Being a brown kid in Canada isn’t easy, but it’s becoming less lonely through the internet and its power to connect humans with each other. A once isolating experience, the advent of mediums like YouTube and Twitter extend ethnic minorities a lifeline to other Canadians going through similar life experiences.
Scarborough’s Lilly Singh, a.k.a Superwoman, ranked first on Forbes Top Influencers List in the entertainment category this year. Brampton’s Jasmeet Singh a.k.a. Jus Reign, has amassed over 800,000 subscribers on YouTube and has one of the largest Snapchat audiences in Canada. Filmmaker, actress, and model Kiran Rai; designer Mani Jassal; Vancouver rapper Jasleen Powar a.k.a. Horsepowar; and, hell, NDP candidate Jagmeet Singh are all well known in the social media sphere. What do they all have in common? They’re young Canadian entrepreneurs of South Asian heritage.
High Top Flip Flops (HTFF) is a podcast in the very same vein. Comprised of Trent alum Krish Dineshkumar and Ryerson graduate Nivake Sukumar, HTFF spans music, politics, and life in Toronto and the GTA through the humorous lens of the first-generation Canadian experience. The name High Top Flip Flops comes from a Tyler The Creator song. “He broke through and did exactly what he wanted to do,” Nivake expressed.
It all started when Krish and Nivake learned that they were related while at a family event. This revelation was a blessing to the podcast universe; for we never would have had HTFF without it. Upon this discovery, the two headed to a Mexico Lindo restaurant to explore common ground in music and television, and that’s where the magic began.
When asked why podcasting appealed to him over other means of broadcast, Nivake told me, “YouTube is saturated in 2017. If we did videos like Type of Girls You Should Date, I would scratch my eyes out. Also, Krish has an amazing voice for radio.” Krish Dineshkumar gives Peter Mansbridge a run for his money.
HTFF is conversation- and interview-based, and can often be self-deprecating in its humour. HTFF is produced in the “studio” that is Krish’s mother’s basement. Krish referred to Trent Radio as being incredibly influential: “Trent Radio gave me the confidence to present my voice in front of a mic.” Nivake has always spent his time watching interviews of artists and creative people he admires, a format where podcasting shines.
HTFF brings a South Asian perspective to the table. Krish explains, “Being Sri Lankan Tamil people, you realize that outlook isn’t really there, and although it’s not something we talk about every episode, it’s our perspective.
“When we find out that there is a particular Tamil artist, we want to talk to them immediately. The arts are outside of the stereotypical South Asian norm, so it’s encouraging for Nivake and I to talk to people who are chasing their dreams regardless of traditional expectations. Our friend Mirusha is on the show sometimes as well. She’s very well read, so she’s great when we want to dive into a social topic.”
There is liberation in the realization that you’re not alone. That you are not the only one sneaking out to go to that party, you are not the only one bringing roti to school for lunch, that you’re not the only one being asked what that “thing” is on your head.
HTFF uses comedy as a conduit to explore heavier topics such as race and bigotry. No one wants to be bludgeoned by nihilistic tirades on race relations when they’re at the No Frills figuring out which zucchini squash is freshest.
The ‘brownness’ of first-generation Canadians is unique. The realities of culture, tradition, and religion that exist ‘back home’ are certainly not dissolved here, but a certain ambiguity has formed in Canada among South Asians. “South Asia is very diverse, and we are slowly learning about discrimination within India alone, which is mind blowing and wouldn’t have crossed our minds until a year ago,” says Krish.
The experience of growing up brown in a nation where you are othered, but it’s all you’ve ever known, has created a commonality among South Asian Canadians. Nivake reflects on this, “Earl Sweatshirt says in one his songs that he’s too black for the white kids and too white for the black kids.” Individuals in this liminal space are jokingly called ‘coconuts,’ brown on the outside, but white on the inside.
HTFF is challenging the underrepresentation of brown role models by pushing the narrative that brown people can have bigger parts and play romantic leads. HTFF also aims to inspire: “We get super excited when a young cousin or friend of theirs say that they enjoy the show. It’s the young people of the world who are going to internalize if something is doable or not. Everyone should have the opportunity to go after whatever they want without hesitation or fear of backlash from their community. We have a very behind-closed-doors attitude in the Tamil community. This whole ‘what will people think’ concern, but once you’re poppin’ it’s like, ‘My son does this!’ And it’s like, why couldn’t you just support me in the first place?” Nivake explains.
HTFF is internally rebellious while rising up to empower the South Asian identity. “Doing this twice a month while holding down our jobs is a good break from life; it’s an escape. We see it eventually becoming a weekly podcast, that’s definitely the ideal.”
There is an emerging tide of diasporic Canadian youth carving out spaces to tell stories, and the internet has made this increasingly possible. High Top Flip Flops is a part of this phenomenon.