Jeever Madness
Saying Goodbye to Sepia Mutiny

When I was in high school, reading Sepia Mutiny was a matter of daily routine. In a nearly all-white school, reading and discussing the blog with my South Asian friends reminded me that I was a part of something bigger—a shared sense of identification that became my way of navigating both the everyday racial politics of suburban Texas and the generic, mundane angst that comes with being a teenager. In my worst conditions of high school senioritis, I found Sepia Mutiny to be a much better use of my time than whatever my assignment was in my required computer class. Once, when scrolling through the site, some other kid in the class leaned over my shoulder to ask what I was reading. I don’t remember exactly how I described it to him. Knowing my teenage self, I probably reveled in using the word “diaspora,” a term I had the feeling that I would be throwing around a lot in a few months when I went off to college. “See I don’t get that,” he responded, “because I could never talk about a blog that only focuses on white people.” It was the type of simplistic, dismissive attitude towards race that I now find incredibly banal; anybody with any entry-level understanding of race (or cliche stand-up comedy for that matter) knows when to respond that every month is White History Month. However, at that moment, I understood that I didn’t just casually enjoy reading Sepia Mutiny, I needed it. At a time when I began to deeply identify with Desi politics, arts, and culture, Sepia Mutiny became a necessity when so many of my peers saw that type of identification as incomprehensible, or even privileged and antagonistic.

Sepia Mutiny gave me access to a type of engagement with Desi-ness that I could never access through the other resources available to me. As Amardeep Singh pointed out on his farewell post on the blog, Sepia Mutiny was never homogenous in its perspective. The site became a space to express and debate the types of large-scale concerns about South Asian American politics that were rarely deemed interesting enough for conversations at uncle-aunty parties or, as I would later discover, many cultural organizations I joined as an undergraduate. For my Desi friends who felt the same way, so many of our conversations in college began with “did you read the new Sepia post?” But I was also aware that Sepia Mutiny wasn’t just a means for me to come of age as an American Desi. After the way that the site mobilized opposition to Jim Webb in the wake of Macacagate, I became aware that these conversations could translate to action. After growing up regularly witnessing the type of infantile racism that Webb committed, to see the mobilization of Sepia’s backlash was nothing short of extraordinary.

As I grew older, however, I found myself reading Sepia Mutiny less often. The comments sections grew increasingly repetitive and offensive. Living in DC as an undergraduate allowed me to find real-life resources to explore Desi politics and arts, and the site became less central to my understanding of my place in the diaspora. In the last couple years, Sepia Mutiny was no longer a part of my routine. Though I still regularly enjoyed posts by my favorite authors, I often found myself skimming. In the last few months, I visited Sepia Mutiny pretty sparingly. It had become like a friend that I lost touch with, but still called out of obligation and a weak hope that we might rekindle the relationship we once had. I didn’t even find out about Sepia Mutiny’s upcoming retirement through the site itself. I found out through a text message from a friend, the same way I’ve lately been finding out about high school acquaintances’ engagements or pregnancies. 

Despite the fact that I’ve drifted apart from Sepia Mutiny, there was something saddening about learning of its end. Though it might not have felt like it lately, Sepia Mutiny was a space to discuss big issues  that might never be spoken aloud. Older posts on heavy topics like hate crime and sexual violence serve as a reminder of the role that the site served and the potential it still has. While I like to think that platforms like Tumblr might fill this gap, I worry that the types of discussions that might dominate these communities are often informed by authenticity politics and simplistic, possessive notions of culture. So many young Desis now see cultural appropriation as their main struggle, which, though well intentioned, I find ultimately counter-intuitive. Rather than viewing Desi identity in complex terms, I believe that such arguments reduce “culture” to consumable possessions that purportedly authentically belong to “us”. While these issues can be problematic, when I read blog posts by Desi youths directing rage at white women in bindis or South Asian-inspired runway looks, I’m disappointed by the way such conversations undermine larger discussions about how contested and unstable diasporic culture is. In its heyday, that’s what Sepia Mutiny was able to provide. Any claims to authenticity on the site were usually outweighed by a competing, contradictory perspective, so that Desi identity was never taken as stable or fixed. Though I didn’t realize it when I was in high school and first encountering the site,  that’s the lesson I best learned through Sepia Mutiny. While I originally turned to the site to help me discover what it means to be Desi, Sepia Mutiny taught me the incredible, empowering impossibility of such an endeavor, and more importantly, why that was a reality worth defending.