Sarah Thankam Mathews
January 16, 2020
In the wee croaky hours of December 29, 2019, after nearly four weeks of raging political protest in India, chef and media powerhouse Padma Lakshmi tweeted. Using the then-trending 2020 slogan meme format, she wrote: 2020: STOP SAYING “CHAI TEA.” (This particular crack had been a popular exasperated call to white people. Chai and tea mean the exact same thing, bhai saab, just like naan and bread.)
Poor Padma Lakshmi, who likely just wanted to get in on the meme of the moment. Instead, she was descended upon by thousands of Twitter users furious that she’d stayed silent while the Indian government had revoked Kashmiri rights, passed the wildly discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), shut down the Internet to quell dissent, and had its police forces brutalize and detain thousands. “Love how you’re cool milking your roots for your brand but lending actual public support is beyond you,” one follower tweeted. Another shot back using the original meme format. 2020: USE YOUR PLATFORM TO SPEAK UP ABOUT STATE-SPONSORED VIOLENCE.
Like India itself, the landscape of brown influencers in the West is multitudinous. You have outright celebrities like Priyanka Chopra, Padma Lakshmi, Deepika Padukone, Jameela Jamil, and Lilly Singh. You have politics-focused Twitter accounts with immense followings, some of whom churn out sharp and cogent analysis, and some of whom remain, resolutely, naan bread warriors. On Instagram, there exists a small but vibrant underculture of desi punks, musicians, and visual artists, like Diaspoura and Kohinoorgasm, who, of all these groups, tend to be th