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For non-Black people of color and for Muslims in general, this moment is of the utmost importance.
There’s a lot to be said on what we see unfolding in front of us as Muslims particularly and where we should stand. The complicity to some degree of the Arab store owner whose employee first called the police over George apparently using a fake $20 hill has opened up a can of worms in the Arab community particularly, one that is all too often swept under the rug- that of anti-Black racism. But other non-Black communities of color such as the South Asian community are no different. While some have chosen to remain silent amid this time, others have taken a stance. Our religious traditions and the Prophetic teachings passed down to us, make clear the significance of siding with the oppressed. We are taught to struggle in the face of tyranny and to speak the truth no matter how bitter it may be.
Yet some have argued that protesting itself or partaking in such acts of self-determination are haram. Despite it being widely recorded that the Prophet and His companions, in the face of the oppressive Quraish, would engage in strategic guerilla tactics to deliberately stifle the Meccan economy that guaranteed them the means to carry out their oppression.
Others have wholeheartedly denounced the action they have seen taken place across American cities. Imagine, criticizing the retaliation of the oppressed to the repression they are subjugated to, instead of those who are administering that very oppression.
This stance in particular lays bare the mindset that allows for racism to thrive in our communities. This mentality is a product of our inherent desire to appease the white gaze, thinking we will attain all the privileges that come with physical and ideological proximity to whiteness. It is the belief that by glorifying and mimicking what are literally the very tenants that uphold whiteness and in extension white supremacy, dehumanizing Blackness as it does are worth redeeming. It is a byproduct of idolizing whiteness as the pinnacle of what we should adhere to. And many of us as a result internalize self-hatred and racism by viewing ourselves in opposition to Blackness. It’s evident in our silence on political matters to the way in which we hold education as the primary marker of our value as individuals.
While many have rightfully condemned and acknowledged the racism prevalent in our own homes, families, friend circles and religious spaces, others have had a tougher time swallowing these facts. It goes back to the concept of communities such as the South Asian diaspora being perceived as and expected to be model minorities.
Beginning in the 1970s with the scrapping of the older quota system, immigrants from across Asia coming to America were no longer discriminated based on origin but from thereon categorized in terms of their value as productive, educated and skilled professionals. They were largely accepted as such. As the likes of Vjiay Prashad have concluded, their worth was based upon their economic output and not their ethnicity as they became the benchmark of what a successful minority should look like. Yet this became the perfect threshold to point out the failings of Black Americans as the conversation and blame could now easily be shifted away from racism being a variable. This phenomenon encapsulates much of the wider non-Black Muslim community.
Structural racism is embodied in individual racist actions and rhetoric yet it is the culmination of a culture in which unconscious biases, negative assumptions, institutional policies, cultural representations, snide jokes, subtle comments, glaring looks, and distrust are instilled in every aspect of life to a degree where they aren’t questioned but accepted as the norm. This results in seeing Blackness as dangerous and associates a skin color with threat.
The Muslim community is highly prone to this sort of internalized anti-Blackness. We continually deny it even exists yet it permeates in the most profound circumstances, let alone in upholding tropes through ridicule or outright hate.
We thwart our way into Black culture: through Black inspired or crafted fashion and music, and many of us regularly make use of derogatory terms like the n-word thinking that it’s all harmless because we aren’t white. Yet we’re the first in uproar over our own culture being appropriated. And even more so, we do absolutely nothing to address the inherent racism and colorism prevalent in our most immediate spaces. We rarely factor into it our own psyches or make the effort to actually learn about Black history, like the radical Black political tradition which guaranteed many American minorities the rights they enjoy today – extending beyond MLK or Rosa Parks. It was the very sacrifices of Black people organizing in the face of repression which made possible the avenues that non-Black minorities have used as a stepping stone to achieve unprecedented successes.
