South Asian Women Respond to Azealia Banks’ Racist and Homophobic Twitter Meltdown

Azealia Banks in a screen capture from her music video, "Atlantis". (Photo credit: YouTube)
Azealia Banks in a screen capture from her music video, “Atlantis”. (Photo credit: YouTube)

Songwriter and artist Azealia Banks is no stranger to controversy. Banks has made headlines — and won popular opinion — for her ardent support of Black civil rights and civic engagement, such as her suggestion in 2014 that “America owes Black people over $100 trillion” in reparations for chattel slavery and its aftermath. However, Banks has also received her fair share of criticism for slut-shaming and victim-blaming the women raped and sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby, calling T.I. a “shoe-shining coon“, and routinely using homophobic slurs in heated Twitter exchanges with other celebrities. Vulture asked last year whether Banks’ ugly bigotry has overshadowed her considerable lyrical skill, with the writer concluding that “no longer [can] we laugh off her behaviour.”

In her latest Twitter meltdown, Banks spent most of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning posting disgustingly racist, homophobic, and xenophobic slurs targeting fellow musician and former One Direction member Zayn Malik, who is biracially Pakistani British. Banks was apparently infuriated by her perception that Malik had copied some of Banks’ personal style. Whether or not that is true, this is no excuse for the revolting bigotry of Banks’ tweets, published late last night (screenshots after the jump via Kajalmag.com; trigger warning for slurs).

Over the span of roughly two hours, Banks posted the following tweets, which have since been deleted from her official Twitter account.

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Banks’ treats Malik to a veritable verbal diarrhea of disturbing and confounding hatespeech. She targets Malik with a series of homophobic slurs and statements rooted in the heterosexist logic of toxic masculinity. She also accuses Malik’s mother of being a “dirty refugee who won’t be granted asylum” (by the way, Banks’ mother is White) and calls Malik “Paki” (a racial slur), “sand nigga” (also a racial slur), and “Punjab” (not a racial slur, but Banks treats it as if being Punjabi is something to be ashamed of); all statements appear rooted in a flattening anti-Brown xenophobia that treats South Asians as a monolithic Other consistent with Banks’ head-scratching endorsement of Donald Trump last year.

Altogether, Banks targets Malik for his South Asian-ness, and succeeds only in making herself look like a bigot.

It’s just a mess of anti-South Asian and anti-Brown (not to mention nativist and homophobic) intolerance made all the more ugly by the fact that Banks has already been found guilty of cultural appropriation of South Asian cultures. In her 2012 video for Atlantis and her 2014 video for Chasing Time, Banks is seen sporting a bindi and South Asian-inspired nasal jewelry.

Azealia Banks in her music video "Chasing Time". (Photo credit: YouTube)
Azealia Banks in her music video “Chasing Time”. (Photo credit: YouTube)

Seems an awful lot like Banks wants to appropriate South Asian culture without having to respect South Asian people while she does it.

Now, South Asian women of Twitter are responding to Banks’ tirade by reappropriating one of her more bizarre slurs — “curry-scented bitch” — as a hashtag to aggregate empowering tweets of South Asian and South Asian American womanhood. Thousands of tweets and selfies have been posted to #CurryScentedBitch, expressing pride in South Asian identity and linking the racial slurs used in the tweets with larger stereotypes and cultural appropriation of Asians and Asian Americans in pop culture, much of which fuel the alarming rise in anti-South Asian and anti-Muslim violence that I’ve previously written about.

While most tweets serve as a vehicle for South Asian women to express their feminism, some have demanded to know where South Asian men are in the conversation. Others have urged participants not to allow their anger at Banks to permit anti-blackness or misogynoir.

Still more have criticized the hashtag for its potentially uncritical appropriation of problematic language, its possible reinforcement of colorism in its presentation of beautiful South Asian women, and its erasure of Black Desis.

I also have to wonder where the solidarity is from the rest of the Asian American community?

Azealia Banks’ mistreatment of South Asians and LGBTQ folks should be bothersome to all folks committed to anti-racism and anti-homophobia work, including other Asian Americans. Where are us East Asians and East Asian Americans in this conversation, and why haven’t we risen en masse to support our Brown brothers and sisters against Azealia Banks’ hatespeech?

Why are South Asian women once again being forced to bear the weight of this incident by themselves, as Brown Asian Americans too often are forced to do in the face of anti-South Asian racism and bias?

In the end, Banks’ Twitter tirade is inexcusable. But, I think it important that we hold Banks accountable while we remain mindful of the true culprit of such inter-community conflicts: white supremacy.  Banks’ hatespeech is a product of the world in which we live: one in which power is racially-coded, and people of colour learn to trample other non-Whites as they yearn to rise to the top of the pile. We are taught to behave like crabs in a barrel, fighting amongst ourselves rather than uniting and overturning the system of racism that keeps us pinned underfoot.

Meanwhile, Banks’ Twitter rant has already had consequences. Earlier yesterday, Banks was removed as the headliner of the Born & Bred music festival in Britain, organized by Rinse FM.

“Rinse Born & Bred is a celebration of rave culture and has been created for everyone. We celebrate inclusivity and equality,” said the station in a meme explaining the decision.

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