who I am today, why I started Brown Girl Lifted & where I hope this project will take us


I AM SITTING IN MY ONE-BEDROOM APARTMENT, I’ll-let-you-guess-which half-naked, reeling from the day’s events.

Today was one of my rare days off . Working three writing-and-editing-based freelance jobs, two restaurant jobs, and two to three “careers I am building that don’t pay much,” makes for busy days off. I am playing catch-up — planning for a concert, writing jokes, and finally, finally, giving my intersectional feminism blog/zine the attention it deserves.

I am damn awake; my eyes are stuck open by the ever-penetrating glue of stimulant drugs, while a cough hides in my closed throat. Alas, somewhere between my eighth and tenth cup of coffee, I unwittingly eschewed the possibility of ever getting sleep again, ever.

But I am feeling triumphant, because the idea that I’ve had tucked inside my shirt since April is finally growing its digital roots.


I AM STARTING BROWN GIRL LIFTED, a blog about intersectional feminism, because I’m tired of the bullshit. I want to believe in the digital world we live in; I want to plant my digital roots, and then stand back and watch as my ideas grow beyond me, and out of my control.

I want plain, but compelling, talk.

I want open hearts and minds.


DIGITAL ROOTS ARE FLIMSY as the “collective we” has learned from the cacophony of pixelated walls and feeds we engage with, and just as easily, dispose of, all through the day — and night, if we’re cursed enough to bring that blue light too close to our faces in the wake of the setting sun.

I’ve been taking a break from inputting my thoughts into this machine, which so often becomes a void. Rather than writing anything down, I’ve been trying a new thing, where I talk to people about my ideas. They always seem to be much more willing receptacles of my sometimes-true, anxiety-inducing, ever-dynamic head-fillers (thoughts) anyway.


I AM SICK of explaining myself via disposable mediums, where the IDEAS, STORIES, STRUGGLES, TRIUMPHS, and DEEPEST TRAGEDIES of friends, of peers, of fellow humans, and of future change-makers, are billed below such hard-hitting news as:

“POP CULTURE ICON’S AUDACIOUS NIP SLIP TOPPED ONLY BY HER HORRIBLE PERSONALITY, #FREETHENIPPLE ACTIVISTS TAKE TO TWITTER”

&

“MAN MAKES UTERUS-LEVEL DECISION FOR GROUP OF FEMALE-BODIED PERSONS HE HAS NEVER SUCCESSFULLY CONVERSED WITH AT A PARTY, OR OTHERWISE”

&

“PHOTO LEAK: CELEBRITY LOOKS LIKE YOU THOUGHT SHE PROBABLY WOULD, UNDER CLOTHES”

&

“PEOPLE DON’T SEEM TO REALLY CARE ABOUT MALALA” 😦


 — JOKES ASIDE —

It was through the sessions, workshops, projects and rants I had in the presence of some dear friends, who also happen to be badass intersectional feminists who write well and have sass that jumps off the page and with whom I’m probably utterly and completely obssessed to the point of creepiness…. that I realized the craving for a space — where the stories of people living at the intersection get equal play with those in the mainstream — was real.

I am sustained by these exchanges of ideas. There are big people with small ideas, small people with big ideas, and medium people with medium ideas.

[Brown Girl Lifted is for my friends.] 

OVER THE YEARS, I’ve found it easier to stick with with certain kinds of people.

These weren’t the people whose personality types matched mine the most, or who shared my ever-vacillating belief in God or even my political leanings.

They were people who afforded me respect. They were people who valued stories. They were people who celebrated my triumphs, but also confronted me with my failures. They were people who recognized that I could be many things at once — that I could want to explode my guts all over an audience full of people one second, and hide red-faced behind my mother, the next.

They gave a damn, and they admitted it, despite social pressures.

They lifted up their own voices, but also turned to their friends, and asked, “Didn’t you have something to say about that?”

They listened without judgment, before making a decision.

They didn’t make me feel like I was lacking something.

They are people who have cared enough to share pieces of themselves, and to graciously accept pieces of me in return.

They are people, who have respect for all human beings, not only those from whom they want something, or with whose points of view they agree.

I hope that people who encompass these qualities can find understanding, comfort and entertainment in this project.


“BROWN GIRL SEEKS SOLIDARITY IN A DIGITAL WORLD” 

I WANT TO USE MY efforts, talents and social networks to amplify voices that don’t get enough air-time, to find friends, and to work together with other activists to write about and unpack issues of identity, power, privilege and oppression.

Why “Brown Girl Lifted?”

Why not something more inclusive, like “Life at the Intersection?”

Dammit, if only I hadn’t gotten so attached to the name “Brown Girl Lifted.” The decision to call the blog “Brown Girl Lifted” was an emotional one — but I am prepared to defend it.

