a note on a long-lost piece of writing

The issue with being a young writer and journalist is that quite often, you can’t tell your editor ‘No’, or fight for certain things, whether it’s the clarity in your writing, the point in your statements, and of course – the ever-contentious headline.

In 2018, I wrote for The Express Tribune about Aziz Ansari’s encounter with Grace, an anonymous woman who accused the comedian of sexually pressuring her on a date. The issue was a gray area because the encounter started initially consensual, and while Grace appeared to consent to her problematic interaction with Ansari, she still did it under duress.

I wrote for The Express Tribune, highlighting how the sexualization of women and the fact we are viewed as less than human makes it difficult for men to respect and be intimate with us at the same time.

While my article was changed to shift the focus on the agency of women, I still think men struggle with being respectful and intimate with us, and over-sexualize the women they go on dates with, are friends with, or with whom they are talking. While sex is nothing to be ashamed of, it’s possible to value women without seeing them as “sites of sexual satisfaction for men.”

I’m not sure I even agree with what I wrote here anymore, or even the version of my article that was eventually published – which shifted blame from Aziz. (At the time, I didn’t want it, but it was a middle-ground in a piece I was afraid that might totally exonerate Aziz from blame and responsibility.) What I do know is that as the #MeToo movement enters its third year, and even liberal favorites like Joe Biden have been accused of rape, women and men are still sizing each other up in sexual relations, and women and girls are confronting what it means to have consensual sexual interactions in this day and age, we still have a long way to go.

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, we have another star to add to the universal blacklist of men who have been accused of sexually assaulting or raping women: Aziz Ansari. It’s a huge disappointment, not only to South Asians excited by positive representation in media or fans of Aziz’s comedy, but feminists and advocates of the #MeToo movement.

Aziz counted himself among the people supporting women to tell their stories without fear of being judged or condemned, wearing a Time’s Up pin when he accepted a Golden Globe for his 2017 series, Master of None.

Ironically, it was the sight of the pin which spurred his accuser to break her silence.

But something’s different when you read the story of “Grace” (not her real name), who connected with Aziz at an Emmy’s afterparty because they were using the same vintage film camera. Grace, who had a lobster dinner with him, psyched she was going out with a star comedian, a rare and interesting opportunity that doesn’t visit girls in lifetimes. Grace, who went to Aziz’s apartment and then left on an Uber, crying all the way home.

What makes Grace’s story different from conventional narratives of sexual assault—whether it’s men violencing women after repeatedly being told to stop, sexually harassing them in professional settings, or manipulating and coercing them over a long period of time while they inhabit positions of power—is that she met Ansari of her own free volition, on a date, and they met as equals.

But that is precisely what makes the reality of sexual assault—and the way men practice and perceive sex—so pernicious. It doesn’t have to be a clear-cut sexual attack to constitute not only a violation of the woman’s body—but her mind. At stake is something deeper than the physical body and all its joys and pain, but something that can’t be physically touched: the hope of intimacy, connection and understanding.

Throughout the encounter, Grace struggled to say ‘no’. While she expressed she was uncomfortable and wanted to stop, she still felt pressured into doing something she didn’t want to do. And she did it.

Throughout the encounter, Aziz failed to see that Grace was uncomfortable, and wanted to escape the interaction. He failed to stop even when she made it clear she wasn’t enjoying it.

This story—and many others like it, whether they’ve happened to us, our friends or people we know and don’t know—isn’t just the failure of individuals. It’s the failure of the culture.

It’s the failure of a culture where hyper-sexuality dictates the relations between men and women, where women are expected to go on as if everything is normal because saying ‘no’ would be abnormal.

It’s the failure of a culture where women are not seen as sentient human beings worthy of respect, conversation and friendship, but sites of sexual satisfaction for men.

And it’s the failure of a culture where men aren’t taught to be receptive to women’s emotional cues, where emotion and intimacy have been torn away from sex because porn dominates the sexual imagination. A date isn’t a chance to get to know someone you like, but an invitation to fuck them. And fucking isn’t always the same as sex.

But it isn’t only the failure of American culture. Aziz is a brown man, who grew up and lives in America. Aziz is a Muslim man, who was probably affected by the conservatism surrounding sexuality rampant in South Asian communities and culture.

While the public isn’t familiar with Aziz’s entire sexual history, it’s fair to assume that these dimensions of religion, community and identity affected his sexual growth, just as they do for all Muslim-American youth in the US.

Without an outlet to express himself sexually—where sex and even discussion of it becomes taboo—Ansari probably suffered like all of us did. And he discovered his sexuality in the dark.

The added factor of an American society desexualizing South Asian men, emasculating them in the shadow of the wholesome white American male, probably led Ansari to feel like he had to overcompensate to ‘prove’ his sexual mettle.

The facts are still hazy, and we haven’t heard Aziz’s side of the story, only that he was “surprised and concerned” when the alleged victim first told him she felt uncomfortable the day after.

Others have argued that this exposé will damage the #MeToo movement simply because Aziz wasn’t in a position of institutional power over Grace, and a degree of consent was involved in their relations.

