Did you see the “First Time I Saw Me” campaign on Twitter a few months ago? Black Girl Nerds and Netflix collaborated earlier this year and started a campaign centered around diversity and representation in the media, and pushed the use of the hashtag #FirstTimeISawMe to collect stories from people sharing the first time they saw themselves. (Two of the most popular videos/stories came from Ava DuVernay and Spike Lee. Also, here are some great videos.)
Raj Rawal (aka @asaprajy), a social producer for an arthouse cable network, was featured in the “First Time I Saw Me” campaign, and he talked about seeing Aziz Ansari’s Master of None was the first time he saw himself reflected in television, and about how powerful it was for him. Since my outreach organization ISAASE’s Diversity & Representation Initiative is centered around the powerful impact of seeing yourself represented in the media, I reached out to Raj to chat a little more. If you’re interested, you can read some of what he had to say here.
But while many South Asian American guys like Raj have gotten their #FirstTimeISawMe moment in Aziz (or in Kal Penn’s Kumar, or in Kumail Nanjiani’s Kumail), for me and for many other South Asian American women, we’re still waiting for our #FirstTimeISawMe moment.
South Asian American woman who isn’t a stereotype or embarassing caricature? Honestly, the #FirstTimeISawMe hasn’t really happened yet.
— Dr. Punita Rice (@punitarice) August 1, 2017
And for people who insist that Mindy Kaling’s Mindy suffices, I have to say — nah, that’s not how this works. In a post about how Disney’s Aladdin is likely to be “problematic” (but I want to watch it anyway), I linked to this tumblr post, which points out that when there is such little representation of yourself in the mainstream narrative, we get to a point where we may even feel pressured to accept a caricature that only barely resembles ourselves. Mindy Lahiri is one of my favorite characters, but she’s not me (or, really, a serious character most of the time).