Humor can often be considered a less-threatening vehicle for discussing serious topics, as many will no doubt be familiar when watching an array of stand-up comedians or watching your fave sit-com. It’s certainly the tactic also taken by a number of comedy writers and authors, who have found great success with this route.
One such author is Scaachi Koul, who is also a culture writer and editor at Buzzfeed in Canada. Through her work and her social media presence, she is a bold and fierce feminist voice who has naturally copped a lot of online hatred (sadly this seems to be the norm for outspoken feminists online) but refuses to apologize for her stance.
She recently released a book called ‘One Day We Will All be Dead And None Of This Will Matter’ which is a collection of 10 essays touching on issues such as race, rape culture, online misogyny, and some personal stories about growing up as the child of Indian immigrant parents. In a recent interview with NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Scaachi talks about balancing the more lighthearted aspects of her book with the serious topics, and how a trip to India enabled her to confront privilege and identity in a whole new way.
“In North America, I have a very specific understanding of how my race affects me as I move through the world. I am a visibly brown person, and that can sometimes not work in my favor. And then when I went to India, I realized that I had this very specific kind of fair skin privilege. And it was such a strange split. It felt like I was kind of being pulled into two pieces,” she said.
In the book, she documents this dichotomy in an essay called “Fair and Lovely”, which also refers to the infamous skin whitening cream that has been sold in India.
“I have never been this white anywhere in the world. I’ve never had the most obvious, most useful kind of privilege as soon as I’ve walked into a room. This, though, is maybe what it’s like to be white,” she says in the book.
“I’m not white, no, but I’m just close enough that I could be, and just far enough that you know I’m not. I can check off a diversity box for you and I don’t make you nervous – at least not on the surface. I’m the whole package!” also part of the Fair and Lovely essay.
She tells NPR this taught her how whiteness is something that is universally admired, and how interesting it was to go from being treated as a brown woman in Canada, to a “fair” person in India.
“People talk to you very differently when you’re fair in India. When we went to shops, there was the sort of understanding that we had money, whether or not it was true. My family even speaks to me very differently there. Because I’m fairer, I get a lot of affection from them because – oh, I’m so fair skinned, and they touch my skin a lot. And there’s a part in the book where my aunt asks me if she can use my foundation because it’ll make her look whiter,” she said.
One of the most confronting essays is titled “Hunting Season”, expounding on the toxic culture of rape that can be found in such everyday social settings as a bar.
“Hunting Season came from – I was out drinking with some of my friends. And I had a lot to drink, and I started noticing how men were looking at me versus the people I was with – all of them were men. These guys that I didn’t know were sort of looking at me like food,” she told NPR.
In the essay, she digs deep into why it is important to pay attention to seemingly harmless social triggers that allow rape culture to thrive.
“People describe rape as an unfortunate accident, two drunk bodies colliding: it’s more about miscommunication than intentionally ignoring a lack of consent, or actively seeking a body and mind that can’t say no. But rape culture doesn’t flourish by error; it’s a methodical operation so ingrained in our public consciousness that we don’t even notice when it’s happening, and we rarely call it our even when we do see it,” she writes.
Scaachi also writes about being drugged twice while at a bar, but tells NPR she has learned this is not the only thing to be wary of on a night out.
“I realized that there is this incredible culture around men watching women – and watching women to see if they’re drunk enough to take home or to manipulate. And that is so complicated to contend with because alcohol is such a big part of our social lives and such a big part of how we meet new people,” she said.
“Men watch women in a way we’ve long since normalized. It’s normal for men to watch you when you enter a bar, to watch what you’re drinking, what you’re doing, in an attempt to get closer to you […] Men watch women at the gym, at work, on the subway: in any space occupied by men and women, the women are being watched,” she writes in the book.
And of course, given her experience with online misogyny (she has been on the receiving end of rape threats), she dedicates an essay to this issue, titled “Mute”, a word that many women with an online presence are familiar with, constantly being silenced and shamed by bullies and trolls for daring to speak their mind.
“I would try to make a joke about it because it is sort of intrinsically funny ’cause it’s so stupid. But there was a period about two years ago when it got much louder than my sense of humor was able to sort of accommodate,” she said, recalling an incident where a person emailed her with an elaborate and sadistic fantasy of her getting pregnant and giving birth to a still-born baby.
“I remember thinking, like, I don’t find this funny, and I don’t want to play. And I think it can be really hard to say to yourself, I don’t want to engage with this. It’s not funny. It’s not cute, and I don’t want to play with it in a way that feels public. I had a really hard time saying that to myself because I felt like that was losing,” she told NPR.
There have been numerous women who speak up about the way certain platforms, especially Twitter, don’t do enough to regulate harassment and take reported threats seriously. Scaachi is no stranger to this process either.
“I think Twitter is a great example of a company that does not care. It’s taken them 10 years to even begin to start talking about what to do about harassment…And instead of actually fixing it, they just sort of find these other routes to dealing with it… I can see this in when I report tweets, how they treat it because so many times they come back to me and they’re like, this doesn’t violate our terms of services because they didn’t say that they want you to kill yourself. They just say, if you did, it would be nice,” she said.
Of course today’s most notorious Twitter bully is none other than the US President, who has continually used his personal account to tweet sexist and dehumanizing comments about women and minorities especially, not to mention the plethora of factually-incorrect political statements.
Scaachi’s book is a must-read especially for women of color who understand what it is like to exist in a world where simply showing up in public, unapologetically, can be a political statement. You can buy ‘One Day We Will All be Dead And None Of This Will Matter’ from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.