But #MeToo is a trend more powerful than just one story or case. Whether Grace’s story with Aziz even qualifies for the hashtag is something the culture will decide.

After all, it was Aziz’s Time’s Up pin that incensed Grace to tell her story, making her angry enough to inform the public that he may be ‘woke’ in his public beliefs, but perhaps not as much in his private actions.

It’s a startling reminder that even the men with the best intentions act on their worst impulses. The old adage during the feminist movement rings true here—“The personal is political.” And as James Baldwin, a gay black man and critic of American race relations as well as sexuality, noted, the challenge in America for all men is to “achieve [a] viable, organic connection between his public stance and his private life.”

Until the personal becomes political, and until we implement our ideas and ethics into our actions, more stories like this will emerge and we will be left throwing up our hands.

Time’s up doesn’t just mean that women hold men to account, though that is certainly part of it. It means that men change their behavior to respect women as human beings, and fulfill their own humanity in the process.

when do you become a real writer?

Often, I’ve struggled with taking my calling seriously.

“I’m a writer,” I tell people, as if, on its own, it even means anything.

“I’m self-employed,” I say, suppressing the cringe of embarrassment that inevitably comes from the long lapses of time in which I don’t have work, or the days that stretch into weeks where most of my energies and labor are channeled towards simply finding work.

Being a writer is hard. Representing yourself as a writer is harder. “What do you do?” people ask. It’s not the same as being an engineer, a doctor, a teacher or even a secretary, working a job that requires a modicum of education but is considered second-tier by most of society. I’ve done administrative work and written on envelopes in Black sharpie marker to make ends meet. I’ve sat at a desk all day to get a monthly salary, even if the company I worked for didn’t have any specific means of utilizing me. (David Graeber breaks it down perfectly: “Bullshit jobs are jobs which even the person doing the job can’t really justify the existence of, but they have to pretend that there’s some reason for it to exist.”) I’ve done the 9 to 5 gig, and I’ve realized, it’s not for me.

When you become a cog in the capitalist machine and lose your ability to create and generate powerful ideas, your back begins to hurt. Your shoulders knot painfully and cricks bloom in your neck. Yes, we need to make ends meet, but is it worth destroying our bodies and snuffing our minds over?

Being a writer and telling people that I am a writer is a condition of redundancy. I’m simply telling people, I’m me. And when I say I’m self-employed, what I’m really saying is that I answer to no one but myself. And my editor.

Often, I dream about folding clothes and brewing coffee. Not working at a restaurant because I’m far too clumsy and the plates will break. I’ve picked up an application from Zara’s and almost got a job at a university bookstore. I’ve moved across oceans to be with someone I love, only to realize my independence is fractured and I’m berozgar, shall we say it, unemployed? There is nothing worst than realizing you are dependent on others, and I always associated money with power and making decisions for myself. For better or worst.

I’ve been writing since I was ten years old. Reams and reams of pages, in the hundreds. A lot of what I wrote at that age I destroyed or tucked away, never to be seen again until I submit to one of my wistful rampages. I think of Holly Golightly’s trilling question in Breakfast At Tiffany’s: “Are you a real writer?”

“It depends what you mean by real.”

“Well, darling, does anyone buy what you read?”

A price has been put to my writing, and after three or so years of chasing just the vague silver linings of fading clouds, backbreaking internships, ambition that snapped the stiletto heel of my lava red shoes, big, risky moves like leaving my life behind for the possibility of what’s real, I am finally published in big legacy publications. My work is glimpsed by thousands, commented on by hundreds. And can I say it? It feels good. I finally feel like I am a real writer. And I’m only learning more and more everyday.

Even so, I tell myself I must continue to write. There is nothing stopping us except the lack of confidence in our own words. Sometimes, we don’t sell our writing. Editors and the outside world likes our ideas, but doesn’t publish them. In these times, we need to live in the chamber of our imaginations, and dream up the visions that are capable of saving the world one day.

The disappointment is real. No day job can extinguish the disappointment of rejection. But we must have faith and confidence in our ideas, and we must move onwards.

And there is no formula to being a writer, no equation that cracks the code and leads to written paper or success or both. Persistence and resilience are very nice words, but they’re not enough. Rather, you have to be willing to see what you bring to the table, and find the courage to bring it no matter what. For some writers, it can be anything from biting irony to voracious humor to deadpan honesty. For me, it’s a little bit of the latter, and integrity. Yes, integrity. I’m not better than anyone when I’m selling my words for $$$, but I don’t plan to compromise on my integrity when it comes to my ideas and the cresting wave on which I express them.

My writing is an extension of my self. And you can kill the author, but my fingerprints will still be all over my words. In fact, my words are the fingerprint.

When Deepika Weds Ranveer

Finally, it’s happened: the wedding of the century. Ranveer Singh, the eccentric actor who first broke our screens and then our hearts in the 2013 film Lootera, has wed Deepika Padukone, the unassailable queen of Bollywood in the new millennium. It’s an unlikely and surprising match. Queens are known for marrying kings or princes as Deepika’s predecessor Aishwarya Rai did when she tied the knot with Abhishek Bachchan, the son of only the most powerful senior actor in the industry. But Deepika has opted instead for a jester, who not only fails to typify the conventional hero, but is known to the world as her second love after her heartrending breakup with Ranbir Kapoor.

