In conversation with Kaneeka Kapur – Representation for South Asian women
Hear from Kaneeka and her thoughts on the representation of South Asian women, ahead of her TEDxWarwick talk – “Representation gives us hope: If they can do it, so can we.”
Please note: This interview has been edited for increased clarity and readability. Kaneeka’s views are still fully represented.
What has been your key inspiration in preparing for your talk?
My talk is about representation, so I guess my key inspiration is my experiences. This talk is intimately connected to my experience as a British Indian woman, so I guess nothing has specifically inspired me, rather it was me coming to terms with what I have gone through, reflecting over the last 22 years of my life, and how growing up here has made me feel. When I was asked to give this TEDx talk, it was almost obvious that this is the thing that I’m most passionate about; opening up about this specific experience and hoping that other people like me can connect to it too.
You’ve mentioned that representation is the topic of your talk. In today’s society, what does “representation” look like to you? Do you think our idea and understanding of what representation is has evolved over time?
In my talk, I talk about how Gen-Z is the generation of change and I think that can be applied to everything, including representation. This means that representation and how we understand it has evolved over time. When our parents were growing up as immigrants in this country (or whichever country they were in)/and elsewhere, their version of representation was, well, firstly they didn’t know what that meant. They didn’t see a reality that included themselves (in that country), so they probably weren’t even looking for representation. However, when they did it was very much a case of having a brown person, having a single person who looked like them in a TV show. Even if they were perpetuating stereotypes, it was about the visual importance of seeing someone who looked like them, giving them that place in British society.
But how I see it, and how I think the people of our generation look at it now, is that our parents have gone through that struggle of alienation and survivalism of having to fit in and adapt. However, we have the wiggle room and bandwidth to fight for a bit more and to ask for a little bit more. What we view representation as, or rather what I view it as, is letting people show up authentically as their true selves and not making people from marginalised communities, or any groups, to be forced into a stereotype for laughs of production value. Representation means allowing people to be their most authentic selves – on the screen, in industry spaces, wherever it may be – and letting their expertise, experience and knowledge shine, instead of that one characteristic that implies them as other.
What role do you think social media has nowadays in terms of activism and representation?
A great one. We are the first generation to grow up entirely with social media, so we understand the idea of connection, connectivity, and community very differently to our parents. In fact, with Pardesi it takes a minute for people of our parents’ generation to understand exactly what I do. They don’t understand social media as a place for connections as well as we do. Social media revolutionises how we see representation in good ways and bad ways. Firstly, it allows us to show up as our most authentic selves online. I can choose how I present myself and I can be whoever I want to be. Anyone consuming my media will see me as how I want them to see me, rather than them watching something on TV and then using that influence to perceive me. Therefore, social media is revolutionary in that way. It allows people of colour, who I’d argue are really pushing the boat out when it comes to representation, to show up and be themselves, giving you their context and stories on their own terms. Without social media, they’d probably never be able to do that.
You talked about your site Pardesi, which has a variety of content. What prompted you to create this as a hub and community for South Asian women?
What triggered the creation of Pardesi was me reflecting upon my experience and realising that I felt very disconnected from my South Asian identity in my everyday life. I wasn’t being Kaneeka as a South Asian woman every day. This was due to a lack of representation of South Asian women in mainstream spaces, so I didn’t even know what it meant to be South Asian every single day of my life, and how that would look transitioning to my career as a lawyer etc. That reflection that I went through during COVID led to me realising that I can’t be the only person experiencing this, and I knew for a fact that I wasn’t through talking to my friends who were having very similar identity crises as we like to call it. I decided to use the privilege that I have, with my family being very supportive and accepting, to create this space that I never had growing up. So, I suppose the origin story is my disconnection from being South Asian and how I wanted to feel more South Asian. I therefore created a space for South Asian women around the world to connect to each other. I’d say there is such a variety of content because there is nothing else like this, there is no other space that exists for South Asian women to express themselves, share their opinions and engage in traditionally not talked about conversations such as relationships, sex, love, and careers. We’re used to keeping these things under the table, yet our generation is much more passionate about having such conversations. There’s an intersection of us being Gen Z and wanting to talk about these things, but also being South Asian and having a slightly different approach. This didn’t exist, for women especially.
That’s why Pardesi is essentially a lifestyle community and platform, and we encourage any kind of participation however people feel comfortable. With a great variety of content, it becomes such a hub.
I think Pardesi does an excellent job at focusing on empowering South Asian women and creating that community. How do you and your team approach intersectionality when creating content and deciding what to put up?
That’s a very valid question and one that you’re constantly challenged with when you’re building any kind of platform that claims to be representative of a certain demographic. Intersectionality is something that I have to address all the time and is so important to. The way we do address it is firstly by having a team that is a huge cross-section of different identities, from sexual orientations to national backgrounds and different ethnicities and religions. We try to make it as representative as possible of the non-homogenous nature of South Asian women. In terms of how we make each piece of content intersectional, we never try to talk for a group that we don’t belong to. So, I will never create content around being Muslim or being part of the LGBTQ+ community, as in doing that I am silencing them and creating oppressive content that may not represent them authentically. We approach intersectionality by creating accessibility to Pardesi, so that people from all intersections of life can access the ability to create content in their own words. That’s why our ethos is to let people tell their own experiences and stories. We don’t try and talk for people or about things that we will never be able to relate to, we’re allowing others to do that for themselves.
You were speaking earlier about your own background and inspiration for creating Pardesi, which was to raise awareness and amplify the voices of minorities. If you could give advice to anyone in a similar position to yourself, what would you say?
The advice that I would give is to firstly, go for it 100%. There is space for everyone to create representation for their people and there’s never going to be a saturation of people like me in social media. Secondly, I’d say to understand that this kind of work and community building, especially from marginalised groups, takes an emotional toll and does become an emotional burden, as you are essentially a minority within your minority trying to fight for change. That can become very difficult. You need to understand that if you want to build a community, that’s great, but you also need to build a community of support for yourself.
There’s this idea that we will not be liberated until we are all liberated, and that as an ideology, is underpinned by the idea that collaboration is how people succeed. Ultimately my advice is that it’s through collaboration, creating your own support network and your own community building that you will actually be able to achieve change for other people as well, and not to take it completely upon yourself because of the emotional burden that this can cause.
Transcribed and edited by Lauren Walker.
The views and opinions presented in this interview belong to Kaneeka Kapur — not Lauren Walker, nor TEDxWarwick.
If you have any questions concerning the interview, and opinions expressed, do feel free to comment in the comments section, or email email@example.com.