I’ve always struggled with my dual identity as a Bengali-American. I was brought up in my home in one way and expected to be another way at school and in public. My mother constantly reminded me that I was not American just because I was born in America. She instilled her cultural values and traditions in me in such a way that I could never forget, even if I sometimes wanted to. At school, I was expected to speak in English and wear jeans, to look and act like all the other kids. I was the one brown kid in class who wore a colorful salwar kameez while everyone else had on the suggested blue and white uniform. Things like that made me resent my culture and heritage as a child. My teachers encouraged me to speak English at home, and in doing so, I received backlash from my parents.
As I grew older, Islam started to play a larger role in my life. When I started visibly practicing my faith, my religion had become a conflicting identity as well. What was once a fundamental piece of me was now a source of scrutiny and judgment, especially during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. I have to say it was the most challenging after the elections when Trump’s words gave some people the validation to do unreasonable things. I’m sure we can all agree that hate crimes are an issue, but what is really problematic is when the fellow Americans and New Yorkers that I identify with, stand back and record on their cell phones while my headscarf is pulled off in the subway.
This makes me think about the double-consciousness or two-ness that was mentioned in class, but also about how I am comprised of so many different identities, not just two. How can I choose from all of these things that I identify with? American, colored, female, Bengali, lesbian, Muslim, New Yorker, student, friend. Where is the line when all these things contrast each other? Where do I fall when I am not fully accepted in any of these communities? W.E.B. DuBois writes in The Souls of Black Folk (1903), “He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows” (2-3). I identify with this quote. Why can’t I be all of those things with no fears? I just want to be able to be who I am. I just want to be accepted for my entirety, not just parts of me.