Happy Birthday Marc Manley

Baby Marc

February 28th the birthday of three people who have shaped my journey and taught me to love God in the realest way. My mother who has always taught me to have faith, my good friend who helped foster my courage to return back to my faith, and my husband who has deepened my faith and demonstrated the meaning of dedication. Today is his birthday, today.

As a graduate student, I first stumbled across his blog and got butterflies. I followed the writings of this dreamy unattainable guy across the country. A few years later, two fellow bloggers told me that he mentioned me. I saw him as all the best pieces of everyone I ever cared about put together in one big man package. Creative, musical, devout, earnest, honest, generous, warm, strong, intellectual, and emotional. Being in love with love, I fell hard. I met him for the first time as I returned from a year of self imposed exile abroad. I peaked through the peephole for the first time, and I knew that this was the man I was going to marry.

The year before we were engaged, I attended my family reunion. My cousin and I shared the challenges of finding a match, somebody who was ‘hood enough to understand our family while at the same time being able to mix in our professional circles. Like my husband, we learned to be social chameleons, sharing different parts of ourselves in different contexts. Born in the Rust Belt like myself, he still holds an attachment to Detroit. My crazy matches his crazy, and sometimes that is not in a good way. We’re two strong headed, trash talking, sensitive people. And we’re also smart, so when we argue it is like clash of the titans. But more often than not we end up being something fantastic. For example, we can have tag team, go Bonnie and Clyde, on debates.

Together, we have struggled through health crisis, work-life crisis, personal battles, and deaths of close friends and family. When we got married, he was working at the school of design, trying to complete his undergraduate degree. The strain wore down his health and there were probably close calls when I could have lost him. I can tell you stories about him defending the elderly on the bus, chasing down a man who abused a woman, trying to rescue someone from a collapsed building. But the most courageous thing he does is to feel. He cries when he says goodbye to his parents, he cried on our wedding, and he cries during prayer.

My husband is probably one of the most brilliant thinkers I know. For over five years, I dedicated much of my life to studying Arabic, from three intensive summer programs, commuting from San Jose to San Fransisco for private Arabic tutoring, battling through two years coursework in graduate, even a year in Kuwait and Egypt. I studied Arabic at University California Berkeley, at Pacifica Arabic resources, at Stanford, at Universite Moulay Ismail, at Middlebury, at Alif Fez, at at Markez Diwan, and at American University of Cairo to finally make it to upper advanced. But this man taught himself! His Arabic today is so much better than mine. He has an incredible talent for learning and especially languages. He’s fluent in Japanese, Spanish, and Arabic. In addition to studying independently with brilliant scholars and hidden gems in our community, he’s the only autodidactic I know.

Our house is filled with classical Islamic texts in Arabic, books I’m afraid to crack open lest I be reminded about my my neglect of my language study. I’ve seen him filling up a notebook with three books open while surfing the internet filling. His hours are filled up with study and deep thought, often interrupted by our four year old. She’s our greatest collaboration who has really changed our lives in the most positive ways. I see so much of him and I in her. Of course she is theatrical and has a huge vocabulary.

Nobody knows the sincerity of a leader better than their family. I know that he loves being Muslim, that he is satisfied with Muhammad as his prophet, and he is satisfied with his Lord. I know of his hopes and frustrations in building a thriving community. Despite those frustrations, nothing makes him happier than seeing people well fed and belonging. He has given talks that have made me cry, that remind me of the beauty of God’s creation and our place in it. There are times when I wish I could whisk the troubles of the world away and just enjoy us without interruption. At those times, my heart aches because life gets in the way of true expressions of love and appreciation. I could write much more about this unique guy whom I admire very much. Anyways, I hope you say a little prayer for the birthday boy and our little family.

The N-Word

 

And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. Qur’an 49:11

In late 2013, a group of activists, scholars, and concerned netizens coalesced around the issue of anti-Blackness perpetrated by Muslim youth on social media. Some of these actions included anti-Black slurs in Arabic, Urdu, Somali, and Yoruba, as well as the appropriation of the N-word by non-Black Muslims. Out that group,  Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative formed to organize social media campaigns to drop the A-Word and address #UmmahAntiBlackness,  as well to give voice to Black Muslims and celebrate their contributions in hashtag conversations that included #BeingBlackAndMuslim.  Responding to the call to educate Muslim communities about racism, MuslimARC launched as a human rights education organization.  

Black American Muslim scholars, activists, leaders, parents, teachers, and conscious members are exhausted by having to explain why it is not okay for non-Black Muslims to use N-word.  The use of the N-word is controversial, even amongst African Americans. However, when a Black person uses the term, it does not spark the same outrage as non-Black people using it. This is because in many ways it is reclaiming the pejorative. Although the Black usage of the word may raise some hairs and spark vociferous debate within the black community,  it is not racist. Oppressed people cannot be racist, they may be prejudice. When White people and NonBlack People of Color use the N-word, regardless of intent,  they are committing a racist act. When they use it as a pejorative, they are being actively racist asserting a hierarchy that dehumanizes Black people.  A non-black person using the N-word to themselves or others as a term of endearment is an act of cultural  appropriation, which is a form of passive racism. Cultural appropriation is copying elements of a culture in a colonizing manner and using them outside of their context. Cultural appropriators use those elements without having to suffer the same consequences that members of that culture. The N-word developed to highlight the othering, dehumanization, and exploitation of sub-Saharan Africans who were racialized as Black.  On occasion, upwardly mobile Black folks ascribing to respectability politics will distance themselves from other Black Americans and will use the term as a pejorative against Black people they don’t approve of. This may be internalized racism, but it still does not equate to the usage of non-Black folks.