Yet many of us only desire the privilege that whiteness guarantees. Others amongst us are white-passing and their ease in proximitizing themselves to whiteness is even more effortless. Yet both are rooted in our colonial pasts and that of cultures dominated by division by caste, tribe and class. There is a rich tradition particularly of Black and Palestinian solidarity as well as Brown and Black solidarity across the Muslim Third World – it’s time we learn more about them. Supporting Black struggles doesn’t make our own struggles any less important. American-Muslims in particular should know to some degree what it feels to be constantly policed and vilified, in a post-9/11 world. Yet many have not made these connections let alone have empathized.
Our silence does make us complicit, our supposed neutrality as a means to not appear too radical or threatening to the White status quo does the same. We must have these discussions and conversations as we head towards creating a better world. We can’t just not be racist we have to challenge it in it’s every form to uproot it from our families and sacred spaces. That is where dismantling white supremacy begins.
Many of us shared the video of George Floyd’s death with good intentions, yet we have to be cognizant even of why we don’t have much of a problem viewing the trauma of Black death. This is multilayered.
The store owner’s policy that he adhered to, of calling the police in a situation such as Floyd’s, goes back to the idea of how we want to be viewed by authority – adhering to norms even though the consequences are that the situation would likely be potential death. The problem is having no problem doing business in the Black community and profiting off of them yet still holding onto stereotypes that necessitate policing Blackness at every turn.
We have to let go of these preconceived notions and biases, in order to work actively beyond the realm of hashtag movements and online solidarity. A lot of it has to do with how we engage with Blackness as a construct, as non-Black folks. Of the culture we consume, the books that we read, the music that we listen to, the content that we watch. They all factor in moulding our perceptions of racial tropes and standards. We have to on our own reflect on these questions of why we sanctify whiteness and see it as superior. Why do we associate “bad” with Blackness? Why do we see darker complexions as dirty?
It begins with holding ourselves and our family members accountable and to stop making excuses for what we deem as cultural norms back home, of challenging racism and discrimination outright. They are learned and can be unlearned. It begins with educating ourselves and others on the historical construction of anti-Black racism and the unjust apparatus that represses communities across America. We can’t just accept things the way they are any longer. There isn’t a need to get into the what-aboutism of who supported who when it was one of our own communities facing oppression.
The Black community is our own too. Black, Indigenous and Palestinian liberation are inherently tied to the settler-colonialism which dehumanized them and that we benefit from even as recent immigrants living here in North America.
It begins with sitting down and dealing with the discomfort and guilt of the racism we allow to fester and perpetuate ourselves. It starts with the content we read. It begins with researching on our own and listening to Black voices. We can’t just be non-racist, we have to be anti-racist, to paraphrase the great Angela Davis. And that means investment and not appropriating Black culture thinking you’re being helpful by promoting it. Investing in the struggle beyond just performative activism and surface-level clout chasing. To not just check in or empathize with those in the Black community through this moment, but to have the right intentions with the work that we have to do in the long term. That this isn’t just for a moment where you say Black lives matter and then move on, but that as long as Black people are dehumanized, discriminated and brutalized against systematically everyday- this is a fight we have to take up every single day as well.
As long as the Black community faces the consequences, we must give up the privileges that allow for it to cultivate, and to direct our resources and money towards uplifting the Black community’s mobilization efforts, solidarity campaigns, educational endeavors, bail funds, essential supplies, care and relief work, and so forth. The time is for action, it’s for taking a stand everywhere.
If we imagine living in a radically different, far more just world, we have to be radical in our thinking of how to make that possible. If we imagine a more equitable society as Muslims, it begins with ourselves personally and what we’re willing give up in these moments.
There was an image doing the rounds on Twitter the past few days showing Arab store owners armed, standing outside of their store in order to protect it from looting in Chicago. When we talk about reimagining society, it begins with ourselves and what we’re willing to do for the sake of someone else. Particularly, of mutual aid and collective upliftment in moments of grief and anger. If we can stand there with guns which will intimidate and antagonize hostility, we can just as easily stand there and distribute necessary supplies to those in need.