Innocuous as it may be, Deepika’s partnership with Ranveer and now its apex—officiating their long-rumored relationship in a marriage ceremony—is the sign of a new Bollywood, where love isn’t based on power and nepotism but rather personal struggle and the challenge to reinvent oneself and grow. Both individuals in this match are known for their genuine creative talent and willingness to experiment, rather than their pocket or simply how much commercial success they’re interested in gaining—though they have a lot of that as well.

Deepika Padukone first appeared on the big screen in Om Shanti Om, playing two women in just one movie: a Bollywood actress in the ‘70s murdered unjustly in a fire by a misogynistic director, and the reincarnated millennial actress who found her big break not in a proper film, but in impersonating her long-dead predecessor as a way to seek and fulfill revenge. This same duality has followed Deepika’s career since: she has vacillated between ingénue, girl next door and warrior princess. From playing the worried girlfriend in Kartik Calling Kartik to the headstrong daughter in Piku to the gangster princess in Golliyon ka Ras Leela Ram Leela to the independent career woman moonlighting as a taxi driver in Bachna Ae Haseeno, Deepika is our heroine. She is not a heroine whose fate is conditional simply on whether a man will love her or not though she does look for and find love in most of these films just like she did in real life. She is a heroine who has goals of her own, who goes to work and expresses her opinions and isn’t afraid to find what it means to be a woman beyond dependence on a man. In this sense, she is not much different onscreen as she is in real life.

Deepika has inherited the mantle of Aishwarya Rai, a delicate and fair-skinned queen who was once known as the most beautiful woman in the world, and in Deepika’s own words, “put India on the map” through her work in Western films. Aishwarya’s trajectory was not so different from that of Deepika. Both came from the world of modeling, worked in South Indian-language films before climbing the ladder into the industry, and were favored by directors for their beauty as well as their acting acumen, which admittedly developed throughout their time on the big screen rather than being an aggressive inborn talent as it is for the likes of Vidya Balan or Parineeti Chopra.

But unlike Aishwarya with her fair skin and green eyes, Deepika does not embody an unattainable ideal. Instead, she has paved the way for a distinctly South Asian beauty where her brown eyes and dark skin are an asset and not a hindrance. Rather than exotifying herself like Priyanka Chopra successfully did when she cracked Hollywood, Deepika’s beauty is more reminiscent of old Bollywood heroines like Rekha or Shabana Azmi. She is our 21st Century beauty icon, and in becoming an icon, she represents and fulfills the identities of brown girls everywhere.

Deepika’s status as an icon doesn’t just live in her physical appearance, but is reinforced by the characterization she embodies onscreen. Just like Aishwarya, Deepika has had her fair share of rom-coms balanced with epic period romances. But the difference in each actress’ representation of their assigned roles could not be wider. While Aishwarya has represented delicate, fine-boned roles—a young woman who kills herself for love in Mohabbataein, the exquisite queen Jodhaa who struggles to make her interfaith marriage work in Jodhaa Akbar or the elusive Paro in Devdas—Deepika represents a heroine truer to the aims of South Asian women in the modern age. Like many of us Desi women, Deepika’s heroines work, remain strong in their convictions and can no longer afford the luxury of waiting for Shahrukh Khan or someone else to come save us.

In fact, Shahrukh Khan is old enough to be our father. Enter Ranveer Singh. But before we can discuss Ranveer and the unapologetic power of this brilliant man, who says he has “200 characters living inside [his] head” and pushes the bounds of creativity to the point of disrupting the heteropatriarchal and conventional, we need to talk about Deepika’s ex: Ranbir Kapoor.


Deepika met Ranbir on the set of Bachna Ae Haseeno. It was Deepika’s first relationship in the industry and just a year after her Om Shanti Om debut. By all appearances, Ranbir and Deepika were the perfect couple. Both were rising commercial talents of their generation, and they’d met on the set of a rom-com where the hero struggles with commitment and the independent, feisty heroine decides she needs the hero to fulfill her life after all.

Real life should have perhaps worked like it did in the movies. But it did not. While Deepika credited Ranbir with allowing her to open up and stake self-confidence—she who had discussed being awkward as a child growing up—and tattooed his initials on the nape of her neck, the relationship lasted little more than a year. The dream couple broke up in 2009, reportedly because of Ranbir’s less than filmi infidelity, sending Deepika into deep depression, the kind where even the highest-paid actress in Bollywood would “go to my vanity van and cry.”

South Asian women are often socialized to believe our prince will come and whisk us away, a fantasy reinforced not only through a culture that prizes marriage as the foundation of the family, but also the filmic conceits of the same industry in which Deepika works. We dream of a man descending in our life, running with us across fields under blue skies, and giving us the ultimate gift of monogamic commitment.

Therefore, when a woman experiences heartbreak, the movie-dream shatters. And she is the only one who can pick up the pieces of what’s left of her.

