“Come for the Beyoncé, Stay for the Feminism”: An Evening with Samhita Mukhopadhyay

When a brown person comes to talk at my school, it’s kind of a big deal. So when I saw that Samhita Mukhopadhyay of former Feministing fame was coming to give a lecture, I was excited to say the least. Picture this: I go to a private women’s liberal arts college south of the Mason-Dixie line. We are composed of some dope ass chicks, some dope folks who don’t identify within the binary, and some freaky horse girls who like to marginalize their existence. With that being said, let’s put everything in perspective. Whenever one of the clubs I’m involved with invites prominent or emerging people of color to speak or perform, or we have an event not catered to a white, heteronormative, perspective, don’t count on a large, diverse crowd. Actually–don’t count on attracting a crowd, not to mention a diverse one. Count on the same couple brown students who organized the event to eagerly wait in attendance, and some few white friends who can always be counted on to show some solidarity.

So it’s Samhita Day, and I just got finished running fevers and swallowing snot, only being able to attend her night lecture instead of also participating in an intimate Q and A session and eating dinner with her and the President of my school. She walks into the auditorium, and I notice from my seat in the third row that we have the same coat which is obviously a good sign–not only is this woman brilliant, but she knows how to dress! Scanning the full auditorium, she approaches the podium after being introduced by our President, and I’m glad Samhita was able to speak to a full house and not just a sparse group of brown girls.

The lecture is called Beyoncé vs. Miley: Race, Gender and The Media, and I can’t help but to worry that most have come just to hear about Miley Cyrus, their patron saint of parties and cultural appropriation, or to receive extra credit for a Gender, Women’s Studies Class. But as Samhita begins, you can almost feel the audience all start to warm up to her presence. The lecture opens with the idea that we, the general public, tend to internalize messages portrayed by the media. This is all too true for some of us– I know my anti-Blackness phase came from not being able to see people who looked and acted like me in most of the media I consumed. According to Samhita’s logic, this is a result of feeding into the ”Virtuous Cycle of Crap.”

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Effortlessly, Samhita is able to touch upon heavy hitting topics affecting many of our lives with such an ease and reliability that allowed for everyone in the audience to understand what she was exposing. This is a hard thing to do, to express necessary yet tough concepts and have everyone nodding their heads in agreement. It’s at this moment, I feel really inspired to get on her level of awesome.

She pauses, takes a sip of water in a wine glass (how fitting) and jumps back into talking of the perpetuation of rape culture, and instances like the Trayvon Martin case and the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. A lot of the girls at my school never want to acknowledge things like this–I’m glad Samhita did.

Then we get to hear a little more about her: a brown girl growing up in New York, dipping her toes into the guitars and lipstick of Riot Grrl only to find out her skin wasn’t represented by this particular movement. In college she lulled herself to sleep with hip hop beats that satisfied her craving to hear narratives not expressed by the mainstream media and to hear music that didn’t shy away from race discussions, but felt unsupported by sexism in mainstream male rap. It’s hard for a WOC to find a place where she belongs completely when everywhere has its drawbacks for us since we suffer both the brunt of racism and sexism. As Samhita reminded us, “Let’s be real, feminism isn’t exactly flowing out of our faucets.”

After involving herself within the Women’s Studies department, baby Samhita found herself being “written into history,” into existence, with the help of WOC womynists/feminists and authors. In 2004, she worked on Feministing, with Jessica Valenti in order to provide the opportunity for young people to feel empowered by their own media, rather than discouraged because they were underrepresented. She goes on to emphasize the importance of blogging as it helps to “raise awareness,” “gives [bloggers] the opportunity to reframe the way stories are told,” and it “reminds us that we are not alone.”

She ends the lecture talking about how Beyoncé and that self-titled new album helped her find herself, whereas Miley just continued to appropriate and sexualize Black culture, reinforcing the idea to the public that that’s an OK thing to do. Then she opened up the discussion to us for a Q and A session where we talked more about the importance of representation, of the differences of White feminism, sexuality and intersectional feminism, and Drake (“I get it, he’s super sensitive– times were tough at Degrassi”) vs. Kanye.

At times, it’s often tough not to feel alone within a community that is so ready to dismiss the problems of a WOC, unconsciously. I’m not sure if Samhita is aware of this, but her presence at our campus was more than appreciated–it was necessary.

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