I penned a letter to the editor of Essence Magazine, but haven’t heard back. I thought I’d publish it here.
I’m a co-founding director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative. You probably haven’t heard of my organization, as we’ve only been around for three years when we launched #BeingBlackAndMuslim. Muslim Americans are a diverse community, but media often erases the contributions of Black Muslim women. Unfortunately, the #Woke100 list failed to include a single Black Muslim woman. For every 100 Black people in the United States, at least one is one Muslim. The erasure of Black Muslim women occurs in Black institutions that tend to be Christo-centric and in national Muslim organizations that tend to be Arab-centric. A recent Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) study says that African Americans make up about 25% of the American Muslim population. While Muslim American institutions are embracing our contributions, our faith identity is not always embraced in Black communities. Black Muslim women are making important contributions to our communities and society at large. I’d love for Essence to feature Black Muslim women, both those who are descendants of enslaved peoples and more recent immigrants from the Mother Land. These include Black Muslim women from countries President Donald Trump tried to ban, Sudan and Somalia. There are so many examples that I look up to, including Clara Muhammad, Betty Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz, Ameenah Matthews, Ilhan Omar, Aminah Wadud, Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, and Ibtihaj Muhammad. It is so important that Black media celebrates our diverse faith traditions and shares nuanced stories about Black women that are not featured in mainstream media. Starting with Black Muslim women, who face triple marginalization, would be a good place to start.
Programming Director, MuslimARC
Rendering of Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer’s February 2017 tweet. Image courtesy of Kelly Nuttal
After numerous interviews and casual conversations with scholars, imams, and leaders of all backgrounds across the country, evidence points to highly qualified Black speakers and panelists receiving less compensation than their white, Arab, or South Asian counterparts in the same field. This is not to say that Arab, South Asian and White speakers don’t make important contributions. Rather, it is to point out the preferential treatment towards non-Black speakers that that privileges some and disadvantages others based on their racial or ethnic identity. The erasure, under compensation, and aversion to Black leadership is against a lot of what we claim to stand for as a community.
The situation is so bad that speakers such as Suhaib Webb and Linda Sarsour have called out the failure to invite Black intellectual thought leaders while on the main stage of events that they were invited to. Layla Abdullah-Poulos called on non-Black allies to do more. She writes, “Effective allies can’t just speak about erasure; they are supposed to create spaces to pass the mic to center marginalized voices or risk becoming complicit in continuing the marginalization and reinforcing notions that we can’t speak for ourselves.” Often, people turn to educators such as Layla and myself to list the recommendations for diverse speakers that are often ignored. What we need are accomplices who will utilize their privilege to affect change. Here are 5 tips for non-Black Muslim speakers and leaders to pass the mic:
- Ask Questions. Ask who else the organization has invited to be on the panel or speaker line up or for an interview. Don’t be shy about asking about the demographics of the speakers and remind the event planner to be mindful of the importance of representation. Be sure to ask what outreach was done to ensure a representative candidate pool.
- Pass the Mic. Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer wrote, “You don’t need to be the voice for the voiceless, just pass the mic.” If you received a speaking request, consider if there are other people more qualified to speak on the subject than you. If you don’t have a PhD in hand, with decades of work in the community, there probably is a solid list of folks with more expertise than you. You’re probably overworked, and passing on an event might be good for everyone. Give yourself a quota if you’re high demand: i.e. “For every 5 requests, I’m going to pass one to some other speaker.”
- Share your Platform. If giving a talk, ask for an underrepresented person whose intellectual property you have drawn from to share the stage with you. Look for a local person who you could bring on stage and boost their work. The truth is, they will continue the work that needs to be done when you’re busy speaking elsewhere. Invite your platform to champion someone else whose story should be told, whose perspective should be shared, whose message is important, but not as widely recognized as you.
- Cite your Sources. In your speeches, presentations, and writing, mention your sources people by name, and not just dead leaders, but those who hold down communities today. Your speech should cite Black Muslim thought leaders, not just Malcolm X or Muhammad Ali. In fact, your reading list should be vast to include the intellectual contributions of men and women from the Global South.
- Mentor those with Less Privilege. Mentor up-and-coming leaders from underrepresented groups. Take a few under your wing. Be sure to dedicate some part of your leadership practice to lifting others as you climb.
- Be Humble. I mean it in a good way, not as a dis track. We should never think of ourselves as empowering others and we should refrain from paternalistic attitudes towards those we amplify, support, or mentor. Stepping back when we’re so used to stepping up is a practice of self purification. It is an honor to be able to bask in someone’s shine, walk beside them in their journey to living the life that their Creator intended for them to live. We should avoid ulterior motives, such as thinking that by sharing resources with, honoring contributions, or signal boosting a person with less privilege than ourselves means that they owe us something. It is a blessing to walk in unison with others and if we can be of service, we should give Thanks and All Praises to the Most High.
Passing the mic may be challenging if your sole income is based on public speaking. If that’s the case, I’d suggest consider diversifying your skill set so that you’re not dependent upon speaking gigs. Recognizing our privileging, we should think about who we are bringing with us. Passing the mic may be a test if we have some hurt when a person criticized us or disagrees with our stance on an issue. Passing the mic may be hard if we feel that we worked so hard to get to the prominence that we have. But then, who are we lifting up as we are climbing? It is truly an honor and and privilege to be able to do this work, and it is a duty to constantly do better. These steps are by no means comprehensive. I welcome you to share your suggestions in the comments below.