Deepika picked up the pieces, but life is not the movies. By the time she met Ranveer Singh on the set of Ram Leela in 2013, she was older, wiser, and stronger than the days of her debut. She was well within reach of the industry tiara. Ranveer was an interesting newcomer, whose inexperience and lack of access only heightened his confidence.


While Ranveer Singh always wanted to be an actor, he did not have the access that makes a career in Bollywood the rite of possibility it remains for industry insiders. In school, he focused on creative writing while taking up a minor in theater. After studying in America, he returned to Mumbai and worked as a copywriter in advertising. He was a man well attuned to the stagnant rozi-roti of a 9 to 5 job. Later, he was more than attuned to the hustle of getting work in an industry that guaranteed no rose-tinted promise of success.

Ranveer subjected himself to the excruciating process of auditioning, and then waiting for callbacks. Initially getting only minor roles, his big break came in the form of an offer from Yash Raj Films of Band Baaja Baaraat. In order to prepare for the role, Ranveer slunk around Delhi University’s campus, introducing himself as Bittoo Sharma, hanging out with students and doing what he calls “loaferbaazi.”

Ranveer’s wicked acting talent raises no question, and neither does his scope to take on roles that don’t fit the conventional hero archetype. Instead, Ranveer typifies the antihero, the city boy, the gangster, and the lootera in the film of the same name, who exploits a family offering him hospitality, but still falls in love with the girl. Ranveer’s representation of South Asian masculinity is steeped in the moral complexity of everyday life, subverting the traditional boy-meets-girl scenario.

Ranveer’s acting trajectory, however, peaked recently when he portrayed Alauddin Khilji, the Muslim villain in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s controversial epic Padmaavat. While the film was rightly criticized for its Islamophobia and nostalgic depiction of Rajput heroism against Muslim invaders, curiously, it isn’t Shahid Kapoor’s righteous Ratan Singh or even Deepika’s valiant Padmaavati who consumes the screen. It’s Ranveer Singh’s half-crazed, narcissistic portrayal of Khilji from which we cannot tear our eyes. Singh moreover embraces his character’s bisexuality onscreen while choosing not to play him in stereotypical effeminate fashion. In a Bollywood where actors turn down roles they feel threaten their masculinity, Ranveer’s portrayal of a bisexual Muslim villain pushes the fold.

“Naseeruddin Shah calls me the fool,” Ranveer told GQ India in 2015. “If life’s a stage, I play the fool.”

But while Ranveer’s role as a jester may seem incidental, it’s actually his biggest strength. Ranveer’s unwillingness to take himself too seriously allows him to experiment with his creativity and express himself beyond the bounds of what a respectable man is supposed to be. And to date, he is the only mainstream Bollywood actor to star in a condom commercial. Neither was he approached by Durex for the ad; it was his own idea: “I wrote the ad myself.”


Ranveer and Deepika’s relationship largely transpired in private, but it’s almost certain the two grew close on the set of Ram Leela.  It’s the kind of relationship where both parties claim they are very close to the person who is undoubtedly their soul mate, but don’t reveal any details or name any labels.

In many ways, it’s the relationship we’ve seen in many of our own social circles, where the boy and girl do everything together but never admit they’re together. Their relationship is common knowledge, but they keep it away from Instagram likes and prying eyes. The only difference is that Ranveer and Deepika still appeared on the covers of magazines together, co-starred in blockbuster films, and gave nods of flirtation at celebrity parties and award shows.

But they always said they were just friends, and ‘professional’ with one another. It’s a clever way to stonewall nosy journalists, and a far cry from Deepika’s exhibitionist tattoo of Ranbir. Maybe this too is a lesson from her first heartbreak. Perhaps the best way to let a relationship unfold is in private away from the pressures of family, fame and fortune.

And there’s something satisfying about not being called upon to announce your partnership and letting it blossom into a force of nature. After all, the first person to confirm Deepika and Ranveer’s relationship wasn’t either of the lovebirds themselves, but Vin Diesel, who casually called Ranveer Deepika’s “boyfriend” in an interview in 2017. Can the proclamation of a couple’s relationship status get more fabulous and natural than that?

And just like most pursuits of passion, a relationship is a struggle in creativity and reinvention, not much different from acting. But where acting demands channelling a character, a relationship asks you to be your most complete self with the person you love—a constant exercise in vulnerability and growth. It’s a fact not lost on Ranveer, who called his relationship with Deepika a transformation of his priorities and outlook in life.

Now that Ranveer, the lafunga creative who made it on acting talent alone, and Deepika, the Bollywood queen who survived heartbreak only to become the highest-paid actress in the industry and find true love again, are married, the possibilities are endless.

Where will life and movies take this power couple, and how will they continue to push each other to succeed, reinvent their roles and break the mould? Will they be able to do the same in their relationship as they’ve done in their own lives and careers? Only time will tell, but for now shaadi mubarak to this beautiful couple who struggled to make ends meet, but found it was possible to hold onto the light glimmering at the end of the tunnel.

This article originally appeared in The Friday Times.

