How Mixed-Race Activist Dom Chatterjee Turned Isolation Into Community Online

Last month I published an article investigating my upbringing as a mixed race Asian. In this article, I talked about the alienation, confusion, and the question “What color am I?” I talked about feeling ugly, feeling different, and feeling alone. But it turns out I am not alone.

Stumbling randomly into the comments sections of posts, I came across Dom Chatterjee. They talked openly and confidently about their Bangladeshi heritage, and we became friends. They too had a white parent and it had had its effects on their mental health. I also came to learn that Dom is an incredibly tenacious and dedicated activist, posting regularly about places to donate, people to donate to, and calling people in to examine their privileges.

Dom’s activist work even extends to actually running, editing, organizing and maintaining a website (and associated social media pages) dedicated to the mental health of queer and trans people of color (QTPoC). The website, Rest for Resistance (R4R), is a place where people in the QTPoC community can share articles, their art, and their experiences.

The first striking thing about R4R is its aesthetic. The beautiful photography on the entrance page, as well as the balance of colors on the homepage, has an almost calming effect. It is easy to imagine this site as a place for community and sanctuary for people across the globe. The art and columns, often about both personal and universal struggles within the community, are often simultaneously melancholy and inspiring. R4R is a place where QTPoC don’t have to feel alone anymore.

But Dom’s dedication isn’t purely online. They also organize and host meditation and silent walks for members of the QTPoC community in their local area.

We spoke to Dom about their struggles with racial identity and the establishment of their website Rest for Resistance.

Firstly, what is Rest For Resistance?

“Rest for Resistance is something I’d hoped QTPoC Mental Health could grow into from the start. We started as a peer support org that offers validation to queer people of color, and since I’m an editor, I figured I can help others tell their stories, particularly the ones that have been silenced.”

Is there anything difficult about running such a professional site?

“I have a lot of limits in my life because of anxiety. When my former freelance ghostwriting gig cut my work in half last fall, I lost my already-tenuous financial stability and had to figure something out.

It’s hard for me to have the confidence to pitch to sites or magazines, and I worry about getting jobs as an editor because of my pronouns (which are they/them).

So oddly enough, it seemed safer for me to take a risk on building Rest for Resistance than relying on what already exists in publishing. That means now I have to balance both. But I love that I made that choice.

Ultimately it was a way to place faith in QTPoC community over all else, while recognizing that we as a community have so many problems to survive and solve. We can only reach sustainability and end the cycle of burning out by finding ways to support each other.

The biggest challenge is money. QTPoC have so much brilliance to share, although we can be reluctant to share it due to silencing and other realities of oppression. Rest for Resistance is totally grassroots and relies on donations. I’m not willing to sacrifice quality – and even less willing to sacrifice respecting our contributors – which means we’re always hustling. Right now everything gets done at the last minute. A lot of the R4R vision is unfulfilled, and we can’t get out of that pattern without more resources.”

What are you most proud of about R4R?

“I’m so proud of what we do with very little. For two years, QTPoC Mental Health provided community support, including through social media and in person, without any financial resources for two years. I just really hate money and capitalism, and I see our emotional labor as a beautiful resource in itself. But we need money too for too many reasons to list. I’m also proud that all the money we raise goes directly to sustaining the lives of QTPoC (mostly trans PoC) which isn’t how it works with most nonprofits.

Being able to use self-expression, the things we create to survive, as a way to pay rent is often healing in itself. It’s a reminder that our lives and perspectives are valuable.”

So, about your upbringing. How did you feel about your identity as desi as a child compared to now?

 “Now I’ve finally come full circle, but there have been many stages in between. As a kid, everyone including my family treated me as desi, so I obviously knew I was mixed but didn’t question what I looked like. As I got older, it’s like I couldn’t see myself.
When we moved to Phoenix everyone thought I was Native when I explained I’m Indian, so I learned to clearly say “My dad is from India” as my race. It was either that or people assumed I’m Latinx, which still happens more than I’m seen as desi. Somewhere in all that I started doubting that I look brown and thought I might be white-passing, but I think it was a result of white people erasing my identity in order to be comfortable around me.

I am a desi person with white family, too.

That and me erasing my own identity to try to be more comfortable in the world; that never worked. Now I see myself for what I am: a South Asian person who has a white family too.”

Did having a white parent contribute to the confusion about your identity as a South Asian person?

“Yes, my mom is very racist in that liberal colorblind way. She doesn’t hide her disdain for Desis and our culture. Her racism has f*cked me up a lot, and it’s the main reason (among many) I can no longer be in contact with my family.”

 

 Why do you think white parents are toxic to mixed kids?
“There are too many reasons to name. I’m at least glad to know that some white parents of PoC aren’t as toxic as my desi-hating mom.
There’s a lot of isolation in having white family as a person of color…
Even then, there’s a lot of isolation in having a white family as a person of color, which parents need to be conscious of to create a stable, supportive environment for multiracial individuals to grow up in.”
How has this confusion about racial identity affected your mental health?
“It’s very complicated. I only recently realized, through beginning to present as gender non-conforming, that being racially ambiguous creates so much anxiety for me.
It contributes to my agoraphobia because I feel on edge like how do people see me, what do they think of me. That’s a big reason I live in NYC, but even here I hide at home almost every day. And that’s just a small part of how being mixed Desi impacts my mental health.”

Do you think this is something most mixed kids feel?

 “I do. I’m grateful to do community organizing around PoC mental health because it’s connected me with many mixed race people, both with and without white family. Many of these struggles are common, but we can’t know we aren’t alone until we talk, which is rare since we don’t have much space or community. And my only sibling is white-passing, so I didn’t get identity mirroring or opportunities to talk about any of this within my family.”

 

Did this confusion and its impact on your mental health have any influence when you created R4R?

 “Absolutely! I started QTPoC Mental Health after I cut contact with my family. People kept saying to find people like me to talk to (I was in the midst of a public breakdown that lasted over a year), and I didn’t know anyone ‘like me’ to talk to.
Without meaning to, the first 3 articles on Rest For Resistance which the site launched with were by mixed queers: a two-spirit person, a biracial Black-white woman, and myself. There are a lot of us out here even if people don’t fully see us or recognize our complicated racial positioning.”

How has R4R helped you?

“Since I struggle with anxiety and lack of belonging so much myself as a writer, having a space like Rest for Resistance is also pushing me to publish my ideas and feel as though I have space in publishing to be my real self without consequences.”

Seeing the extent that Dom has gone to be open about their race, their gender identity and their struggles with both was inspirational. Dom remains a great example of an activist – one willing to give wholly to their community, to give a voice to those less privileged than them, and to try to teach from their own experiences of alienation and rejection. With websites like Rest For Resistance, queer and trans people of color all around the world can be united and work together to become mentally healthier, to put themselves first, and to lift up members of the community who need to be healed and heard.

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Access Rest For Resistance here, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Photo credit: Eli Sleepless

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Young, mixed-race student living in Scotland. Ready to talk about racism, sex education and feminism!

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