a lot going on. I get it. But still, why don’t we ever hang out anymore?

Ever since the collapse of civilization, I feel like you haven’t made an effort to fit me into your life, Jenn. A life that, sure, now mostly consists of acid blizzards and roving cannibal camps. But in the midst of your never-ending daily fight for survival, maybe you could spare a few minutes for your BFF, Naomi? A person can only hear “Maybe next time” or “Sorry, I have to find food and shelter” so many times before they start to take it personally. I know the world has been plunged into a darkness and despair so deep it can only be described as post-nuclear fallout meets the scary parts I used to fast-forward through on Walking Dead, but I miss your face, girlfriend! I would kill for some quality time. (I am not exaggerating. I’ve killed for bottled water.)

It’s just been FOREVER since we last talked. Not that I can really measure time very well, what with the earth still being shrouded in layers of smoke and ash like some doomsday napoleon. The only way to distinguish days now are by Ashy, Sooty, Charred, Permanent Midnight, and Volcanic. But let’s catch up soon! We can gab over cans of government-rationed corn and I can tell you how hard this apocalypse has been for me.

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World of Wonder: Aye-Aye

Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s previous World of Wonder columns for The Butter can be found here.

This week gives us a little tough dear from the island of Madagascar. I say tough because zoologists thought it was extinct back in 1937, due in part to the unfortunate folklore surrounding these little guys. Legend has it that the aye-aye were/are harbingers of death, and if you saw one, you were supposed to kill it on the spot. But sure enough, after regrouping and laying low (or in their case, laying waaay high in their spherical nests, way up in the tree crowns of forests), the aye-aye were found again in 1957 — and they are still doing their best to shed their “endangered” status.

The Daubentonia madagascariensis is not actually a rodent, though I know it’s tempting to call it one if you’re just looking at the crazy-long bottom teeth and the squirrel-pouf of a tail. The aye-aye is actually the largest nocturnal primate in the world at about five pounds and just a little over a foot long. Think of the aye-aye as a very, very specialized form of lemur. And like the lemur, the aye-aye has a surprisingly solid vertical jump as it moves from tree to tree, searching for its favorite dinner: fruit, insects, and various fungi.

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Two Medieval Monks Invent Writing

words

MONK #2: i think youre ready to move on to something a little trickier this time
reading and writing

MONK #1: oh wow

MONK #2: the really important thing to remember about writing is that you dont use any words
ever
just blank pages in careful order

MONK #1: oh wow i had no idea

MONK #2: i know
thats what i’m here for haha

writing2

MONK #2: same goes for reading

MONK #1: right right

MONK #2: so be sure not to put any words inside the edges
just more edges

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Great House Therapy: Jay Gatsby’s Desperately Sad McMansion of Unfulfilled Dreams

Previously in this series: Great House Therapy: Elizabeth & Darcy’s Neither Formal Nor Falsely Adorned Pad of Privilege

This post is generously sponsored by Kaia Dekker, who has been working on creating a comfortable, beautiful keyboard that you can learn more about here.

Name: Jay Gatsby (not his real name), former bootlegger turned fantasist turned dead man floating in a pool
Location: West Egg, New York; less fashionable than East Egg, though this is a mostly superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them
Size: Perfect for huge parties on summer nights
Years lived in: Not long enough to really matter; owned but mortgaged to the hilt

When Jay Gatsby was house-hunting, he tried to imagine the area as an old island that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes, but he didn’t really know much about the Dutch. A recent New York transplant from God-knows-where, he needed the perfect house to approach a new phase in his life.

What he found was a one-billion-square-foot man cave with Marie Antoinette music-rooms, Restoration salons, gold bathrooms, and a charming coastal location. This not insignificant real estate investment was motivated by his desire to be close to Daisy, the love interest of his youth and wife of sadistic Yale graduate and noted racist Tom Buchanan. It was important for him to have an excellent vantage point on the Buchanans’ cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial on the other side of the bay.

He also wanted a house where he could entertain – just in case Daisy decided to leave her gilded cage and show up at one of his lavish and emotionally bankrupt events. The mansion’s cavernous marble foyer proved an excellent space for welcoming anonymous revelers, and the open-plan kitchen was ideal for a catering staff charged with preparing two dinners per guest. Sometimes his guests got into fights with one another and drove drunk, but that was all just part of the fun of the Roaring Twenties.

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