Bad Brown Aunties is a podcast by two artists, social justice advocates, queer South Asians, and long term friends Thanushka Yakupitiyage and Rage Kidvai. The pair interview prominent people of color, queer, and trans folk from within their New York community about identity, art, culture, and social justice with an emphasis on the “aunties” and elders who influenced and paved the way for their creative and cultural output. The first episode, available on June 10, features British-born musician and DJ Adam Bainbridge, aka Kindness, who is of South Asian descent via South Africa.
Kajal caught up with Thanu, a Sri Lankan media professional, activist, cultural organizer, and DJ, and Rage, a Muslim Pakistani public defender, visual artist, and hair stylist, to discuss the aunties that made them, and more.
What was the impetus behind this podcast?
Thanu: We wanted to do a podcast that was political while being fun and light; we’re both believers in the idea that the revolution can be joyful! We also wanted to uplift the amazing people in our communities of color, and pay tribute to the people who’ve come before us and paved the way for our liberation and creative endeavors.
“Aunties” can sometimes have negative connotations in South Asian culture – meddling, gossiping, not always accepting of queer and trans relatives, for example – how does Bad Brown Aunties challenge, reshape, and expand those common tropes?
Rage: One of the main points of Bad Brown Aunties is to rethink and reframe “aunties” in empowering terms: as people who challenge patriarchy and are essential to culture and community. Our life experiences and this process have showed us that tropes about aunties being vacuous and vicious are intimately connected to oppression. Also, to us, “aunties” aren’t necessarily cis-women; they span gender identities, pave the way for others, understand caring for others is a political act, bring down barriers, are witty, creative, silly, and snarky, and won’t take shit. We’re hoping this podcast encourages people to contend with why we are fixated on the negative connotations of aunties.
Was there anything in particular that made you interested in learning more about the elders and aunties that influenced these people?
Thanu: For the first season, we wanted to highlight folks we are personally connected to in our New York communities. We picked guests who span different kinds of creative and political work: actors, musicians, writers, poets, activists, visual artists, entrepreneurs and more. In every episode, as we learn more about our guest, we ask them to think about the aunties and elders who have influenced and made it possible for them to do what they do. We hope that being self-reflective encourages empowerment, and a culture of honoring and crediting those who have made our own liberation possible, especially people whose legacies we don’t value to the extent we should.
Who have been the most influential aunties and elders in your lives?
Rage: Oh good question. We’ve been asking this question to our guests, but this a good way to flip it back on us!
Thanu: I come from a lineage of teachers; Sri Lankan women of Sinhala descent, some of whom never married, and my mother who herself was divorced. I saw how these women were shunned by their communities or looked down upon, abused by men, and yet kept their heads high, were extremely independent and self-sufficient, and despite the snobbery of their so-called peers, they taught young people in their communities. I find them to be the most influential.
Rage: I love my auntie role models so much because it was truly a gift to be raised by a community that completely redefined auntiehood! My mother and her crew founded the feminist movement in Pakistan in the 80s, and they were fearless, unapologetic, and constantly pushing social norms despite pretty intense backlash. Many of these aunties were also actors/dancers/poets/musicians/artists who really showed me the value of art in resistance and the importance of solidarity while fighting the patriarchy in an intersectional way.
What kind of aunties do you each hope to be?
Rage: My non-podcast life entails fighting within the criminal legal system and holding prosecutors accountable, all with the goal of prison abolition. I want to attempt to follow in the footsteps of all the badass abolitionist aunties who have come before me, while committing to building community and caring for each other fearlessly.
Thanu: I plan to be that badass auntie DJ and artist who is still throwing gigs at age 60+ and calling out bullshit in the most outrageous and unapologetic of looks.
Follow Bad Brown Aunties on instagram, twitter, and facebook @badbrownaunties and check out the trailer here.