By Leyya Sattar
On August 10th at BeautyCon, Priyanka Chopra was confronted by a young woman named Ayesha Malik about a tweet she shared on 26th February praising Indian Armed Forces with “Jai Hind”, translating to “victory to India”. Priyanka’s tweet was shared after a series of airstrikes by India, that created a response from Pakistan which quickly escalated hostilities between the two nuclear-armed countries over the long-disputed Kashmir - a continued source of tension for both countries since partition in 1947.
At BeautyCon, Ayesha said to Priyanka: ‘So it was kind of hard hearing you talk about humanity, because as your neighbour, a Pakistani, I know you're a bit of a hypocrite. You are a UNICEF ambassador for peace and you're encouraging nuclear war against Pakistan. There's no winner in this. As a Pakistani, millions of people like me have supported in your business of Bollywood and you support nuclear war”. Ayesha was then cut off mid-sentence when security pulled the microphone from her hands.
Then came Chopra’s disappointing response: “I hear you, whenever you’re done venting, got it, done? Ok cool. So, I have many friends from Pakistan and I am from India. War is not something I’m really fond of but I am patriotic so I am sorry that I wrote sentiments to people who do love me and have loved me. But I think all of us have a sort of middle-ground we have to walk. The way you came at me, girl don’t yell, we’re all here for love...don’t embarrass yourself...but thank you for your enthusiasm, your question and your voice”.
Wow. A lot to unpack. What frustrated me the most was the condescending techniques Chopra, a self-proclaimed feminist, used against another woman. Techniques as women of colour we’re no stranger to from our white counterparts where we are often belittled for expressing our voices, and frustrations as being irrational, aggressive or emotional.
“The problem is just because someone is of colour, doesn’t mean they’re an ally”
Chopra’s first comment about her ‘Pakistani friends’ makes her just as oblivious to the ignorant trope of “I’m not racist, I have a black friend” and showed her lack of awareness on the hostile situation of both countries. Not to mention, her patronising response illustrating Priyanka’s problematic brand of politics and feminism.
The problem is just because someone is of colour, doesn’t mean they’re an ally - and with being a South Asian woman in the mainstream (a rarity), it catapults Priyanka’s platform even more and leaves the opportunity for more scrutiny. I doubt Priyanka has a critical understanding of global affairs to understand why her tweet in February was so dangerous and the careless use of her power and privilege.
With a global status, 43.7 million Instagram followers, being named Time Magazine’s ‘Most influential person’ as well as being a UNICEF goodwill ambassador Priyanka undeniably has significant influence and a huge platform with so many South Asian people idolising her - not many South Asian women have broken into the mainstream as well as she has - as well as coming from a culture where Bollywood stars are treated as deities it becomes her responsibility to be accountable on how she uses her platform.
As a brown woman who spent most of my early 20’s looking for representation in wider, mainstream spaces for people who look like me, I’ve learnt that just because someone is a person of colour doesn’t mean they have the same values as me or want to change a system that maybe benefitting them. I heard Kelechi Okafor once say, “Skinfolk, ain’t kinfolk”. I don’t believe in cancel culture and think everyone should be given the opportunity to learn and grow. We make mistakes, but as women of colour, we’re not granted this privilege. Especially as not many women of colour have the platform, the power and privilege that come with it, the way Priyanka Chopra has. There are a number of different ways in which she could have handled the situation in a more constructive way. I understand she was put on the spot in an uncomfortable situation, but by belittling another woman, not to mention a woman of colour, choosing not to engage her in a more mature, compassionate and open way, she showed her true colours. The exchange highlighted her ignorance of a volatile situation. There is NO middle ground in war.
If there is one thing I have learned in my own journey as an advocate for diversity and inclusion, I strongly feel it important that we constantly commit to learning. During Priyanka’s response to Ayesha’s statement, there was a group cheering from the crowd to which Priyanka responded “thanks girls” as a show of power to validate what she was saying and about to say. If Priyanka disagreed with Ayesha, there was an opportunity to engage in a more respectful manner but thanking someone for ‘their voice’ after seeing security pull the mic from Ayesha’s hand is an act of violence. She supported silencing a woman from using her voice.
Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Until then, Priyanka Chopra has a long way to go before she does better.
Header image by John Sciulli/Getty Images