The Monday Media Diet with Ayesha Khan

On Pakistan, Caste, and skating

I first met Ayesha Khan while doing the whirlwind circuit with a friend of WITI (and bon vivant) Ricky Engelberg at SXSW long ago. She had come back stateside after being in the wilds of street culture with Nike. It was a very fortunate meeting and I remember the conversation being wide-ranging and fun. She’s now based in Portland, and here she shares what she’s paying attention to in media and culture. Have a great week. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I’m a Pakistani-American millennial womxn curious about breaking down barriers between different communities and using the power of diversity to subvert old, and outdated systems, norms, or messages.  

I currently work as a creative director at Nike, helping to craft stories that elevate and connect marginalized groups.  I try to use the power of the brand and creative technology to inspire and empower young people to take action against specific issues that seem to define our time, such as voting, the climate crisis, and normalizing trans athletes. 

My west coast roots show through a lot; I was raised by a hippie mother and immigrant father in Portland, Oregon at the turn of the millennia, and quickly jetted off to LA to come of age in the pre-social media and highly problematic modeling scene of Southern California.  Attending liberal arts college and playing DIII Basketball in Highland Park, I unsurprisingly never fit in with the private school kids, opting instead to code-switch my way through adolescence adulthood.  Through all that, eventually, the traditions and values of my Rajput family and history became the most important influence on my young life, were spending as much time as possible in Karachi, Pakistan with extended family, relishing the privilege of knowing my history as far back as nine generations when a branch in our family tree was converted to Islam.  

In my free time, besides an imperative for daily physical activity, I love to explore the creation and styling of south Asian traditional clothing, textiles, hand-work, and adornment used in preparation for weddings and special occasions.  

I also love to cook complicated meals and bake plant-based goodies that mimic the taste of the real thing.  

Describe your media diet. 

My Google assistant wakes me up with a news summary, either NPR’s News Now or the NYT’s Daily Briefing.  

I then usually check NYT’s app or Axios for business headlines, Twitter for any instantaneous happenings, as well as catch up on industry or fashion news, with High Snobeity, HypeBae, Business of Fashion, and the like.  To understand how brands and people are speaking to issues that affect marginalized communities and hear from writers of the community, I go to THEM., Mission Magazine, The Undefeated.  Lately, I’ve been catching up on South Asian issues and culture via the news blog The Juggernaut.  I also check out the Anti-Racism Daily newsletter at the suggestion of my teammate, a great daily dose of social justice actions we can all take to dismantle white supremacy.  Oh and along those lines I also go to Mona Eltahawy’s Feminist Giant newsletter, for tips and anecdotes on dismantling the patriarchy, which of course we know is what enables white supremacy. 

To accompany any workout, I’m usually podcasting tech reports, social justice current events, or culture - Kara Swisher and Sway is a regular favorite for her interview style and holding tech giants accountable, (I also like Daniel Harvey’s 20 Minutes into the Future blog for this). Along with Pod Save The People, for under-reported news, while Code Switch and Still Processing just because I can always relate! Once I get all that in, I occasionally switch to leadership skill-building and self-awareness podcasts like Adam Grant’s Worklife or Brene Brown’s, Unlocking Us, if I’m in that mood.  

What’s the last great book you read?

CASTE by Isabel Wilkerson - a suggestion from my mother (usually the source of many of my best book reads) about the hidden caste system that has shaped America throughout its history.  It resonated with me as an interesting comparison to caste systems in India as well as an exploration of the common pillars of caste throughout the world. 

What are you reading now?

Currently reading A Promised Land and re-reading Assata by Assata Shakur.

What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?

Cover to cover. Doesn’t matter what it is. I have always done it this way even when I was reading Slam magazine in high school.  Therefore I need to be in a secluded location with time to spare, or in transit to really get absorbed.  If I don’t have that luxury, I’ll carry the publication with me and read it bit by bit until I’m finished.  It could be The New Yorker or Popeye Magazine, for City Boys, doesn’t matter, I’m digging in. 

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

Right now - Arundhati Roy, and all of her wickedly genius activism, but most recently her piece on the Modi government's crime against humanity and its response to Covid-19, happening in India. 

What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone? 

The one my partner and I just built documenting in an open-source manner, the ephemerality of graffiti, street murals, and protest art created throughout the pandemic and social uprisings of last summer, in 3D and augmented reality.  It’s a web app called Street ARtifacts and it’s pretty fresh, IMHO.  

Plane or train?

Well, pre-pandemic it was most definitely a plane, but now learning more and more about my carbon footprint and what it’s collectively going to take to urgently meet rather than exceed the 1.5 degree target, I’m more open to landing in a place like Japan and just taking the Shinkansen (bullet trains) for the rest of my days. 

What is one place everyone should visit? 

The majestic Fairy Meadows, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas.  I can't begin to describe the breathtaking natural environment, wild horses, and kind-hearted community that resides there. Probably best to just google it. 

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into. 

When lock-down hit, my partner bought me a pair of inline skates, and I have literally not looked back since.  I use them every day and have fulfilled my speed-demon dreams, using 110mm free skate wheels to slide, skid, and soar through the streets.  I’m still in the rabbit hole with this one, even considering making a roller-aerobics fitness series to bring inline skates back full force.  (AK)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Ayesha (AK)

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