For many minorities in this country, feeling like “the other” can be a painful reminder of the ways in which you don’t fit in. But one social activist has made it her mission to document others in reclaiming and celebrating their “otherness.”
Marketing-strategist Denise Chan, 28, is the creator of Tread Boldly: Conversations on Race and Otherness. It’s a digital storybook that showcases stories about what it means to identify as "the other," with a focus on race.
Chan, a Chinese-American from California, now based in Harlem, NY, has spent time studying communities of color in college and is personally invested in discussions of multiculturalism. She started TreadBoldly in January 2016 as an experiment in creative and empathy-inspiring storytelling. The name evolved from the project itself because it requires a certain amount of fearlessness in both sharing and listening.
Each version of TreadBoldly has a unique theme and form of presentation depending on the nature of the stories and the impact Chan wants them to have on her intended audiences. The past incarnation of TreadBoldly included performances of oral histories based on intersectionality and gender.
In November 2016, Chan began the interviewing people for her follow-up to the first TreadBoldly project. She asked participants to reflect on moments when they were aware of being within or outside of a minority group—a time when they were “the other.”
Chan felt that race, which has the potential to be divisive, could also bring people together. “Ultimately, the goal was to identify common themes amongst these stories of “otherness” that extend beyond race,” Chan told me.
“I decided to interview 30 diverse millennials who grew up in all different parts of America to explore how their race and identity has shaped their life up until this point,” Chan said. (In full disclosure, I am one of the “diverse millennials” that Chan included in this project.)
In February 2017, in conjunction with Black History Month, Chan launched a website for the new TreadBoldly project. Each week throughout the month she adds more profiles to the site, furthering the conversation on diversity. Each profile includes a photo, name, hometown and short blurb about a time when that person felt “othered.”
“I think that whatever makes us feel vulnerable or different at some point is actually where we have passion or power,” reads a quote from Rahul Patel, an Indian-American and TreadBoldly participant.
Those who visit the site are encouraged to either “read through stories of people who like you,” “read through stories of people who don’t look like you,” or to “browse stories based on a city you’ve never visited.” The option to randomly click whatever looks interesting is also available, and each profile has a comments section for people to engage with the interviewees' experiences.
For Chan, it’s important for people who identify as the other to share their stories to give a voice to those who are marginalized and often silenced. Chan said the response to the project has been positive so far.
“For some storytellers, it was their first time reflecting on their race and identity,” Chan said. “The opportunity to reflect and share some of their experiences out loud was cathartic [for them].”
Chan’s hope for readers is that they use each story as an opportunity to go beyond racial stereotypes. For Chan, she said that the project reiterated how diverse the American experience can be.
I’m confident and hopeful that we’ll continue to challenge this narrative of “the other,” Chan said. "After all, we really are more similar than we realize."