“Remember Me”, Philadelphia celebrates historic Eagles win

They gon’ remember me, I say remember me
So much money have your friends turn in your enemies
And when there’s beef I turn my friends into enemies
. . . I’m gone 

Meek Mill, “Dreams and Nightmares”

The victory parade for the Philadelphia Eagles’ historic win at the Super Bowl took place in the streets of Philadelphia on February 8. Keith Strickland of Northeast Philly, and Lekia Allen from South Philly share their enthusiasm on the win and why it’s so important for the underdog city that the Eagles represent.

The Black Radical Tradition Conference – Statement on Pattern of Disruption

Since the second day of the Black Radical Tradition Conference, there was a strange but seemingly coordinated effort to disrupt the conference. BROC held a dialogue with the disruptors on the third and final day of the conference to understand what their grievances were. While BROC did not get the chance to undertake an independent investigation of what had happened, we released this statement as a conclusion of what had happened. 

The Black Radical Organizing Collective (BROC) held a powerful conference that drew from many parts of the movement for Black liberation. We understood the fundamental principle that the people united will never be defeated and our program reflected the importance of principled unity in the face of capitalism and white supremacy in crisis. We invited a diverse host of speakers because we wanted a robust dialogue of different ideological orientations in the movement. Throughout the conference, we wanted to emphasize the importance of unity and solidarity in strengthening the victory of revolutionary movements, which is foundational to the Black Radical Tradition. Inevitably, our dedication to principled unity provoked an identitarian counter-revolutionary tendency of people dedicated to disrupting the conference and undermining the unity for which we had tirelessly worked in the months preceding the conference.

The pattern of disruption started with claims that Black people were being denied seats at the conference and the community wasn’t being heard. The Black Radical Tradition Conference was free of cost, and nobody was turned away from the conference. Because the main hall could not accommodate all of the people that came to the conference, attendees were sent to satellite locations where they could watch a livestream of the conference. Conference attendees had been notified in advance of the seating arrangement via email and the conference website. Priority registrants were guaranteed a seat at the people’s assemblies, but the panels were first-come, first-serve. If priority registrants did not show up, people on standby would be seated in the 15 to 20 minutes before each assembly. Because the conference was free of cost, we had to be disciplined about seating and consistent with what we had promised.

Additionally, the conference was a force of the Black Philadelphia community with our primary sponsor being the historical Church of the Advocate of North Philadelphia, which hosted the National Conference of Black Power in 1968 and the Black Panther Conference in 1970. BROC is a grassroots collective working on a limited budget and we do not enjoy substantial institutional funding. We held the conference at Temple University to challenge its racist and colonialist gentrification of North Philadelphia and its destruction of the African American Studies program. We, ourselves, were not Temple University, and we risked Temple shutting down the conference and kicking us out at their leisure. The subversive power of occupying space at Temple had been established by Kashara White, Anthony Monteiro and Cornel West at the first people’s assembly on Friday night, January 8. The conference empowered the voices of the community and illuminated Black Philadelphia—a vilified, criminalized and oppressed people—to a national audience, and showed a racist institution that its policing and gentrification would not diminish the resistance of the people.

Nevertheless, the conference experienced a pattern of disruption. People involved in the disruptive behavior showed contempt for conference organizers and the discipline with which we facilitated the program. Whether the people involved were misguided or unintentional in their behavior, their actions were not respectful, preventing the productive resolution of difficulties. BROC firmly believes revolutionary love for the people inspires discipline, humility and respect, and that the opposite exposes a lack of love for the people. We faced groups of people that failed to practice precisely this revolutionary fundamental and exposed themselves as counter-revolutionaries.

A group of people continually asked white people in the main hall to give up their seats for Black people in satellite rooms, even though white people constituted a minority in the main hall. They did this while the panels and assemblies occurred, distracting the audience and speakers. They were asked multiple times to stop by the organizers, but they persisted. This pattern of disruption culminated in the “Challenging White Supremacy” people’s assembly. A couple of individuals began screaming outside the main hall, interrupting the assembly and causing a few people to rush out of their seats, three of whom were BROC members. Fearing that a fight had broken out or the individuals were in distress, we learned they had in fact staged a disruption over seating.

The disruption disrespected the speakers, distracted the audience and posed a safety hazard. It could have provoked a physical altercation, and if more people had rushed out of their seats, a stampede could have occurred. The safety of renowned activists in the room was also at risk. After all, Malcolm X’s assassination occurred after a staged disruption in 1965, and Huey P. Newton was forced to abandon a speech he was supposed to give in 1970 because he knew counter-revolutionaries planned on assassinating him from the audience.

While we do not know if the group staging the disruption were agent provocateurs, they operated as if they were agent provocateurs. They worked against the wishes of conference organizers and volunteers on a highly premeditated level, and they were extremely calculated in disrupting the program and frustrating our arrangements. They sought to sabotage the conference and divide the people that attended, making difficult the building of principled unity in the movement. So while we do not know if they were agent provocateurs, their behavior caused BROC to treat them as such in guaranteeing the success and viability of the conference and the safety of attendees.

