4th April 2019   •   opinion
Why a controversy around Brown Girl Magazine writers going to Dubai matters for all of us

by Barfi Culture Team | @barfi_culture.
Image: YouTube / Brown Girl Magazine
by Hari Prasad

A few months ago, Brown Girl Magazine, one of the largest desi diaspora websites, came under fire from their own readers for their promotion of Dubai. Three members of BGM got a fabulous vacation to Dubai, sponsored by Emirates, the UAE-owned airlines.

Other desis, including myself, criticized this move. The initial response from BGM was a bit lackluster.

While BGM is primarily oriented towards women, it publishes a variety of articles discussing everything from social issues to feminism and activism. All this makes their initial decision a bit disappointing.

The UAE remains one of the worst abusers of human rights, and South Asians in particular have been affected by the countries kafila system. This has been established over and over and over again, through human rights reports, testimony, and even from Gulf activists.

When governments or government owned companies offer you a free flight, they want the positive PR, they need the positive spin. Multiple countries in the Gulf, such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc., are involved in a propaganda war and seek any avenue they can to get positive media coverage.

So this article isn't an attack on BGM, but the incident brings up a larger issue many desi diaspora organizations need to deal with.

Take the example of Southwest airlines. South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) made the difficult decision to terminate their relationship with Southwest Airlines due to its racial and religious profiling. Perhaps SAALT was financially stable enough to reject the money. But for an organization that dedicates itself to fighting injustice against desis and others, this was a principled decision.

After the controversy, Brown Girl Magazine issued a formal statement that acknowledged the criticism of their Dubai trip and promised to be better in the future.

The desi diaspora in the United States find itself in a unique position. Many of our institutions are relatively new and are trying to find sustainable ways to move forward.

The progressive desi space is still working on trying to find its voice and footing. Controversies over funding are likely to continue. Of course there is an onus on these institutions and publications to try and not compromise their values or hurts the communities that they represent.

But just as important as holding them accountable, we also need to be willing to invest in them ourselves.
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