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After more than a decade of performing, the Kominas were getting tired.

They weren't tired of playing music, though — that remained the best part of their days. Instead, the punk rock band was exhausted by always having to explain, identify, and defend themselves as Americans of South Asian descent in a mostly white punk rock scene.

"In our early days, we definitely coexisted with a lot of local, very white punk bands. But even then, I felt like we were some kind of fetish," said guitarist Shahjehan Khan, in a band interview with Spencer Shannon. According to Khan, even bands that they were friends with still couldn't tell the members of the Kominas apart sometimes.


Basim Usmani, Karna Ray, Sunny Ali, and Shahjehan Khan. Photo by Eva Wo/the Kominas, used with permission.

They released a new record in 2015, appropriately titled "Stereotype," and they wanted to go on tour to promote it. But as brown-skinned dudes in America, they didn't feel very safe.

Somehow, things for South Asian Americans — including Pakistanis, Muslims, Sikhs, and many other groups — were looking even worse than when the band first formed a few years after 9/11.

"The climate in America right now, with all the shit going on politically and with the election ... every day is like there’s new shit happening and it’s so hard to keep up. You get kind of numb to it and not really dealing with it," said guitarist/vocalist Sunny Ali.

"But our shows have been getting more and more [people-of-color] majority ... and it’s just cool to have a place that everybody can get together in that way, and just potentially be like moshing with each other, then picking each other up if someone fell," he added. "Even just physically being that close to like-minded people can be therapeutic."

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

In the summer of 2016, the band decided to pack up their gear and embark on a "Rock Therapy" tour across the United States.

They'd play music on the tour, of course. The 10,000-mile, monthlong tour would take them to 20 cities, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Houston, to Olympia, Washington. But most importantly, it would be all about inclusiveness.

This trek might sound scary at a time when the cringeworthy xenophobia of "Ban Muslims!" is so central to the zeitgeist. But that's why the Kominas are making an effort to perform at inclusive cultural centers and music venues with other like-minded artists and musicians.

"It’s not just a rock therapy tour. It’s like a 'Magic School Bus' education," explained vocalist/bassist Basim Usmani. "It's us going through the USA and saying, 'What is this place?' Then being able to look around and say, 'Honey, you’re home' and ... get that positive feeling of, 'Yeah, I was born in this country, and I love it.'"

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

Their tour kicked off at the Lilypad in Cambridge in July.

100 eager fans crammed into the small gallery space that night. Gutter punks and hipsters danced alongside dolled-up young professionals. There were even a few older parents who showed up ready to rock. Most of the crowd had brown skin, and some wore dastaars or kameez or saris. At one point in the evening, the audience let out a collective chuckle when the opening band's Bengali-American singer joked that the drummer could pronounce Sanskrit better than she could.

The show was easily one of the warmest and most inviting rock 'n' roll shows I'd ever been a part of, and I was immediately struck by the bonds that were apparent even between strangers — just because they all felt comfortable in the space.

One fan, Sara Hussain, said she felt right at home watching the Kominas. "I'm a South Asian girl, and it’s the first time I’ve seen artists that have made their name that are South Asian artists," she told Upworthy. "They wear our clothing, they say the words that we understand, they share our languages. That’s how we connect to them. You really can’t see yourself represented in the world unless you actually see yourself up there, or people like you, right?"

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

Every band that played that night had some kind of South Asian influence bleeding through their sound. But at the same time, the bands were just your average American indie rock bands, too.

"Rock Therapy might be kind of healing those wounds that are created by people who are prejudiced against those Pakistani Americans or Muslim Americans or Desi," said Levi Ali, a musician and longtime Kominas fan who was in the audience that night, in an interview with Upworthy. "You have to go and support everyone who’s doing that because that’s how you start a movement. ... It’s showing that we are something in this country, we’re here too, and we’re doing cool stuff."

"When you try to represent your culture which is largely ignored, any kind of symbol becomes huge."

Photo by SUNDAYS/cool/the Kominas, used with permission.

All too often, minorities in America are saddled with the responsibility of being the spokespeople for their entire group.

There is obviously a vibrant South Asian rock music community in America, as evidenced by the Kominas tour. But even in the earliest days of their success, they were forced to act both in press and at concerts as some kind of monolithic archetypal stand-in for all South Asian Americans who like rock music, which has been incredibly difficult.

"A large portion of our fanbase is people of color," drummer Karna Ray explained to Shannon. "Hopefully with this [new tour], we can create small spaces where people are alleviated of having that responsibility" of always having to explain and identify themselves.

Photo by HYFN/the Kominas, used with permission.

Case in point: The Kominas are frequently referred to as a "Muslim punk band" even though they're not all Muslim.

But they are all Americans.

Sure, they embrace and poke fun at their experiences as South Asian Americans in songs like "See Something, Say Something," the "Friends"-inspired "4 White Guys," and "Sharia Law in the USA." But it's not the only thing that defines them.

"Our songs critique the world around us, but a lot of people can read whatever paternal, like, 'They’re trying to reform their savage culture!' bullcrap they want," said Usmani. "That makes what we’re doing feel really gross. We’re not, like, 'one of the good ones.'"

"It’s difficult because a lot of other bands, they’re just going through it. They’re not even saddled with an identity," he added. "No one’s like, 'Wow, a white band’s playing tonight!'"

Photo by Eddie Austin/the Kominas, used with permission.

That's why it's so important that bands like the Kominas are using the power of community to create safe spaces for all types of Americans.

If you ask the Kominas directly about what they want audiences to take away from their music and performances, they probably won't talk to you about inclusiveness alone. No, instead they'd all tell you the exact same thing in unison: "Buy our T-shirts!"

It's a silly and moving reminder that they're still just another great American rock 'n' roll band trying to make a living by doing what they love — even if that does involve a little rock therapy.

But tours like these still make a huge difference for South Asian Americans in particular, especially at a time when many of them could use the support. But that doesn't mean the rest of us are left out of the fun, either — we can all listen to their music and enjoy their shows (and, yes, laugh at their hilarious music videos), while also reminding ourselves that America's strength lies in diversity, not exclusion.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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14 things that will remain fun no matter how old you get

Your inner child will thank you for doing at least one of these.

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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When we’re kids, fun comes so easily. You have coloring books and team sports and daily recess … so many opportunities to laugh, play and explore. As we get older, these activities get replaced by routine and responsibility (and yes, at times, survival). Adulthood, yuck.

Many of us want to have more fun, but making time for it still doesn’t come as easily as it did when we were kids—whether that’s because of guilt, a long list of other priorities or because we don’t feel it’s an age-appropriate thing to long for.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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This article originally appeared on 02.25.21


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