The senior writer for BuzzFeed Canada will discuss her book of essays, “One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter,” at Seattle’s Central Library on May 31 with Lindy West.
Do not feel bad for Scaachi Koul. I did, and she wrote — and talked — me out of it.
Yes, she was ostracized in her white city of Toronto for being an Indian immigrant, for being “brown” and having thick, dark hair seemingly everywhere. She was roofied twice — once by a bartender.
But she turned all that pain and angst into success. The senior writer at BuzzFeed Canada just published a book of essays called “One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter,” which will bring her to Seattle’s Central Library on Wednesday, May 31, at 7 p.m. in a conversation with Lindy West.
Scaachi Koul in conversation with Lindy West
The author of “One Day We’ll All be Dead And None Of This Will Matter” will appear at 7 p.m. May 31, Seattle Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle; free; (206-386-4636 or events.spl.org)
It’s an inspired pairing.
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In 2015, West famously confronted a man who had opened a fake Twitter account in her late father’s name. She wrote about it, he came forward and apologized, and their conversation made for a compelling and poignant episode of “This American Life.”
Koul made news last year when she posted on Twitter that BuzzFeed was looking for writers. “@BuzzFeedCanada would particularly like to hear from you if you are not white and not male.”
When she got some blowback, she wrote:
“IF YOU’RE A WHITE MAN UPSET THAT WE ARE LOOKING MOSTLY FOR NON-WHITE NON-MEN
I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU
GO WRITE FOR MACLEAN’S”
Koul received violent threats — rape, death, racial slurs, sexist remarks. She deleted her Twitter account for two weeks, but then returned, reflective and strong.
“All things built by humans descend into the same pitfalls: loathing, vitriol, malicious intent,” she writes in a chapter called “Mute.”
“Avoiding human nature at its most pure and even at its worst is pointless,” she writes.
The book is made up of new essays and some she wrote for BuzzFeed, such as “The Hunting Season,” in which she writes about the surveillance and rape culture that women endure. They are watched in bars and plied with drinks — and only drinks, she said.
“When a guy asks to buy you a drink,” Koul writes, “suggest he buy you a snack instead and see how that goes over.”
“They don’t like it, it doesn’t work,” she said. “Feeding you is your responsibility. Their job is to alter you. They don’t want you to get closer to your baseline.”
The essay didn’t go over well with men. Obviously.
“It depends on who I talk to,” Koul said. “A lot of men I speak to are angry with it. They feel that they’re being blamed for abuses against women.”
And many women have agreed with her. They know it happens, but struggle to put a name on it. You don’t know if you’re drinking with men or being plied.
“I like to drink,” she told me. “It’s how we communicate and meet other people. But when someone offers to buy you a drink and it turns out to be a double, is that OK? What’s acceptable? I’m trying to name something that has been in the air.”
Many of Koul’s essays have to do with her feelings of otherness: The color of her skin, the thickness of her hair, her struggle against cultural norms and expectations.
“Hair is a statement,” she writes. “But mine, mine is louder, darker, always less willing to go away. It says too much about me to be affected by mere trends. My hair is politicized in every direction. It’s either an unearthly glory, hair so perfect that people want to buy it in bags, or it’s an unholy and crude display of the most aggressive kind of femininity. The kind that doesn’t actually care what you consider feminine.
“I believe my hair is perfect only because white girls and stupid boys have told me it is perfect.”
I told her it made me sad to read that; to see a smart young woman put her self-worth in the hands of other people.
“The book is an exploration of trying to attain self-love,” she said. “I am at peace with a lot of the things I wrote about in the book. You feeling sad about my feelings, well, you don’t exist in my body and you don’t exist in my context.
“I think it’s worth acknowledging white supremacy in beauty standards,” she continued. “I can like my hair just fine, but I also recognize its ability to be accepted and whatever has proximity to whiteness is beautiful. It’s not about me, but social constructs.”
Things are better for minorities, though, aren’t they? I asked. She is the daughter of immigrants. English is her first language. She has a great job and just published a book at 26. And the academic and tech communities have created opportunities — and places in North America — for young people from around the world.
“Yes, I guess it’s better,” Koul said. “I feel like where I am, I can get an abortion and say what I want to say, and I feel like my body’s safety is not at risk at any time.
“It’s merely better, but that is not satisfying to me,” Koul said. “I can’t be the only metric for success. Just because I’m doing well doesn’t mean the larger population is doing well.”
Koul goes after much of her feeling with humor.
“Some of the self-loathing is ingrained in you when you grow up in a white society,” Koul said from Toronto. “That’s how I grew up. I grew up in a white city, and I continue to live around white culture. Those things inform the way you feel about yourself. A manifestation of your white environment.”
It also helped her develop a sense of humor about her parents, who love her to the point of never wanting her to leave the country, the city, the house or dip a toe in water.
“Humor is how I metabolize things,” she said.
Koul went to journalism school wanting to be a news reporter, “and I found out quickly that I was bad at it.” She worked as the managing editor at the online magazine Hazlitt before landing at BuzzFeed, where she has been able to write long-form essays while working on her book — a goal she has had for years.
Now that she has accomplished it, “I guess I have to make a new list.”