 

It doesn’t matter if you are well meaning, and if your Black friends give you a pass. No individual Black person can give a non-Black person the weight of our historical experience and oppression.  Cultural appropriation is harmful for the members of the oppressed group, especially when you are using a term that is so painful for many Black people.  When someone who is not Black uses the term it is often emotionally triggering.  When non-Black people argue with Black people who are offended by their appropriation  of the n-word, it further inflicts emotional violence. It does not matter if you hear the word a thousand times by Black comedians and hip hop artists. The commodification of Black culture does not give anybody a right to appropriate the term. period.

Finally, White people and Non-Black People of Color who have no linkages with the brutal 400 years history of the kidnapping and enslavement of Africans in the Americas and Jim Crow, as well as the 18th century colonization of Africa which included forced slave labor, population movements, and mass deaths and depopulation, who continue  to face systemic racism and violence at the hands of the state and the police, your moral judgment on how Black people reclaim the term is not relevant to the discussion of why it is never okay for Non-Black People to use the term. This is an internal community discussion. The discourse around the N-word is sensitive topic for many Black Americans. The discourse is a source of many microaggressions that make workplaces, campuses, and friendships hostile environments for Black people. Non-Black people who police Black people on the moral repercussions of the term often misuse their non-Black privilege in forcing the issue.  Rather than policing Black people, they should focus on uprooting racism within themselves and their community.
Because I’m tired, here are some resources below:

Books:

The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why …

 

Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word …

 

Articles and Websites

 

Stop Saying N***a If You’re Not Black – Huffington Post

 

Straight Talk about the N-Word | Teaching Tolerance

 

4 Reasons White People Can’t Use the N-Word (No Matter …

 

Don’t Use The N-Word If You’re Not Black. The End. But If …

 

The n-word: An interactive project exploring a singular word …

The Dilemma of Leading from Behind

Iron St. Murals in Detroit. Photo Credit: Pendarvis Harshaw

Iron St. Murals in Detroit. Photo Credit: Pendarvis Harshaw

When a marginalized person in our community is given access to power, education, or resources, we often second guess them. There is not democratic process that makes any job, fellowship, internship, roundtable, or leadership position equal opportunity for all of us. Being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right person who vouched for you, or having certain privileges can give you opportunities which are denied to someone even more deserving or qualified. In this competitive world and unequal world, we don’t have control over the privileges that are bestowed upon us or the doors that open up for us. What matters is that when we walk through some doors we kick them open so hard that they stay open. What matters is what we do with those opportunities and how do we serve others with the privileges we have been granted.
 When folks are calling out others, they often focus on the the individual who they see as having shortcomings, rather than the systemic issue that may hamper them from being able to take that ideal path. I’m a sensitive person. So when I see others talk about me or others who I work with, my empath mode goes into full gear. Depending on how we frame a critique, we can create climate where others can be disparaged.  Once someone’s character has been attacked for being self serving, especially when they work to serve the community, they tend to shut down from dialogue. It’s usually against my better judgment to try to try to give context or explain the dilemma of anyone in a position of leadership, including myself. It is not just me being defensive, but with empathy we can better understand each other and move towards a solution. And even if we are at loggerheads, with empathy we can understand the underlying assumptions and motivations that led someone to make a decision or take a stance on an issue. We can disagree without thinking that assuming a moral superiority.
Social media makes us all much more accessible, it means all sorts of moral judgements about your personal choices, your politics, or your adherence to your faith will show up in your timeline. It means that hours of your day can be eaten up going back and forth trying to save face in debates where hundreds of people reading it will form strong opinions about you. It means that people will send you screen shots of comments that may make you question your ability to operate in the community. It means that the cream in your morning coffee will sour as your inbox or mentions are flooded with critiques mixed with ad hominem attacks.
Being put in the position to represent the community is a heavy mantle to bear.  I often wish my family could go back to anonymity and live our lives like normal people. I slowly saw my private life die in 2007 when I posted my first public blog entry. Then across the world, people would recognize who I was. People who never met me had all sorts of assumptions formed opinions about my personal life, my politics, and my religious and spiritual journey. My private life ended when my husband gave his first khutbah at UPenn in 2009. Given the vitriol, I moved into obscurity until I founded an organization in 2014. Initially, I didn’t want to be the public face. I did so because people dismissed our efforts and erased the Black women involved in the project.  There are aspects of my work that I love. First and foremost, I love teaching. But I have to constantly renew my intentions because the constant barrage of critiques and debates are tiring.  The returns of doing this work are limited emotionally, personally, or financially, but this is important work.  Even though I was not the best qualified to do anti-racism education, only a few others stepped up with me to advance racial justice in Muslim communities.
I lead by from behind in trying to serve. I also lead from behind because of my own unique struggle. While coming from a disadvantaged position, recovering from the strikes against me, catching up from my late start and interruptions, trying to  get through each day multi-tasking my duties as a mom and wife of a public religious leader, my vantage point shifts and changes constantly.  I know there are people who have even stronger skills and talents that I have, but they are not built up and supported in our community. I hope to find that person more suited for this work and to have built up a healthy space for them to take this work to the next level.