The pattern of disruption reached its most intense point on the third day, January 10. The same group of people, who were disruptive about seating, staged a protest inside Anderson Hall. They used an incident of transphobia at the Queer Resistance panel to protest with chants and posters. From the beginning, the panel was stated to be a safe and brave space, making disagreement inevitable, but cultivating respect and learning amidst differences. When a cisgendered homosexual panelist said transphobic slurs, using them as examples of transphobia she had witnessed growing up, people in the audience were understandably upset. The panelist was unaware people were sensitive to the slurs and apologized many times. While BROC was not in total control of what speakers chose to say on panels, BROC member and moderator, Gabe Gonzalez, personally apologized to the people upset by the slurs. The group disregarded the apology and used transphobia as the pretext to protest the entire conference.

The disruptive protest was a reactionary and ultraleftist move that risked shutting down the entire conference and summoning the police.[1] BROC did not control Allied Barton security,[2] workers employed by Temple who make below a living wage, and Temple police. Temple police wanted to call reinforcements to remove the protesters from the building, but BROC explicitly told them not to call more police.[3] We decided to hold a dialogue with the protesters, rather than expose them and other attendees to the violence and brutality of the police.

BROC held the dialogue with the disrupters in a spirit of revolutionary love and unity. The primary grievance that arose pertained to the issue of seating and the idea that the conference should have been a Black-only space. BROC never intended to put on a Black-only conference and we were explicit in our Call to Action on the crucial importance of multiracial and internationalist solidarity in the struggle for Black liberation: “The Black Radical Tradition embraces commitments to the unity of the people. It has in the past and today stands with all victims of white supremacy and capitalist hierarchies and oppressions. It is part of the common resistance of all peoples of color, working people and the poor. It is internationalist, at home and abroad. It stands with all genuine efforts of Pan-Africanism, Afro-Asiatic, Afro-Indigenous and Afro-Latino unity. . . The Black Radical Tradition is welcoming and open.”

The Black Radical Tradition is foundational to people who are not Black, for it is only with the liberation of Black people that humanity can be freed from its chains of oppression, just as Black people cannot be liberated while humanity is in chains. The disrupters signaled an ideological split in the movement between reactionary division and revolutionary solidarity, not unlike the historical split between counter-revolutionary cultural nationalists like Ron Karenga, Molefi Asante, and US[4], and radical socialist organizations like the Black Panther Party and Fannie Lou Hamer’s Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

We view this trend of identity politics in the movement and the insistence on Black-only spaces as a re-manifestation of cultural nationalism and an ultimately divisive and dehumanizing force. We agree with Anthony Monteiro’s analysis that identity politics is the reconfiguration of whiteness and uses Western liberal conceptions of race to characterize Black identity, instead of dismantling whiteness and Americanism, and practicing a genuine politics of solidarity to liberate humanity from tyrannical systems of capitalism, racism, colonialism, patriarchy and imperialism.

As a collective, we seek to continue the legacy of the Black Panther Party, which embraced white and other nonblack allies in their struggle and practiced internationalism. The Black Panthers struggled with some Black students who opposed their coalition-building with white and nonblack people. Huey P. Newton writes in Revolutionary Suicide, “We maintained this was possible as long as we controlled the programs, but the students were opposed to working with white groups, or, for that matter, almost anyone but Blacks. While this viewpoint was understandable to me, it failed to take into consideration the [strategic] limitations of our power. We needed allies, and we believed that alliances with young whites—students and workers—were worth the risk” (182). And as Angela Davis reminded us at the conference, the contribution of nonblack revolutionaries like Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama at the prerogative of Black leaders is invaluable to the Black Radical Tradition.

BROC believes that a Black Power space is different from a Black-only space. While white and nonblack people were in attendance, they constituted the minority and Black people dominated the conference. We believe Black people dominating a space with white and nonblack people is more revolutionary than a Black-only space, which is insular and ignores the reality of the world outside the safe space. As Assata Shakur writes in her autobiography, “I believe in uniting with white [and nonblack] revolutionaries to fight against a common enemy, but I was convinced it had to be on the basis of power and unity rather than from weakness and unity at any cost” (192). The Black Radical Tradition Conference allowed the attendance of nonblack people from the position of power and unity for Black people, who were centralized and empowered at this conference.

Power and unity form the principle in our struggle going forward. We believe the Black Radical Tradition Conference marks the next phase in the struggle for Black liberation in the United States. The disruption showed us where some people were at in the movement, and it convinced us of the importance in revolutionary education for all the people. But we wish to ask: Was this pattern of disruptive behavior politically motivated? And what does that mean for the movement at large?

Nevertheless, we believe the people united will never be defeated, and our conference triumphed in spite of the elements that tried to stop it.

[1] Because the protest was inside the lobby of the building, police and security aimed to remove the protesters from the building.

[2] BROC hired an independent security force for the conference, which was distinct from the security employed by Temple University, and who were not involved in calling Temple police.

[3] Temple police disregarded our wishes and called reinforcements anyway. But they left, because we held a dialogue and the protest desisted.

[4] Karenga and US colluded with the police state and killed two Black Panthers, John Huggins and Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter. Likewise, Asante joined forces with Temple to initiate Monteiro’s firing and removal from the African American Studies department.

