Brown Girl Guilt

Harpo Mander has always said, “You can’t become what you can’t see.” That’s why when she found herself working at an unfulfilling job, where she wasn’t able to fully express herself, she quit and created a space where
she could.

Now she is the host of Brown Girl Guilt, a multilayered podcast that delves into the niche stories of a brown girl’s life.

“It’s not that it’s the best podcast in the world, or that it’s the first of its kind, but I think what it does is there’s so much vulnerability in the episodes – that women are able to hear and see themselves in the stories,” says Mander.

Never having a place to look to where she could see herself, Mander’s podcast goes beyond traditional understandings of diversity and inclusion: to discuss “brownness” and what it means to be South Asian.

“I’m saying things that perhaps a lot of us haven’t even admitted to ourselves, so to have someone else say it outloud for you to be affirmed, I think that’s the part that’s connecting for a lot of people,” she says.

The guilt

Mander’s podcast was inspired by a feeling: the “Am I in trouble?” sensation of guilt. On a night where she was going to go out with her friends and family, but had already been out a few days in a row.

“You’re going out again?” asked her parents, giving her
an earful.

After expressing to her cousin that she didn’t even feel like going anymore her cousin replied, “Yeah, the brown girl guilt is so real.”

“I think the way that it spoke to the gendered and racialized emotion of guilt was so unique,” says Mander.

She put the name out to the world, and published her podcast in January 2021.

A stand out episode

“I’ve really committed to not showing my life just as a highlight reel, and really showing the entire picture,” says Mander.

In her podcast she makes it a point to talk about the highs, as well as the lows, in the hopes that others will too.

One of her favourite episodes is Eldest Sibling Syndrome, where she expresses what it means to be the oldest daughter and sister in a “brown”

The episode speaks to the emotional labour and burden that comes with being the oldest, as well as the skills she’s acquired because of that role and responsibility.

“I’ve never seen that experience, and that part of my identity, be captured so fully and explored to the depths of which it was. It got down to the root of a very specific niche experience,” says Mander.

Counter culture

“In hindsight, the podcast was a counter space that I could actually go to and tell the stories that I felt like didn’t have a place anywhere else,” says Mander, a sociology major.

Harpo Mander is the host of a multilayered podcast that delves into the niche stories of a brown girl’s life | Photo courtesy of Harpo Mander

As a proud kid from Surrey – she states with intention – Mander says a lot of her work is drawing on the experiences of being a “brown kid from Surrey” born to parents from Punjab, India.

For the longest time, Mander says balancing her identity was confusing.

“I was either too brown in some spaces, or too white in others. I was constantly looking for a sense of belonging,” she says.

It’s only recently she overcame that disconnection through the help of her community, looking to others as mirrors in the exploration of herself, culture and identity, she says.

As the general manager for 5X Festival, a dedicated space for South Asian artists to express themselves, she helps others belong too.

“It’s really surrounding myself with people who want to build the same world that I want to build,” she says.

Her advice for people wanting to enter a creative field is to try everything.

“The medium is the part that we get so stuck on; but the actual longing and yearning to express and share yourself, in a way that feels good and authentic to you, is what needs to be at the forefront when you are trying to be creative,”
says Mander.

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