WC77 – Debanuj DasGupta

Brown_power
Journeys of a Brown Immigrant Fag

Reflections on building cross-race trust
in multiple struggles for justice.

By Debanuj DasGupta

This is only an excerpt…

This morning I was informed via Facebook about the death of Richard Sandman. He was an immigration attorney and came to several Queer Immigrant Rights (QuIR) Project meetings. I have spent many a time drinking after QuIR meetings with him, talking about detention, rights of asylee, friend’s cases, and secretly harbored a crush on him.

I pray to the goddess to let his soul rest in peace.

As I sat down to pray for him this morning, I was reminded of my own journey vis-à-vis my relationship with white allies in the struggle for liberation of migrants, people of color and LGBT people. From being a “brown boy” for my “white master” to the “brown power boy” to being a social justice activist choosing to struggle with conscientious white anti-racist allies I have come a long way, and tender souls like Richard have contributed towards that journey.

I don’t want people to think that this article is an ode to all the white allies that I have worked with, rather this is a critical call for all of us to be self-reflexive in our multiple struggles. For it is only in continued reflection on our work, newer paths will emerge!

I moved from the “rustbelt” to New York City in search of a critical Queer people of color community, and at the onset realized that to make a living in the LGBT movement, my day jobs would have to be in “white”-dominated LGBT organizations, while my evening and weekend volunteer work would be for communities of color. Such is the nature of the LGBT non-profit economy, free under-appreciated labor is what constitutes most of the radical work. Tired of this division and confused over how my English educated, nerdy brown body was being deployed as the academic researcher, I left paid jobs within the LGBT movement, and took up consulting gigs in the Asian civil rights sector. Only to realize that I had to let my sexuality slide in order to fit in!

My LGBT people of color pride was beaming when I joined a South-Asian Left collective, and for the first time was severely challenged by attacks on identity politics. As the queers and the feminists huddled around the tiny kitchen in our Brooklyn commune, bitching and moaning about old school lefties, it dawned upon us that sexuality and gender identity was not just a matter of identity that along with race and class was an axis along which society was stratified. Armed with post-structuralism we went back and fought relentlessly. I resigned and chose to come back to LGBT organizing, to push our movement on institutional issues.

Committed to continuously work at the intersections of race, class, immigration status, sexuality and gender identity, I joined the National People of Color Organizing Institute (POCOI) as the Co-Coordinator. At Creating Change 2002 in Portland, we presented some of the initial curriculum of this intersectional analysis. In the initial days of the collective, we needed to do a lot of trust building work; there were tensions of yellow vs. black vs. brown, veteran vs. younger! These tensions almost imploded the collective. I saw firsthand what sexism did to the leadership of Queer women of color. Quietly, I built friendships with some of the leading Queer women of color, and held long phone conversations, and strategize about how to challenge the Gay male of color hegemony in these collectives. After four long years of grueling struggle we were able to As I sat down to pray for him this morning, I was reminded of my own journey vis-à-vis my relationship with white allies in the struggle for liberation of migrants, people of color and LGBT people. From being a “brown boy” for my “white master” to the “brown power boy” to being a social justice activist choosing to struggle with conscientious white anti-racist allies I have come a long way, and tender souls like Richard have contributed towards that journey.

I don’t want people to think that this article is an ode to all the white allies that I have worked with, rather this is a critical call for all of us to be self-reflexive in our multiple struggles. For it is only in continued reflection on our work, newer paths will emerge!

I moved from the “rustbelt” to New York City in search of a critical Queer people of color community, and at the onset realized that to make a living in the LGBT movement, my day jobs would have to be in “white”-dominated LGBT organizations, while my evening and weekend volunteer work would be for communities of color. Such is the nature of the LGBT non-profit economy, free under-appreciated labor is what constitutes most of the radical work. Tired of this division and confused over how my English educated, nerdy brown body was being deployed as the academic researcher, I left paid jobs within the LGBT movement, and took up consulting gigs in the Asian civil rights sector. Only to realize that I had to let my sexuality slide in order to fit in!

My LGBT people of color pride was beaming when I joined a South-Asian Left collective, and for the first time was severely challenged by attacks on identity politics. As the queers and the feminists huddled around the tiny kitchen in our Brooklyn commune, bitching and moaning about old school lefties, it dawned upon us that sexuality and gender identity was not just a matter of identity that along with race and class was an axis along which society was stratified. Armed with post-structuralism we went back and fought relentlessly. I resigned and chose to come back to LGBT organizing, to push our movement on institutional issues.

Committed to continuously work at the intersections of race, class, immigration status, sexuality and gender identity, I joined the National People of Color Organizing Institute (POCOI) as the Co-Coordinator. At Creating Change 2002 in Portland, we presented some of the initial curriculum of this intersectional analysis. In the initial days of the collective, we needed to do a lot of trust building work; there were tensions of yellow vs. black vs. brown, veteran vs. younger! These tensions almost imploded the collective. I saw firsthand what sexism did to the leadership of Queer women of color. Quietly, I built friendships with some of the leading Queer women of color, and held long phone conversations, and strategize about how to challenge the Gay male of color hegemony in these collectives. After four long years of grueling struggle we were able to institute change in leadership and content. Our struggles as First Nation, Asian, South-Asian, Arab, African, African-American, Hispanic/Latina, and Mixed Race was also connected with anti-war, economic, reproductive and sexual justice. We consciously chose to honor women and transgender leaders of color in our communities.

During this long bitter internal struggle within the collective, my inner world was going through radical transformation. I was in intensive group therapy for fourteen weeks with five other adult male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. This was an intense healing process, a process that continues to this day. I was the only male of color in the group, and hence very guarded, often angry to be thrown in with a bunch of white boys! As the weeks unfolded and we learned to unpack our baggage, these five white boys became fellow survivors of abuse with me. As we challenged each other, I learned how to manage my triggers in a mixed racial setting, and ways to challenge racism while continuing to work with white men. I literally let go of immense amounts of physical pain, and as I sat down on the steps of Columbia University with my fellow traveler in healing (a really cute straight white boy) and discussed the boundaries of our friendship, I realized my healing had only begun!

Since then, I flip-flop between formations based solely on specific identities such as South-Asian Lesbian and Gay Association to formations of multiple identities that take certain positions such as Queer’s for Economic Justice. In my work with white allies I always allowed us time to build trust. Small exercises such as cooking together for collective picnics are indicative to me of the ways we can share labor, take leadership and collectively build a movement for social justice. I am blessed to have been held accountable and to have built trust with several LGBT activists, many of them tender, loving, conscientious white activists.

And as I sit on a cloudy, rainy Cleveland spring morning in front my computer, in the house I am building with my longtime white friend, race along with class and nationality is the place where we begin our conversations and not end.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journal and need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Debanuj DasGupta is a gender, sexuality and social justice activist whose work has spanned 15 years and two continents. In 1994 he founded the first HIV/AIDS prevention program for Gay-identified men and men-who-have-sex-with-men in Kolkata, India. Since relocating to the U.S. Debanuj has been involved with anti-violence, LGBT liberation, immigrant rights and HIV/AIDS movements and is the past Co-Coordinator of the National People of Color Organizing Institute for the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce. He has served on advisory boards of the National Network for Immigrants and Refugee Rights along with the South Asian Health Initiative at NYU. In 2006, Debanuj was awarded the prestigious New Voices Fellowship by the Academy for Educational Development. He makes his home in between Akron,OH and New York City.  He blogs at the Gay Wisdom blog.

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