Exploring Vaneet Pani’s journey of self-discovery and activism while absorbing her considerable impact on society as a whole.
Voice. We all have one. Whether it be through sound, writing, or gestures–voices break barriers while establishing ideas, thoughts, and indignance. Vaneet Pani (11) knows how to use her voice. At only 16 years of age, Vaneet’s voice has transcended boundaries and has become a powerful catalyst that delivers justice through an untraditional medium–social media.
Vaneet has been pursuing activism for a while, and when asked how she first became involved in activism through social media, she says it was almost inevitable.
“I used to watch seven o’clock news with my dad a lot and that just kind of shaped my mindset and I’d see what’s going on in the world, what’s wrong with it. And then you hop on social media. And, of course, you’re exposed much more to it. And you see that there are so many injustices happening, because we grow up and think that the world is amazing and great in this country that we live in. It’s amazing, and it’s a model for other countries, but then you learn more and more about it. You see that a lot of those problems that we think we’ve solved are still there.”
However, though social media has become a prominent medium for information to spread, many argue that it nurtures performative activism, that is, individuals speaking out to simply bandwagon off opinions spread through social media even if they don’t truly align with those beliefs. Vaneet Pani has a word for performative activists.
“I cannot tell you how much I hate performative activism: if you’re going to speak up on something, make sure it’s something you believe in. I remember last year, during the Black Lives Matter [movement]. Back then everybody was posting blackout Tuesday, basically the same thing out of solidarity. But then I looked back on it, and I’m like, okay, who does that help? How many people signed the George Floyd petition and how many people posted a black square? What is posting a black square? What does that do? I remember seeing people who I’ve talked to who don’t really care much or look into these issues as much. Who’s doing this? Who actually cares? It’s mostly irritating to me, because you think that these people are actually into social justice issues, and then you’ve talked to them about it. And you see that they don’t know what about it, and that they actually don’t care. They’re just doing it to seem good and seem better. It’s not a competition.”
Sukhraj Brar (11), a close friend of Vaneet’s, says her personality is multifaceted and even lends hand to her activism.
“Vaneet’s personality is really inspiring, because she somehow maintains being truthful and honest, yet still being really kind and friendly with all those she meets. I really value how honest we are with one another, be it from our struggles that particular day, or even if we make fun of each other yet still show how much we value the friendship we have developed. Her activism is definitely fiery, because she is really passionate and wants to see things to the end for the most part. I do think that sometimes she is a bit stubborn, but honestly, her passion and drive for activism is inspiring and I believe she can help shape projects she collaborates on.”
But, as with anything posted on a platform as large as social media, words are often weaponized through comments and responses to posts and stories. Though Sukhraj and others support Vaneet, Vaneet herself says she’s faced gaslighting and hate comments for what she’s posted online.
“Back in December, I posted something on my story that’s been irritating. A lot of people think that you can be racist to white people. And thing is, you can’t. I wanted to clarify that in my story. I provided in my opinion, a detailed explanation of why you can’t be racist to white people and why you can have racial prejudice, but you can’t be racist. I think maybe about 4 to 5 people responded to my story, basically just disagreeing with me. I was engaged in a debate with them, but at some point, they just started being very, very immature and disapproved of me by hurling insults at me.”
So how does Vaneet stay motivated? What pushes her to continue speaking out despite the roadblocks that come with it?
“No matter what you do, there are people that agree with you, there are going to be people that disagree with you, they’re gonna call you names. There’s always gonna be that type of person. You can never be a perfect person. That’s not a thing. Everybody has their own visions. I’ve received messages from people being like, ‘you’re so annoying,’ ‘stop posting on social media,’ ‘Nobody cares about these issues’. I’m not doing this for you. At the end of the day, I’m doing this because this is one thing I believe in. If you don’t like what I’m posting, the unfollow button is right there. I don’t care if you unfollow me for saying this because this is something I care about.”
Alison Clarke (11), another close friend of Vaneet, feels that Vaneet’s opinions are crucial.
“My favorite characteristic about her is how opinionated she is and how she’s unafraid to say what she thinks but she’ll also hold back if it’s not the right thing to say. I value her honesty the most in my friendship with her because we’ve talked about so much that I feel like we can tell each other anything.”
Shanza Faraz (11) who’s been acquainted with Vaneet for several years says that Vaneet’s thoughtfulness goes a long way. “I really like that Vaneet is her confidence and how she carries herself as she’s very well-spoken and always stands up for what she believes in. One time I remember I was shopping with her at the mall a few years ago and there was this shirt she liked which had different languages on it. I asked her to get it and she told me she was unsure if it was cultural appropriation and she ended up not getting it. Although it seems like a small and weird instance to talk about, I found it admirable how careful she was to be respectful even in smaller actions.”
Though social media often seems like the ideal platform for individuals to be unapologetically themselves, many are nervous or hesitant to post their thoughts on social media. Vaneet says there’s nothing to be scared of.
“So to everybody that is scared and wants to speak up on it, do it. In the long run, you’re not hurting anybody. Anybody that dislikes it can unfollow you that’s there. They can do that. It’s not going to hurt you…If you’re scared of getting backlash, make sure you know enough on the topic, make sure you have your facts down. So if a person tries to debate with you, if you get backlash, you say, ‘okay, this is, this is my position and this is why I’ve taken this position. This is the evidence that I have to back it up. If you have anything more to say that if you have any evidence if you have any logical reasoning for your position, I’m more than ready to listen.’
Recently, Vaneet has manifested her activism into social realities by collaborating with other juniors on a project to alleviate the pressure surrounding mental health in high-schoolers during quarantine.
“The whole student body, like a lot of my, for a lot of our friends, we weren’t all doing too well. And then you have social distancing. Learning through zoom is very difficult and, of course, when we are going to school, there are still mental health issues. But, during quarantine, a lot of those issues came to light. Because now there’s this whole communication thing, and it’s just being brought out more. So in December, finals were coming up and everything every everybody was obviously super stressed. We were basically thinking, what can we do to help students more at sort of a school level. We sent out a survey, you know, just to see everything. We’re proud to work with the school administration right now to input more things for the next year. That’ll definitely help students and create a much more friendly environment for students so that they won’t feel scared to talk about mental health issues and help them feel safer in the school environment.”
Mihika Balaji (11), who worked alongside Vaneet to propose mental health reform at American says, “Vaneet is really dedicated and passionate about meeting new people and hearing what they say and incorporating that into her platform.”
As for the future, Vaneet says activism will definitely continue to be a part of her life.
“Really, if I could get into a position where I could actively make more change, where I could make those kinds of regulations, everything, that’d be really cool. So I’m thinking, right now, I want to be a lawyer. That’s definitely something that I want to get into. [I would like] a position that would enable me rather to kind of help create laws or propositions that would help people.”
Vaneet has most definitely mechanized her voice to its fullest potential; with a combination of passionate posts, long but necessary research, debates and responses to opposers, Vaneet has constructed a multifaceted outlet for herself in which she is undeniably herself. Her voice, as powerful and substantial as it is, never fails to ricochet back to make itself heard.
Audio of the interview: