Alexis



I'm an immigrant. I came to Miami from Cuba in 1995. But moving from Miami to New York to pursue art, that was the really big change. In Miami, I felt less like a minority because I was a Cuban in a city built by Cubans. But the art institutions in New York are very, very white.

I am white passing and I feel like I’ve had privilege because of that. People would just assume I'm a white gay man. But I am non-binary and as trans I faced many obstacles during my time at Parsons. I had to jump through obstacles in order to feel comfortable in art school.

There was this expectancy in terms of resources and materials that I had to have. Money was always a question. All of the white students were in that class with humongous, life-sized prints for any kind of assignment. I would break down and cry to my mostly white professors. I'm just like, well you know, not all of us are capable of doing that. I remember thinking, “Are they going to call me out in the middle class or are they going to talk to me in private?” I even had moments where professors would call me out like, “Well when you go out how much money do you spend on your drinks? Are you buying weed?”

This is New York. There's so much diversity. Why aren't there more people of color teaching at these institutions? I understand that it’s a structural thing in society that people of color just don't have the same opportunities as white people. It's easier for a white artist always having space to be themselves and to show up fully, not really having to be flexible and flex themselves in a way to read a certain space.


My first performance with the MoMA was for the Cuban artist Tania Bruguera, who does activist projects where she creates organizations for people of color to have more access to the art world, or to have more access to opportunities that are always laid out for white people but are not laid out for us.

I remember talking to her and she said, “When I knew this piece was acquired for the MoMA, I was like everybody has to be Cuban. Because I want to give Cubans jobs. And I want Cubans to be paid the money that they deserve to be paid for this kind of performance.” I remember having a lot of butterflies in my stomach when I got casted for that performance because it was the first time I had something at an institutional level. Working with her really made me feel at ease in that space.
I'm really glad that my first performance at that level was with a Cuban woman artist, because it might have been very different if I was working for a white artist, surrounded by white performers.



I recently worked for a white artist for a new performance at the MoMA. So it's interesting to have this conversation, because during my performance in Untitled (Havana, 2000) with Tania, there were moments where I felt racialized by the audience/spectators which were predominately white — though the MoMA took care of us and were very receptive and open to the conversation that was happening as the performance unfolded. We would have a lot of debriefs, talking about the difficulty of performing for a white audience. That piece was about Cuban identity, race, violence and censorship. But the piece I worked on with the Italian-American artist Simone Forti had a predominantly white cast. Which makes me feel outcasted. I mean, I feel like the museum could have done more work to diversify the cast and find performers of color, to have equality in the room at all times. I felt so empowered to be around other Cubans for Tania’s performance, having the total space in our green room to debrief and talk about the differences between us as people of color, and white people and a white institution. With this new performance, I don't. I can’t occupy that space in the museum in the same way.

I've met so many photographers who are black and brown who have talked to me about how they've had to photograph a lot of white people in order to be able to get certain jobs or infiltrate certain spaces. I'm done looking at a twinky white boy that's going to be photographed in all these magazines. I want there to be a huge visibility for people of color. Why do I continuously have to adjust myself? To live in this reality. It's a labor that we have to continuously perform. On a daily level white people don't understand why that's something that we have to talk about. I'm done being treated like a token and an accessory just because it's cute and popular right now. It's just like, “People of color: they're rising and they're shiny.”














I felt like I was racialized at times because a lot of my work is about Cuba and about the intersection between the LGBTQ community and the Cuban community and what diverges from that. There was always an expectancy for me to be the voice or the face for a minority. That's super frustrating. People didn't really know how to approach me or have conversations that didn't feel so binary and rigid. Actually, I'm not here to perform for you. I'm just here to express myself in whatever way that seems fit.

In my daily life, I’m trying to make myself less and less responsible for being a teacher and educating white people on how to actually have a human connection with people of color and not be racist. There will be labor that has to be performed by people of color in order to have a conversation unfold and expand and I think it's being done today. A lot of white people won't have access to that conversation, because it won't intersect with the way that they are navigating the world. I like to think of it as an infiltration of space. As people of color continue to infiltrate white spaces, white people will begin to notice the differences. But that being said, I think white people also have to do the labor. They're currently not taking into consideration the history of people of color. I'm wondering if there's more productive ways where people of color have to perform less. 


                          How do we facilitate that?
                                                                                     
                                      That's kind of what I'm figuring out.



Mark

Cassie & Yess





Cassie: I don’t feel alienated as much anymore since moving to Brooklyn from Albany.

Especially because I’m in social work and there’s a lot of people of color doing the work. I work another job at a bakery and there’s a lot of white customers. I’m usually the only black face there, so there are certain interactions in which I'm viewed as less than.





When I talked about it with other co-workers or managers on shift they ask, “How do you know that they're racist?” or “How do you know they're talking to you like that because of your skin color?” I’ve experienced this most of my life. You can tell it in tone. It's something I feel. It’s not me being self conscious, it's their tone being offensive.




Yess: I also work in the food industry and for the past six years I've been management. Two years ago, I went to a big food exhibition by Association of Food Industries in Atlantic City and the hierarchy was all white men. And I’m not just a person of color, I'm a queer person of color. My body is a person of color. I look queer. So I always have this extra step of being careful of who I speak to or finding who looks approachable and safe. The majority of times, I feel like I'm most approachable to people of color. I can actually have a conversation and a mutual understanding with them, without any comments on the way that I physically look or my accent. Because I can white-pass physically, but I can't white pass my speech. Which is one of the things that I'm fully aware of and that people make me fully aware of. I was 15 when I came to the USA. When someone corrects me I feel like a mockery--especially in public. It's embarrassing, being corrected. Because this language is not mine, it's something I've learned. So I'm very careful to feel out who I speak to.

Cassie:
My mother's accent is thick. She has a business, and she would always ask my sister to be the one to do the voicemail for her because of her accent. She's very self-conscious about it because people have corrected her a lot. People have treated her like she isn't smart just because the way she speaks.

Yess: It seems like when someone hears an accent, especially in white America, they think you’re “less educated” or you're less-than. And that's completely incorrect. Because, personally, this is not even my language and I speak it.

Cassie: Most Americans can't even speak another language.

At the bakery alienation feels less evident because I’m around other people of color but anti-blackness spans across all races and ethnicities, so me speaking my truth could be shut down. I talk about it with my other co-workers, but not my boss, because she's Asian. Last week there was a homeless black man sitting on the bench outside on a 95-degree day. I’ve seen white people sitting on it all the time but the owner walked in and told a white-passing barista to tell him to get off the bench.My boss told him to call the cops, and my co-worker refused because he knew it would put his life in danger. They were afraid that he would scare away white customers. Even in social work, I see black kids who get the cops called on them for minor situations.







Yess: Because I’m white-passing I get a lot of privileges that white people get. Financially, I am so much better. Growing as fast as I did in the company that I was with, I try to give more space to people of color. I manage at least 50 people, a majority are people of color. And the people who aren’t white-passing, I argue on their behalf.

Cassie: I saw a white guy get a raise who had less experience than me. I knew more than him and it took me speaking up about it for my boss to give me a raise. I felt like I had to treat him like my superior. Why? Because of race? Because of gender?

Yess: I worked for three years in Greenwich Village, which has a very welcoming queer community. After that I started working in Brooklyn, in Sunset Park. There's a Latin community and also Orthodox Jews, and middle class white people that go into that environment and you can see the difference between the locations. While working in Brooklyn I was labelled as a lesbian. More cold. Which I would hear more often than I would in Greenwich Village. I'm not a lesbian. I'm a queer person.

A customer once attempted to attack me with a knife at the restaurant I work at, calling me a dyke, and you know what my bosses said to me? “Welcome to Brooklyn.” Because, for them, they went to Yale, Harvard--they're CEOs. Coming to and working in Brooklyn means being in a ghetto environment. 

I put this in mind [people assuming they are white/lesbian] everyday. I tell this to everyone: Being me physically, choosing to be myself, physically, is providing space for others to be more welcome. That's a goal every day. Being able to express myself to show someone on the train who's five years old, who has conflicts with their sexuality, for them to think, “This is fine. If they're doing it, I can do it”. Especially in the POC community where they tell you being queer is a sin, because Latins and Carribeans are very religious.

Cassie: People of color relied on religion during times of struggle, during horrible trauma and stress. Christianity is something that is forced upon by white colonialism but it’s not an excuse for homophobia. Why is being you such a burden? Why is it so hard for people to get comfortable with? At parties and shows where I’m the only black person there, I feel completely ignored. Why is it such a problem to talk to me?



Just because I am who I am? You don’t have to treat me differently. You don’t have to speak to me in ebonics. Just…be normal. Your kind of normal.

I remember having a conversation with a roommate about wanting to do an ancestry test. And my roommate who’s very cautious about certain things asked, “Why would you want to do that? Why can't you just ask your parents or your family where you're from?” Obviously I can't do that because of slavery. It's really about just knowing the history of black people in this country. She knew my ethnicity. I'm Haitian. Black Haitians just don't end up in the Caribbean. They ended up there because of slavery. 

In situations like these I often chose not to bring it up because I don't want to feel like I'm the aggressive black girl or “Why is she reacting that way?” There's a lot of things I wanted to say in that living situation and I couldn't because it felt like I couldn't. Environment matters. In microaggressions we see it. Someone asked my sister if her hair was real in a public space and she cut them off to tell them it was offensive. It’s not about if it’s worth speaking up but if you’re in a space that feels less threatening then it’s easier. I’ve corrected my friends, but if I’m in a white space it feels dangerous. It feels less threatening in an environment that’s mainly people of color or loved ones.







Yess: When I go out now, I always go to queer person of color events or bars. Only. Because that's where I feel safe. My body feels safe. I can be me. I can say whatever I want without feeling looked at or judged or oppressed. I'm not anxious, I'm not about to have a physical anxiety attack as I do when I go into a straight bar. I get a nervous breakdown going or thinking I'm going to a straight, white bar. It’s even different in places that are labelled as “queer” and places that are labelled as for “queer people of color.” When it's all “queer,” the majority of time it's like white gay men--which already take up enough space. So it's different. It's really different. I just feel more welcome when I'm in a queer person of color event. There's more...truthfulness to the welcoming.

But then, when I went to a space with people of color talking about police brutality, they thought I was white. I came in with a friend who is Cuban but also white passes. When we went into the room immediately people stopped talking and told me to get the fuck out. My friend just started crying. I had to argue and tell them that we’re Cuban. We as people of color need to be more aware of taking validation from others.

There's been times that have made me more focused on the physical aspect of my body. I've been in female bathrooms and put on display.  I was “bold”. I wore baggy clothes.
A lot of Latins don't think I speak Spanish. So I go into the restroom at work and there's two people speaking Spanish who said, “Did you see them? I thought I was going into the wrong bathroom.” Obviously to me that means they thought I was a man. That really got me angry. I think a lot of the knowledge I have about my body is because I know people that have committed suicide because of people's comments of their body. I was so angry. So angry. I was waiting outside and I took my shirt off. I was topless as fuck just waiting for them, and I said, “You see these tits? They're bigger than yours. Do not tell anybody that looks like me that they are less of a woman.” I said it to them in Spanish. If I didn't do that I would have been angry with myself.

Once I was on the train and there was this little girl who was uncomfortable looking at me. She was freaking out because she didn't know what I was. But then other times I'm walking down the street and a little girl says, “I love your hair!” So to me, seeing the differences means the person that was uncomfortable will feel more comfortable next time. I love my presentation physically. It took me time. It took me pain. It took me struggles. But I love it, because I want others to know it's okay to show your queerness.








Mark

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.













Black, Brown, Other is a photo-essay by Art Director Dominique Wynne on the alienation of people of color and the queer POC community. Wynne’s work centers on the notion of community through storytelling and photography, where Wynne comes together with POCs to discuss experiences of alienation and identity.






Photography
Mel Taing
Creative Direction and Writing
Dominique Wynne

She can be reached at DominiqueWynne@gmail.com
Clothing
NIHL