Bad Brown Aunties is going to be your new favourite podcast
Tune in to two queer brown immigrants spotlighting other badass people of colour
Nearly 15 years ago, Rage Kidvai and Thanu Yakupitiyage arrived in America to study media and political theory at Hampshire College, Massachussets. A chance meeting between the two international students at the airport led to a deep, familial friendship.
One half of the duo, Rage Kidvai, is a queer Muslim immigrant from Pakistan currently working as a public defender (criminal defense attorney). Their work and activism has focused on queer and trans liberation, immigrant justice, intimate-partner and family violence, and the criminal legal system. Their partner-in-crime, Thanu Yakupitiyage, is a Sri-Lankan born, Thailand-raised activist, Brooklyn-based media professional, cultural organizer, and DJ under the artist moniker Ushka. A storyteller in the immigrant rights movement, she has more recently been involved in the climate justice movement. Now based in Brooklyn, these social advocates are breaking barriers with their #NoFilter podcast called Bad Brown Aunties.
Tell us about how you both met, what led to establishing Bad Brown Aunties, and how it came about. Was it something that happened over years, or was it more of a lightbulb moment?
Even though we both made media individually, neither of us had worked on a joint production. Before launching Bad Brown Aunties we talked for a few years about doing a media project together — specifically something that combined our interest in social justice work with media. The way we felt we could do that best was a podcast that allowed us to shine a light on the incredible community members that inspire us in their roles as artists, cultural workers and activists and we wanted to do that through the lens and theme of “aunties”.
What made you settle on the name for the podcast, since an “auntie” is usually regarded as someone who is nosy/meddlesome. But here, there seems to be a newfound strength and power given to it. Tell us about what feels like a deliberate repurposing and redefining of a word.
A lot of our conversations while envisioning the podcast were about how everyone we respected had a long list of people that shaped them. We wanted to really challenge these stereotypes and mainstream tropes about aunties. We know people of color,queer, trans, and non-binary people and migrants have been founders and leaders of movements. And that even then, aunties are often intentionally left out of historical references to those movements. And so if the only traits of aunties we look out for are that they are “meddlesome” for instance, we’re not noticing all the ways in which aunties have always challenged patriarchy or made significant contributions to community, social movements and culture (think: Phoolan Devi!).
Further, regarding the typical assumption of an “aunty”, how do you see it moving well beyond tropes and the image of cis-women dispensing advice?
There’s this idea that aunties are upholders of oppressive social/ gender norms. But that’s obviously not a complete truth once we remember that “aunties” aren’t necessarily cis-women, but rather that trans women and gender nonconforming people as well. We know that in many trans communities of color, there have always been elders and mentors that have housed, raised and taught folks that are newer to the community. We know they have battled against oppression during the Stonewall Riots in New York City, and bailed people out of jail here in the US. Our histories are incomplete and inaccurate when we don’t think about non-cis aunties, and we all lose when we don’t give time and space to these incredible histories of resilience.
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Tell us a little bit about both your beginnings: family life, early influences, and the journey finding your truth.
We grew up super differently even though we’re both South Asian. Rage grew up in Pakistan with parents and a sister who were very politically active, and so there was both a pride and level of stress associated with that. Thanu grew up between Sri Lanka and Thailand, with a professor dad and teacher mom. As a result of her father’s work she lived in several places, which meant that the dependence on visas and work was always a theme. Neither of us came with the intention of migrating (our families continue to be in our respective homelands in South and South East Asia), but we did come alone at a time of increased surveillance on black and brown communities – particularly Muslim communities post-911. And when we did decide to stay, the process was fraught with anxiety because of how fearful our xenophobic immigration system makes people.
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How do you decide on guest speakers?
We wanted our first season to be focused primarily on people in our immediate communities because we felt such a sense of pride and gratitude for the ways in which they had shaped our own thinking but also the larger cultural landscape. We wanted people who honored the points of connection between art, culture, resistance movements. And because of that community closeness we got to have some incredibly personal and powerful conversations with our guests. In future seasons we hope to continue highlighting our communities, but also growing them so that we get to delve deep with some exciting inspiring people.
If you had to describe the podcast in 3 words, you’d say…
An homage to identity, legacy and resistance.
Featured Photographs: Shruti Parekh