'Rag Head': Canadian performer turns racist term on its head in New York show

'Rag Head: An American Story' is the title of Calgary-born, LA-based Sundeep Morrison’s new solo show and it seeks to reclaim a pejorative term and turn it into advocacy.

The show was inspired by the 2012 fatal shooting spree by a white supremacist at a Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, near where the Punjabi Sikh performer’s parents were living at the time. Sundeep, who goes by they/them pronouns spoke to Yahoo Canada about the harsh reality of living in post-9/11 North America as a brown person.

"After the shooting, I was just, you know, I was angry, I was sad, and I was anxious and worried about them. And so for me, I used it as a writing exercise to just kind of purge my feelings and explore all of my emotions and get it out of my system," they said.

The show will run at the United Solo Festival, performing in NYC on Oct 28th. Watch the video to learn more.

Video by Shibani Gokhale

Video Transcript


SUNDEEP MORRISON: After the shooting, you know, it rattled our community. It really was one of the first times where I really questioned my parent's safety, especially in a place you think-- your place of worship is your sanctuary. And if something could happen there, it could happen anywhere. And so after that-- after the shooting, I was just I was angry, I was sad, and I was anxious and worried about them. And so for me I used it as a writing exercise to just, kind of, purge my feelings and explore all of my emotions and get it out of my system.

I'm a solo performer. This is a small production. It's a grassroots production.

And so for me being a queer, non-binary South Asian Punjabi creative, I think to get any story out into the world, let alone on a stage or in front of people, is a challenge. But I've been really, really fortunate with the support that I have. But it has been met with a lot of strong emotions, I'll say.

I chose it as a title on purpose because it was one of the first slanders I heard against my dad as a kid. I had no idea what it meant. I knew what a rag was. I knew what a head was. But what he wore was his cloth crown.

And so that moment stuck with me. And I think that with the internet and social media, white supremacists see the title and they think that it's a piece that sympathizes with their ideologies. And then when they take a deeper dive and they realize that the piece is completely antithetical and that it is an advocacy piece, then they have strong emotions about it.

It's about the immigrant experience, especially post 9/11 in America, in Canada and just how that impacts all of us. And also, I wrote this because the South Asian community, we know the struggle. As children of immigrants, we know this struggle. So I really did write this as an advocacy piece for the white audience, especially for them to see and learn and to walk away feeling something. And hopefully, when people are in circles where you have that soft racism or that overt racism, that that's a moment where you speak up and you, kind of, use your voice.

I play a Muslim character and she's based off of a dear friend that I grew up with who wore a hijab. And I think that this moment, especially post 9/11 and with the shooting, you know, there were some sentiments of trying to create divisiveness within the South Asian community against Sikhs or Muslims. So it was really important for me to show that narrative in the story as well because I don't think that that's talked about enough. Because there's a lot of pitting against when we share that common thread. Whether you're Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, but especially if you're South Asian, of knowing that feeling that we're in this together.