OK, OK. I cleaned up the mascara running down my face. I combed my hair and drank some water. I took off my long, witchy acrylic nails, the ones that have been going CLACK, CLACK, CLACK on a keyboard and vilifying everything and everyone all summer. I think I got some of the frustration out of my system. I’ll calm down.
I can confess. I’m an attacker because I’m a little bit of a victim. In the patchwork of colors that is diversity, bringing notice to mine has come off as bleeding out in the washer sometimes.
Faded background representation can make visibility violent. When you see me, I want to turn up my saturation, make you know that I, and we, are just as bright as anyone else.
And so I’ve only shown you the red part of my glittery blouse. The livid sheen of seething satire. Of vulnerability and vulgarity. Of despair and hope.
But like all the other janky, ethnic garments in my closet, it’s not just one thing. It’s maximalistic. It’s a lot. The sequin of my blouse also reflects in a sprinkling gold joy.
It stuck to my skin that day my roommate wore that skirt out. It was floral and flowy. And yellow. The color of sludgy egg yolks and sour lemon peels. As she walked down Shattuck with me, I kept catching glimpses of it in glass windows. She didn’t look couture in it. She looked cultural. I was mortified. But she didn’t want to be a monolithic mannequin in a storefront. She was a diaspora of detail, comfortable in her brown difference. In skirts that are yellow. The color of daffodils and sunshine.
The people who look like me here, people like my roommate, have woven a tight-knit community. I don’t know most of them. But with the material of the weave — their blissful brown presence — I … could hold on to the cottony texture of home.
When I didn’t pack any ethnic clothing for an Indian dance event, I was lent a flouncy, pink two-piece — lehenga. I could give it back whenever. I kept it until I stopped needing the reminder of bright color and dynamic expression.
When I didn’t want to make much sound and was being too loud for Berkeley, even in my own apartment, I heard my neighbors’ dangly charm earrings — jhumkis — as they left theirs for Bollywood night.
When I returned back from a full Wednesday of classes on my Christmas, an older man in a long, traditional textured shirt — kurta — saw me across the corridor and wished me a happy Diwali. My luminescence on the day of the festival of lights.
When I was too scared to step onto the 51B after playing Holi with 2000 others on Foothill, and my roommate swiped our bus cards for us and walked in ahead of me as she dared any passenger to comment on our color-caked faces.
When I’m too wrapped up in the activism of stripping my trauma, they pull me closer and wrap me in their blanket of support. The gold dust stays in my finger webs, from where I clutch the blanket of warmth, for days, weeks and months.
Our happiness despite, rather than because, is integral to our patchwork here. We rebel and we revel. It’s an intertwined thread that can’t be pulled at. The whole social tapestry would come undone.
In the wardrobes of identity, a person of color is assumed to have a capsule closet of muted tones and a few statement pieces. Somedays, I only want to reveal the faux fur and the polysynthetic blend of formality, out of defense. Other days, I have sorted through my hangers vigorously, to display nothing but the grays and blacks of sad and mad up front.
It was easier, less jarring for you, more fitting in your eyes of me. When I woke up late and couldn’t be bothered, monochrome and trendy worked. Off-the-rack stereotypes came in handy.
But today, I want to bring you to look inside the drawers with me, they’re bursting. With patterns and prints. With color.
There’s the sweater my grandmother knit me. The sweatpants with splotches of curry stains on them. The janky graphic t-shirts. Oh, and I recently also bought some yellow skirts.
My baseline of existence as a brown woman isn’t scruffy, it’s silky. Just like my underwear isn’t black. It’s polka dotted. But it still protects me just the same. My activism doesn’t have to come only in choking out my worst experiences. It can also be chucking over them.
But I hope this look isn’t too different for you. That it still fits my aesthetic. I hope it’s still good enough to have you come back next time.
Because in the little time we have left together, I hope you’ll feel all the textures of this colored cloth that I want to show you.
It’s cross-stitched with nuance. Asymmetrical and under constant tailoring, just like I know your clothes are too. There’s too many outfits strewn on the floor from when I was lazy, and didn’t have the energy to tidy them. I’m still working on picking them all up, it’s a long chore. Today was good for that.
I showed you this one, the one with the sweetheart neckline, a sweet smile as I display its warmth and love. And see! It’s locally sourced. The tag reads, “Brown joy, made in Berkeley.”