The Black Radical Tradition Conference – General Statement


The Black Radical Tradition Conference took place in January 2016 in Philadelphia at Temple University and the Church of the Advocate. Its goal was to cement the struggle for black liberation in these days and times within the philosophy and activism of the Black Radical Tradition. #Blacklivesmatter then became black liberation. “Reclaiming our future” meant the pathway to the liberation of black people, which was dependent on the liberation of all humanity. 

I was a part of this collective as a student and activist. I drafted the two statements that emerged from the conference with the input and conversation of my friends and fellow activists. The statements were thus rooted in the ideological framework of the Black Radical Tradition, but also my own context and experience as a Pakistani-American Muslim woman – Third Worldist, steeped in an ethos of Islamic liberation theology, and a collective opposition to racism and capitalism from which love and solidarity of the highest order sprang. 


The Black Radical Tradition Conference, starting on Thursday, January 7, 2016, and finishing on Sunday, January 10, constituted a historical achievement of the highest order. It was a powerful congregation of leaders, activists and people fighting for social change in their communities and dedicating their lives to the liberation of humanity. Anchored in revolutionary love, the conference represented the unity of Black Philadelphia in challenging white supremacy and capitalism, and it anticipated the next stage of the Black liberation movement.

Black Radical Organizing Collective (BROC) was responsible for organizing the conference. BROC is a revolutionary collective based in North Philadelphia, and our membership draws from the diverse revolutionary community of the Philadelphia area and beyond. We are a multigenerational, multiracial and multifaith organization committed to revolutionary change and transformation. We serve the people, because we truly come from the people, distinguishing BROC from nonprofit and/or policy organizations. Our members and volunteers are unpaid and we do not enjoy substantial funding, wishing to locate ourselves in the power of the people and resist co-optation by the white supremacist and capitalist forces of money and power.


Instead, we locate ourselves in the people of Black Philadelphia and its organic institutions. BROC’s primary sponsor is the Church of the Advocate, which hosted the Black Power Conference of 1968, the Black Panther Conference of 1970, and the first ordination of women in the Episcopal Church in 1974. The Advocate continues to serve the Black Philadelphia community through social services, community programs and spiritual enrichment, continuing the legacy of its pastor, Father Paul Washington, who practiced and envisioned the theology of liberation.

The Black Radical Tradition Conference delivered ideological clarity and centered radicalism in the movement. The conference prioritized the people who fight and struggle on the ground for social change and actively participate in movement-building and history-making. The conference invited historical leaders like Angela Davis, Pam Africa, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and Jamala Rogers and united them with youth forces like Umi Selah, Kashara White, and Charlene Carruthers in shaping the future of the movement.

Diamond Street Mural

The conference empowered the Beloved Community in fighting for liberation, and contextualized our movement in the global struggle against capitalism, colonialism and white supremacy. Ours is an internationalist struggle that builds unity and claims progressive power in the fight against oppressive systems. Approximately 2500 people attended the conference, coming from different parts of the country, impacting the nationwide movement for Black lives matter and establishing the important role of Philadelphia in the national struggle.

The Black Radical Tradition Conference anticipated the next phase of struggle in the Black liberation movement, rekindling the fiery anticapitalist momentum of the earliest stages of the movement. The conference inspired the people to new levels of consciousness and cemented the crucial importance of united struggle. We struggle towards revolutionary transformation and we serve the Beloved Community. Our struggle aims to reshape the future and come from the people. We can only move forward from here.

The Salesman at Trafalgar Square

The Oscars have come and passed, but the ceremony – required viewing, that thing everyone does each year because they have to do it – was more memorable this year than ever.

Moonlight, a feature film about a black gay man growing up in the US, won Best Picture after the presenters accidentally rewarded La La Land, a musical romance story between two (white) jazz musicians. Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman won Best Foreign Film, but the director himself wasn’t at the ceremony to receive his award.

Prevented from attending the Oscars by Trump’s entry ban, Farhadi decided to boycott the awards show altogether in protest even after the ban was temporarily suspended.

The Academy Awards then reflected the cultural, political, and turbulent times we lived in, and possibly set the agenda for the rest of 2017, which is looking to be quite an exciting time.

If everything is overwhelming and difficult to deal with, maybe some good art can come out of it.

The woman taking a picture at Trafalgar Square
A woman takes a picture at Trafalgar Square as Londoners congregate to watch a free public screening of The Salesman.

After all, for a film like Moonlight to win at all, or for two black actors to be awarded simultaneously at the Oscars, or for racism in Hollywood to be openly acknowledged after #OscarsSoWhite (social media does win, after all), there’s a feeling none of this would have been possible if there wasn’t something at stake here.

Mike Leigh and the crowd at Trafalgar Square
The film screening was preceded by comments about the event and the importance of protesting hate and discrimination. Presenters included filmmaker Mike Leigh, model Lily Cole, and Mayor Sadiq Khan.

And film art is more than just cursory navel-gazing, or a ceremony one goes through each year, but a representation and transformation of the society we live in.

