Bruha Spotlight: Nitasha Sharma
Nitasha Sharma is an Associate Professor of African American Studies, Asian American Studies, and Performance Studies at Northwestern University. She is the author of Hip Hop Desis: South Asian Americans, Blackness, and a Global Race Consciousness (2012) and is writing an ethnography of Black residents in her home place of Hawai‘i. You can find more information on Professor Sharma here: http://www.afam.northwestern.edu/people/faculty/nitasha-tamar-sharma.html
How do your identity/identities shape the core of your life and work?
In one way, my identities are core to my political and intellectual and social life work—they have shaped my experiences and thus how I see the world. However, as I tell my students in every course that I teach, it’s critical—imperative, even—that we do not limit our politics to our identities. I mean that I have never only felt that “Indian” or “immigrant” or “Jewish” “women’s” issues (as an Indian Jewish woman whose father is an immigrant) are “my” issue. They are—but so are so many other issues including those that are framed as “Black” or “Latina/o” or “undocumented” or “working class” issues. Rather, while I see my identities as a biracial woman of color educator from Hawai‘i as shaping my life experiences, they don’t limit or encapsulate my life work. My life work is to help understand and therefore eradicate racism and other forms of inequality. I care about and am deeply bothered by multiple forms of oppression that span from Islamophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment to incarceration and racial profiling. I am deeply saddened by what happens across the continents and across generations. So, while my experiences have been shaped by my identities—which also include middle class, daughter of academics, Libra, atheist, and mother—these identities do not offer a one to one reflection of those things that fuel me and give me life.
How do you use your work as a tool of empowerment?
As a professor of African American Studies and Asian American Studies (or as a comparative race studies scholar), my work—including teaching and research—gives me breath. And I hope what it does is offer students and anyone who listens or reads my work access to a worldview and theoretical orientation to the world that highlights several things: history is important. We are the products of history and while it makes us, it doesn’t define us. Second: power and knowledge go hand in hand> this means that the powerful “make” knowledge—they tell us what they want us to think is “real.” But it also means that the more knowledgeable we are about things, the more powerful or empowered we can be. So it’s critical to read a book, talk to people, understand history—especially the silenced one and the stories of “others.” In my course, which range from topics like the Mixed Race Experience to the Gender and Racial Politics of Hip Hop, my goals are to use current events and culture as a lens through which we understand power and society better: how does racism and capitalism intersect to oppress particular groups to the benefit of other groups? How do ideologies intersect with and justify practices? And how can we harness this knowledge in order to enact change for more equitable futures?
What does Hip Hop Bruha mean to you?
I’m not aware of Hip Hop Bruha other than this first exposure but from reading the mission statement, I’m down! It recognizes identities but also realizes that we must be coalitional, intersectional, and expansive in our political visions.
Who or what inspires your work?
I am inspired by my students. I’m inspired by radical thinkers who are really dedicating to the hard work of trying to make change and not just hate on the incompleteness or ineffectiveness of everything. I am inspired by my musical artist of a husband who is the most generous in his reading of other people. I am inspired by my children, who get my ass on the floor to play with them, prying apart legos, in order to rebuild something crazy new and silly and that makes no sense and that makes all the sense in the moment.
What is something everyone should do right now?
I think everyone should read a book or twenty. I think people should read the news. I think people should travel. And get massages. And eat mangos. And also and then, get it together, find out how they want to be involved in making sure our current administration does not irreparably and irrevocably harm the lives of millions of people at home and abroad.