When I started HH Photo Graphics, I went with my initials as the name. It was a calculated decision. “Hassan” caries the baggage of being different. It ups the stakes on first introductions when people aren’t expecting it and stumble with the pronunciation. What if people think I’m … Middle Eastern? Black? Muslim? What if it pigeon holes my customers because some people have problems with that?
If you’ve never made decisions like this to fit in, that feeling you’re having right now is noticing what privilege feels like. Never having to explain your name or answer the question “no, where are you really from?” Never having to justify your existence or purpose for being here, never having to show proof.
I have a lot of privileges, including a supporting and welcoming business community. But I also have constant mental gymnastics to not offend, to conceal, to accommodate. About a month ago, I sat with an American flag flapping in the orange light of sunset and I reflected about the challenges this country was facing around COVID-19. I was reminded of high ideals and how this is the time to make decisions based on who we wanted to be, not what we feared.
When I picked my business’s name, I did it from a position of fear and hid myself and my heritage. This decision does not match the values I have as an artist striving to craft authentic images of all you beautifully complicated people.
We can’t unlabel ourselves into a post-racial society. There is still hard work to do. I’m done sitting on the sidelines of racism. The opposite of racism is not “Not racist”. It is being actively opposed to the system of racism, being antiracist. Racism is a SYSTEM of policies that create beliefs, it’s not an accusation that YOU need to deny your involvement in. We’re all involved, through our actions or inactions whether you know it or not. When I picked the name, I rationalized it as a business decision, but it was wrong.
I was wrong.
I was internalizing racist fears of a nameless white somebody thinking I’m one of “them”.
Racism is not an immutable state though. Just because you have made bad decisions in the past doesn’t define you for life. You can make new better decisions every single day. We can all change our ways and make more informed choices going forward.
I cannot end the systems of racism, but I can be more authentic to myself and to you. So today I am fixing this one wrong by changing my business’s name to Hassan Hodges Photography.
Please allow me to reintroduce myself.
- My name is Hassan.
- I was born in a village outside of Bo, Sierra Leone (west Africa) to two American parents.
- I have 1 sister, and 19 first cousins.
- I am the descendant of poor farmers from Lithuania who came to America seeking a better life.
- I am the descendant of slave owners.
- I am the descendant of people who arrived in this country in chains as a commodity, not as humans.
- I am a person of color and my mother is white.
- I have enjoyed many privileges, including being a third-generation African American college graduate. And at same time, I have faced oppressions.
- I started my photography career at my college newspaper and spent 20 years in and around journalism before going out on my own.
- I live with my wife, daughter and three dogs.
- I will support my community’s businesses and non-profits.
- I will fight racism.
- I will support my planet.
- I know I don’t have enough representation of diversity in my portfolio and I’m working to fix that.
- I feel everything around me so deeply that it aches and telling stories and making images are my way through.
- You are welcome here. Everybody is.
- I take amazing pictures.
I will do better. And I ask is that you ask your own hard questions and do the same.