1.It’s historic. 

The idea for this blog came to me while preparing for the 2015 Madison, Wisconsin production of Yoni ki Baat, originally envisioned as a South Asian vagina monologues. On the UW-Madison campus, the production took on a different identity under the direction of Leema John and Nita Sharma, with advisement from other group members and after much discussion with the program’s founder, Ayeshah Emon.

In our show, we chose not to focus wholly on the vagina (because womanhood is about more than our bodies), but on the experience of femaleness and brownness, whatever that meant to us. We did our best to welcome folks on the female gender spectrum of intersecting identities, and ended up with a mix of performers — women of different “brown” skintones.

Brown is beautiful. YKB 2015. Photo from the camera of L.John.

I prefer to think of “brownness” as an inclusive term, encapsulating various shades of non-white identity.

While writing monologues, we also found within our community a safe space. We thought of ourselves as beautiful brown women — a union of women facing the world together, fighting in solidarity with each other. We didn’t pretend to understand each others’ experiences, but we recognized our commonalities. We wrote monologues that touched on colonialism; religion; the clash between parental expectations and our lived existence; the experience of feeling that you are between two different identities; the decision to love yourself in spite of a world that is teaching you to disappear; the reconciliation of your own feminism with that of mainstream feminism — or not; masturbation; queerness; gender norms; and abortion.

5 of the 2014 Yoni Ki Baat performers, and stage manager

I thought— wow, this group of people has really taught me about myself. Talking with them has really strengthened my understanding of the world, and deepened my empathy for other groups of people, whose identities are also intersectional.

We wrote drafts that we never used. We told ourselves we’d publish them one day on the Internet.

When audience members came up to me at the end of the 2015 production of Yoni ki Baat, they said that our stories were powerful and beautiful. They said they wanted to read them again or play back the evening on a videotape.

2. This is a blog for intersectional feminists. For the same reason, we call feminism “femin”-ism, I want to call this blog Brown Girl Lifted.

It’s not because I don’t want other people to be lifted. It’s because I don’t want us to lose sight of the ever-present need to lift up brown women in our society. When I say women and girls, I mean anyone who has/wants to have/has had or sometimes feels they belong in, a female body. When I say lifted, I mean advancement toward goal-achievement, toward a better world, toward a future sans oppression or inconvenience on the sole basis of identity.

Even though there are definitely people I want this blog to serve who are not in fact any version of a brown woman — say you are trans, and/or differently abled, homeless, and/or genderqueer. Please realize that I want to align my cause with yours, without that being stated in name.

Please give me the benefit of the doubt on this one. Names are hard. It is hard to sound both specific and inclusive at the same time. I am hoping the name grows beyond its constituent parts, and just starts being what we call the blog, like “table” or “Slate.com” or “How I Met Your Mother.”

Assertion: IF your feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s not feminism.

Intersectional feminism means that we take into account the various forms of oppression when considering and combatting the oppression of women. This includes oppression against men! This includes oppression against trans men. This includes championing the acceptance of LGB people. This includes recognizing that non-white communities might have nuanced reactions to queerness, or different ideas of what feminism should look like, and that all of these phenomena cannot be divorced from their cultural context — that this context is not always the white-washed context we see in sitcoms and in films. This includes recognizing the need for reform to better the lives of certain underserved or marginalized groups of people in our society.

“Brown Girl Lifted” seeks to be a celebration of the layered movement that is intersectional feminism — the delicious cake of solidarity that feeds us all.

Sometimes, you just gotta be true to your rat-self. (image from Tumblr)

I want to amplify the voices of all those devoted to the cause of intersectional feminism — those who live in the nuances, along the margins and in the intersections of our society.

But like, who does that even mean? 

This includes, non-white folks, female-identified folks, folks whose sexual preferences, gender identity or physical body is under threat/often misunderstood, folks who believe that #blacklivesmatter and that little brown girls matter, that the livelihood & education of brown women is a priority. I want to hear your stories. 

Allies will be really important here, too. Allies who believe that different bodies and non-normative types of expression have a right to exist, and that their voices are worth hearing.

People who believe that citizenship should not be governed by your wealth or your creed or the color of your skin or your ability to move like everyone else does. People who are woke as fuck, and don’t know where to put all their creative energy.

BGL will accept submissions at browngirllifted@gmail.com:

narratives

rants

poetry

musings

comics

multimedia


Aarushi Agni (@sunrisefire) freelances for Simpson Street Free Press and The Madison Times. She is the lead singer of the Madison-based folk band, Tin Can Diamonds, and also gives solo, acoustic performances. She is also an actress and comedian. She recently founded the intersectional, feminist blog, “Brown Girl Lifted.

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