Black, Brown, Other

As 1 of 5 black creatives at my place of work, I’m constantly feeling displaced. Having to think about my own identity was the impetus for this project. I wanted an opportunity to collaborate creatively with people who felt the same. Instead of forcing a sense of strength or power, I needed to express a sense of vulnerability. To exhale.

People of color spend our whole lives being strong. Having to be the model minority, or exist without expression — the moment you truly reveal yourself it’s too much. (“I didn’t expect you to be ‘urban’ all of a sudden.”)  These photos and interviews explore the burden of being silent. There are so many ways that American life shuts out people of color unintentionally, and this project gave the opportunity for us to decompress all of that through candid talk.

Below is the story of Ushshi.


I grew up in Bangladesh. One of the things I very distinctly remember is feeling like a little adult when I was a little girl. My parents, I'll give them credit for this, they treated me with a certain amount of respect and autonomy.  And then my body grew very quickly both in size and in puberty. That was very alienating to me because I was a nine-year-old with titties. I mean, I laugh about it, but also it was weird and frightening to have grown men treat you like a grown ass woman. I went straight from being a sexless child to full on woman. I wasn't allowed teenage girlhood.

I would have crushes on boys and I would put myself out there and it was never enough to just say “No I'm not interested,” they had to make it an outward public humiliation to let other people know that they weren’t associated with me because boys aren't allowed to like fat girls. And I was 150 pounds in Bangladesh, for context I weigh double that now but I was considered huge because everyone in my country is tiny by default.

It's a collectivist culture. A culture that predicates itself on having people being the closest to the idea of norm. I started dyeing my hair was 13.  This wasn’t Tumblr era where everybody dyes their hair, this was when people throw trash at your for dyeing your hair. And I was doing that in Bangladesh which was extra not OK.

When I was twelve or thirteen in Manchester, I remember begging my dad to let me dye my hair at this three-story punk shop. My mom probably would have killed me but my dad was like “Sure. Go dye your hair go have fun with it.” And I did. It was really crunchy, but I was so happy with it at the time. I had the whole undercut that was a rainbow and the top was green.

Then I went to school. I didn't even get to my first period class. They took me to principal's office. And by lunch hour I was labelled a whore because of it. “Who does she think she is?” About a child in the 8th grade. I fought with the principal almost every other day because I refused to dye my hair back unless they made every single student keep their natural hair color.

Dying my hair made alienation easier.  I've never had the option of being invisible. Ever. I felt since I'm getting so much negative attention, or attention regardless, why not at least subvert that onto my terms and do what I want to do with it? I was an outlier in my country for a number of reasons, but I still never had to challenge being Bengali because I just inherently was.

The Bengali community here made me feel like, “What the fuck.” The New York community in particular leans very conservative and insular in ways that are unfamiliar from my city in my home.

A lot of my identity in America was based around things I understood on a visceral creative level. A lot of those subcultures were all white. I've never considered my experiences of being a token brown in a lot of these white spaces. We would have straight up Nazis come out to some shows. But my desensitization to that I now look back on like, why wasn't I questioning that more? I never considered how problematic that was for me to be in a space not negotiated on my terms.

I'm watching my words in this interview right now. Do you know how often I get trolled? How many people get in my comments and call me every name in the book, my size, color, what they perceive to be my immigration status and whether I belong here?  People have literally been like “We know where you live. We know where your family is.” Why? Because I'm on Twitter saying Black Lives Matter? I still don't want to rock the boat too much because it's my life. I don’t want to leave. I tread carefully. The truth of the matter is, to a certain extent you can't talk about things freely the way a citizen would. I don't want to lose out on my life here. I’m still trying to make a life here.

In my country, we don't get to talk. I've been through so much in my homeland that I will never be able to talk about outside of the people that I grew up with who saw it, or my family. I can't talk about it publicly. You just can't. You deal with it. You go through it. You go to therapy and that's that. There's no talking about it. It's not safe. Period. I think a lot of Americans don't understand the privilege that they have in the ability to dissent.

I'm Bengali. My blood, it's not up for question. I might not be somebody's stereotypical idea of what Bengali is. I might not be the oppressed, regulated, docile Bengali girl they want me to be, but I'm still Bengali. The only community where I've fully belonged to is just other outsiders. I felt alienated all of my life in some way shape or form and still do. The most beautiful thing to come out of that is I immediately connect with other people who also feel that way. And that cuts across so many lines: race, class, country, language barriers, you name it. I always know how to pick my community because I always pick the outsider within each community. The people that are outsiders are the ones that shift the needle toward what the future looks like. I think we feel out of sorts and like we don't belong because we're not really of the present time. We don't quite belong here, but we belong to the place that we're gonna make.