From announcing his leave from One Direction, to leaking a new demo with producer Naughty Boy, and being referenced in Bill Maher’s talk show, Zayn Malik has been in the news frequently these past few weeks.
Many people have expressed sadness about Malik’s leave, calling this “an end to One Direction,” and that he is selfish for leaving the group. Malik expresses that he is looking for something new and unique in his career and life.
I never cared much about Zayn Malik in the beginning days of One Direction, but after realizing that there was a mixed race British Pakistani Muslim in the group, I found myself pretty ecstatic to see someone such as myself represented in a mainstream light.
Looking at this from a sociological standpoint, he is the only person of color in that ensemble.
Zayn Malik has had to navigate white supremacy throughout his entire career. He’s had to play through the politics of the industry, where he needed 4 other white dudes to validate his worth as a musician: his brown face alone wasn’t enough for the industry nor public to appreciate.
Zayn has always had to be seen as a part of something. He’s always had to be ⅕ of a whole. 1 out of the 5 in the group. Even when he is alone, people see him and engage with him as only a portion of a whole – as one piece of an individual identity.
As South Asians, we always have to sort of compensate for our brownness with whiteness. We always have to assimilate or indoctrinate white supremacy into our work in order for the white world to accept us.
On Season 8 of American Idol, Anoop Desai, an Indian American, auditioned for the show. The judges reacted with shock that he could actually sing well, but also commented on his “geeky” look. He was wearing a button up and khaki shorts, to me looking more like a frat guy at the beach than an executive in a business meeting. So I wondered if his geekiness was less about his clothes and more about him being Indian.
There are other countless examples of how Asian Americans are just not taken seriously in the media. And a lot of this is attributed to the Model Minority ideology, where people of color are demanded to assimilate to whiteness in order to be accepted and successful.
These geek stereotypes create a monolithic view of Asian Americans, that we aren’t cool enough to be artists, comedians, writers, etc. We rarely are represented in complex and dynamic ways.
And I think Zayn was just fed up with all of it. I think he realized that the world he was in was never going to truly accept him.
And I’ve also done some research on instances where he’s been criminalized for his identity. He’s been referred to as a terrorist heavily by just the general public via twitter, as well as in media in shows like the Daily Show, on one particular blog for “enticing jihad,” and even his leave prompting the conversation of whether or not he was leaving to join ISIS. Mostly recently, of course, Bill Maher compared Malik to the infamous Boston Bomber, comparing pictures of the two side and side and asking the question, “where were you at the Boston bombing?”
Now, I cannot express to you how outright offensive these comments are. I’ve been through this whole schabang in middle school and high school, and I can tell you it is horrific to go through this everyday. It is traumatizing to be mocked about something so out of your reach and control. And it is hurtful to even imagine that Zayn Malik probably has to go through this everyday.
And this is why I’m happy about Zayn Malik leaving One Direction. I think this is his moment of self-determination, of really embracing who he is and not allowing others to define or control his art. And that’s pretty powerful.
Zayn, bby, you go ahead and reject that white supremacy. You go ahead and be independent, break free, and dare to be yourself. Break those social barriers around you, and define you for you.
by ZAIN AHMED
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