The line at Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square teemed with hundreds of Londoners, who gathered to watch The Salesman.

London, no philistine city when it comes to cinema, and cinephilia, for that matter, hosted a free film screening of Farhadi’s film, The Salesman, in Trafalgar Square. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, spoke at the screening, and rallied against Trump’s racism, saying “Trump can’t ban me!”

Sadiq Khan at Trafalgar Square
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London and Muslim son of an immigrant bus driver, declared, “Trump can’t ban me!”

But most importantly, Khan insisted, “London is open.”

A city of migrants and refugees, London teems with diversity, which is more characteristic of it now today than the Queen’s palace or afternoon tea. The fact its mayor is a British-Pakistani son of a bus driver is not incidental, but a sharp and accurate representation of the city. (Khan won by a landslide too.)

The crowd at Trafalgar Square
Mayor Sadiq Khan said the film screening was part of the city’s effort to show London was open, and said there wasn’t a better place to hold the screening than “the historic Trafalgar Square.”

Other noted speakers and organizers of the event included Lily Cole, the former face of Maybelline, who spoke of how one of her best friends growing up was Muslim, and Mike Leigh, the seasoned London-based filmmaker, who spoke of the humanity, struggle, and empathy exhibited in Farhadi’s films.

Mike Leigh and the presenters at Trafalgar Square
Mike Leigh called Farhadi “one of the greatest filmmakers” in the tradition of Iranian cinema, citing Farhadi’s previous Oscar-winning film, A Separation. He added the travel ban was unjust and Farhadi’s strength lay in incurring empathy with the human experience – the very purpose of film itself.

But what impressed me the most was the energy of the audience, which included British-Iranians, proud of their country and the filmmaker putting it on the big screen, and people from all backgrounds and nationalities, gathering to enjoy a good film and free event. It is the meaning of cinema put into practice – seeing and experiencing the stories of people, who are different from you, but with whom you can connect and empathize through a shared sense of humanity.

Narges Assadi at Trafalgar Square
Narges Assadi, a British-Iranian, clapped and chanted “Iran, Iran” at the film screening.

Believing it was just another film screening, and excited because it was free, I had no idea I was going to a protest premiere. But the journalist and photographer in me jumped at the chance to film and photograph the event.

I hope you enjoy the selected photo and video, and experience for yourself a real-life protest premiere in a city that loves its immigrants, and loves its film.

Taraneh Alidoosti onscreen at Trafalgar Square

what gives?

everyone needs a place to think.

everyone needs a place to ruminate and write.

everyone needs the place on the mountaintop, where they can go to reflect and think and talk to God and just close their eyes and feel.

everyone needs somewhere, somewhere, somewhere things just gotta give.

it is easy to go through the motions of the life you thought you ought to live without actually feeling the life you know you’re meant to live.

and me? what is this for me?

this is a place to express myself. to feel whole and pure. to understand there is a life for me beyond the banalities which claim life, but are empty of its content.

it’s a place to unwrap my mind, and unknot the tangles on my heart, and believe – a life exists for me yet.

“I must change my life so I can live it, not wait for it.” —Susan Sontag

and how not to do that except through the creative freedom and liberation of writing and art – of carving something on a blank slate, a piece of paper, and willing it into existence?


London Protests Trump

Protest at Parliament Square
Churchill’s statue overlooks protesters at Parliament Square on Monday, February 20, 2017. Parliament met on Monday to debate whether Trump should be allowed to come to the UK on a state visit, drawing hundreds of protesters.

Tamil man speaks at protest Trafalgar Square (Wasteman)
A Sri Lankan Tamil man shares his story about immigration to a crowd congregated at Trafalgar Square on the night before Trump’s inauguration. The woman holding the mic translated his speech to spectators.

Humpty Trumpty Fuck Your Wall (Wasteman)
A young woman holds a sign at a protest against Trump’s inauguration at Trafalgar Square on Friday, January 20, 2017.

Trump in Trafalgar Square (Wasteman)
The organizers of this protest at Trafalgar Square on January 20, 2017, produced a giant effigy of Trump’s head, which was later destroyed by protesters with sticks.

Nope: London protests Trump
Protesters gathered at a mass demonstration organized by Stand Up to Racism at the US embassy in London the night of January 20, 2017.

Love Trumps Hate
A man holds a sign at a protest in Parliament Square on February 20, 2017.

Father and child at protest
Alex Armitage hands out flyers at a protest in Parliament Square on February 20, 2017. His son, Ayanda, sits on his back and holds an antiwar placard.

08 Malia Bouattia and NUS on stage.jpg
Malia Bouattia, the British-Algerian president of the National Union of Students (NUS), gives a speech at a protest in Parliament Square on February 20, 2017.

Student and youth activists leave stage
Student and youth organizers exit the stage with enthusiasm after Bouattia concludes her speech.

Big Ben and London protests Trump
London protests the possibility of Trump’s state visit to the UK in front of Big Ben and Westminster Palace, where Parliament meets to debate. The inauguration of America’s 45th president has inspired protests all across the world, even though he has only been a little more than a month in office.