Priyanka Chopra's refugee t-shirt row: Why Condé Nast's explanation makes no sense

FP Staff

Oct,11 2016 14:49:28 IST

After triggering a wave of criticism, accusations of insensitivity, privilege and political incorrectness, Condé Nast Traveller has finally issued a statement regarding the "refugee" t-shirt worn by Priyanka Chopra on its recent cover.

Priyanka Chopra's 'refugee' t-shirt triggers Twitter row; actress called out for insensitivity

The t-shirt had the words "refugee", "immigrant", "outsider" and "traveller" written across it. The first three options were struck out, leaving only "traveller".

The t-shirt otherwise known as the 'ganji from hell'

The t-shirt otherwise known as the 'ganji from hell'

In the accompanying interview inside the magazine, Priyanka talks about not having roots, and being a "West Coast kind of girl" among other things.

"I’m more of a West Coast kind of girl. I like the chill of LA. But I’m a nomad. And look at the world we live in today, we can literally get on a plane, go somewhere for five hours, have lunch, and come back. Why do you have to commit? I have commitment issues anyway," she was quoted as saying.

people took to social media to point out that for millions of people displaced by civil war and other calamities, being a refugee was not a matter of choice. Others said that a condition created due to war should not be used as a silly marketing gimmick by a magazine.

Firstpost published this analytical takedown of the "ganji from hell", written by Nisha Susan of online magazine The Ladies Finger. Read it here:

Priyanka Chopra's refugee t-shirt row: What was that 'ganji from hell' really saying?

Susan points out that depending on who the message on Priyanka's t-shirt was directed at, it can be interpreted in different ways:

Is she standing in the US looking India-wards, saying “don’t call me a refugee/migrant/outsider, call me a traveller”? In which case PC and the crew behind this cover seem blissfully unaware that “I am a traveller” is one of the most heavily mocked contemporary tropes. Everyone has made fun of the smug privilege of the “I quit my job to travel the world” posse...

Is she standing in the US looking out at the American landscape she has cut swathes through, saying don’t call me a refugee/migrant/outsider, call me a traveller? That t-shirt doesn’t look much better now. What ridiculous meaning would it have to turn your back on the label refugee in 2016, a label that tortures 60 million people around the world. Or the words ‘immigrant’ and ‘outsider’ which are floating about in a toxic, boiling cauldron in the US.

Meanwhile, Condé Nast Traveller has finally issued a statement in an attempt to clarify its stance.

The following in the text of their statement:

"We believe that the opening up of borders and the breaking down of walls can help us discover the world, and open up our minds and hearts. So, when we had actress Priyanka Chopra wear a T-shirt we created on the cover of our 6th anniversary issue, we had a point to make. And it's not about privilege. Or fashion.

It's about how our labelling of people as immigrants, refugees and outsiders is creating a culture of xenophobia. We are allowing thousands of innocent people who are forced to cross borders due to unimaginable terror and atrocities to be treated without humanity and empathy. It’s about how we are allowing some powerful leaders to build barriers that make it more difficult for bright, motivated and hardworking people to see more of the world, learn from it and make it better for us all.

It’s time we demand better, and stand against the building of walls, literal and otherwise. We must demand a world free of racism and bigotry and prejudice, so that we — and generations after us — may enjoy all the abundance that travel offers, the beauty of a world that is open and rich and diverse in its people and cultures and geographies. And we must, in the midst of our many differences, find and celebrate our commonalities, our oneness. We must recognise that we are all on a journey. Whether we are moving across oceans or just a few kilometres, or in our mind's eye, into a completely different world, whether we are doing so due to free will or circumstance — that we are all travellers.

And this is why Priyanka Chopra — a star at home and abroad, who has experienced firsthand the opportunities that travel offers — is the perfect ambassador."

Unfortunately, that is exactly why that refugee t-shirt is politically incorrect, insensitive and just plain ill thought out — all the accusations that have been levelled at it.

"Priyanka Chopra — a star at home and abroad, who has experienced firsthand the opportunities that travel offers" cannot be the perfect ambassador because she wasn't displaced, she chose to travel to further her career, and is paid a tremendous amount of money to do so.

Why that isn't the narrative of most displaced people in the world — why you can't take away the violence and deprivation of their circumstances and give it a cool sounding label like 'traveller' doesn't really need to be explained.

If the message that the cover truly intended to convey was one of inclusion, of doing away with xenophobia, of drawing attention to the refugee crisis, maybe the "perfect ambassador" would have been someone like Olympian swimmer Yusra Mardini. Or any of the other athletes who participated under the 'refugee' flag at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games at Rio de Janeiro.

And they wouldn't have wanted their situation to be explained away as 'traveller'.

Updated Date: Oct 11, 2016 14:49 PM