Creators of the boldly named cultural blog, Two Brown Girls, best friends and professional duo, Aaminah and Seetal, have used the booming digital era to address the contemporary issue of an underdeveloped cultural space: “Seetal and I met at university, which is a very experimental time,” Aaminah told us. Along with the usual worries, enlightenments and self-reflection that came with being in their early twenties, the girls found themselves “at odds with a western secular environment while trying to reconcile their traditional South Asian heritage.” The only two visibly ‘brown’ women in their halls, they “found the few Asian women that they did meet were struggling to bridge that gap of living in the perceived West and being able to flaunt their colourful heritage. Seetal and I wanted to find a way to allow these women to feel more confident about their heritage while staying in touch with the present.” This came through the emotional blueprint of celebratory thinking. Using the blogging and social media site, Tumbler, Aaminah and Seetal gradually established a platform that allowed “other imaginative, outspoken and intelligent South Asian women to come together and embrace their Indian identity” via a variety of original ways. South Asian women across the world could share and be inspired by “thoughts on issues that were unique to them such as colourism within the community or seeing artwork such as Mendi designs on Nike trainers. We ended up having a forum that could unite South Asian women across the globe.” As is evident in the multitude of beautiful, stylish images on their website, the girls also introduced elements of subjectively unique fashions and music into their online dialogue: “I think we are always evolving,” they told us. “Modern trends and wider issues need to be incorporated into the anchor of tradition. Culture is not stagnant. The socio-political landscape is always morphing and we’re not always in the same position as our ancestors. Post-Brexit etc. we will find ourselves with new challenges that must be addressed in order to really move forwards.”
Indeed, to be progressive is to be authentic: from both ideological quandaries to one's life. It would make sense then that since the success of their buzzing blog, our two resident brown girls have also gone on to affect ‘real-life’ social initiatives and concrete, grass-roots change. Approached by New Jersey City University to fly out and speak in New York, and then shortly by SAYA – South Asian Youth Action - a new journey began for Aaminah and Seetal into official funding which allowed them to conduct talks, conversational workshops in schools and panel discussions for the older public. This aspect of their thriving project is aptly dubbed: ‘Forward Culture’. “We are speaking to young people to encourage multicultural discussion early on, being proactive about our ideas. We discuss topics such as: the generational gap between children and parents, modern South Asian attitudes towards sex and relationships and the way our culture views difficult topics such as mental health.” Thus, these two vibrant thinkers not only claim a deeply personal selfhood but develop the sociological sphere through the innovative use of tech. Among the online entrepreneurship and practical problem-solvers come these conceptually conscious creatives whose sole aim is to connect people by profoundly connecting them to themselves. “We might be producing a more dynamic view of diversity in the media,” Aaminah concluded. “For example, we’re showing women with headscarves, and different skin colours in adverts and the media, but there is still some way to go. There are still western confines on ideas of minority beauty, though the concept as a whole is becoming trendier: though you have people of diverse backgrounds, one still needs to be hairless, dark but not ‘too dark’ and you can’t be too open about individual political views. The next step is to smash entire stereotypes. This can only happen when we have more minority women in power.” Good then to know that our future potential leaders are in strong and agile hands.
Some people feel identity discourse can be regressive, even those who identify as liberal. Do you have a comment?
Personally, this doesn’t make sense. If you look at historic social structures, human beings have always existed within groups: it’s a perfectly acceptable way of being. Those who lean towards the idea of ‘one culture’ are not accommodating for specific needs. It’s not about division but seeing nuance and creating personal empowerment. Different cultural groups have varying concerns. There’s no point in denying race – it’s about saying: ‘I can see you’re a black or brown woman, let’s talk about your particular needs.’
So, in a way, stating that you’re completely ‘colour-blind’ is as generalised as a more right-wing monoculturalism?
What’s a long-term hope for Forward Culture?
Continuing to foster sisterhood and help springboard creative and intelligent South-Asian women. It would also be great to lead longer workshops.
Aaminah, tell us a bit about your background and how you met. What are you both doing now?
My mother is Pakistani and from Lahore so I am a Muslim. Seetal is Sikh, Punjabi. Her family moved to Kenya before coming to the UK. We were both born and brought up in England. When we were connecting at university, it was quite organic. Strange and right all at the same time: we were both born in the same hospital in East London! We got on as if a house on fire: we lived together for both our second and third years. As well as the Two Brown Girls project, I am a part-time Arabic teacher. Seetal is training in Kathak dancing and is a freelance digital marketer. She has also written for Pulse magazine.
Your Website is excellent. What can you tell other women launching social projects?
Attitudinally: be genuine. It wasn’t easy for us starting out. About 8 years ago, it wasn’t ‘cool’ to be a modern brown woman – you were either a ‘coconut’ or a ‘freshie’. We were passionate and weren’t swayed by superficial motivations such as glamour or money.
A technical tip: we live in a very visual culture so use high quality photos for a website and express yourself as creatively as you’re able.
Finally, what’s your advice to young women who might be feeling culturally disconnected?
Try and understand why you are feeling that way. What are you externally consuming? Perhaps you’re following too many Instagram accounts which promote a certain biased standard of beauty or correct behaviour. You must constantly surround yourself by people and places that inspire you. That’s where you’ll find pride in culture and close the gap between background and who you are.