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 …

On my Privilege and my Apology

Yesterday, I was in an exchange addressing the use of a personal Facebook post in an article after it was removed. The implications of the discourse weighed heavy on me all day, through last night and into this morning. Like my tweets yesterday, anything we write is out there forever. I believe in the Afterlife, so I know I will be accountable for my words and how I exercised my privilege or ignored harm. A lower motivation is, whatever we write, no matter how embarrassing can resurface.   Everything is saved on the internet and can still be harmful to others. If members of the target population express that something is xenophobic or racist, then it is.  I was not empathetic to the feelings of Muslims whose grandparents, parents, or even themselves have immigrated to the U.S.  We measure impact not intent. An immediate apology is warranted. I am sorry.

With the ICE deportations going on right now and legislation being passed, it is important to be sensitive to the plight of undocumented, refugees, and immigrants. Being a person whose ancestors were forcibly migrated and whose bodies and blood are in the bricks of the foundations of many of the institutions, I feel a profound sense of belonging.  It also puts me in a position of privilege as a non-immigrant. With that privilege comes a lack of empathy, which I demonstrated yesterday. I was busy explaining intent of converts like myself, as well as defend ideas that have been proposed in Sherman Jackson’s Islam and the blackamerican. For many Black American Muslims, the book helped explain a toxic dynamic in Muslim American communities where many of us lost our way.  This dynamic was in accepting Arab and South Asian hegemonies (for example Tablighi jumu’ah or Saudi influenced Salafi Islam) that were detrimental to our psychological, material, and spiritual well being as individuals or the Black Muslim community as a whole. That framework does not take into account African/Black American relations, Latino Muslims, or refugees. Many people whose families immigrated from Muslim majority countries have expressed how alienated they feel with the immigrant/indigenous binary. I believe we must reject a hierarchy of who is more Muslim or who is more American. I think it is important to find language that is sensitive to all the parties involved to discuss power dynamics in Muslim communities and the politics of representation. I will do better in the future to avoid nativist or xenophobic language in my writing. I will also work more to address it where I find it.

I started anti-racism work with much to learn and I am still learning. I know I will fall short in the future, and whether I am reminded harshly or gently, I hope I respond better in the future. I will work tirelessly to keep willing parties in the room to learn and grow together. Growth and transformation in myself and others inspire me. For those who have been harmed by my words yesterday or in the past, I hope that you accept this apology. Let me know going forward how we can begin to have meaningful discussions in building a community that best exemplifies that ideals we all share.

 

The Medina: Muslim Urban Justice

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What does medina mean for Muslims in the United States? With major Muslim centers of population along the two coasts, in New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit, Islam in the United States is an urban religion. In a recent Ramadan reflection, Hazel Gomez writes, “In the next 35 years, America will grow by 110 million people and nearly 100 percent of that growth will be in cities — not suburban or rural America.” She continues, “Our task, if we’re to remain relevant to society at large, is to create viable, urban, multi-ethnic, Muslim-led, values-based communities.” Shaykha Muslema Purmul extends the argument about the significance of Muslim institutions in urban spaces. A mosque shutting down in a suburban neighborhood may not impact the neighbors, she points out, but “… if an institution like IMAN or Islah LA or Ta’leef Collective is shut down, the neighborhood would certainly care.”

Reflecting on Malcolm X’s legacy, Rami Nashishibi calls on our faith community to deepen our commitment to the inner city for three reasons: 1) Our roots are in the ‘Hood; 2) We do a lot of “our” business in the ‘Hood; and 3) Our greatest contributions to America are in the ‘Hood. Nashishibi points out that the modern roots of Islam in America began in urban centers such as Detroit, Harlem, Cleveland, and Chicago. Many immigrant Muslim families have benefitted economically through gas stations, restaurants, corner stores, and services in the hood. And finally, as a community we can make the greatest contribution to addressing social and economic disparities in the inner city.

These disparities arise out of migration patterns and the economic disempowerment of inner city communities. With approximately 70% of Black and Latinos in cities or outer ring communities, urban justice is often linked to racial justice. Dawinder S. Sidhu writes:

Urban America is occupied by the ‘urban underclass”–the marginalized poor in America’s inner cities. Members of the urban underclass are, generally defined, those who are economically impoverished, spatially relegated to ghettos, disproportionately African-American, subjected to discriminatory policies, and lacking prospects for social or physical advancement.

Long historical processes and profound structural economic shifts, that include the decline of industry in urban America, in addition to the legacy of housing discrimination have segregated poor and minority populations in U.S. cities. Inner city poverty is a racial justice issue because of the persistence of racial and gender discrimination in employment, criminal justice system, and education disparities, which prevent communities of color in urban areas from achieving their full potential. These factors also led to complex interactions between various groups, including tensions between South Asian and Arab corner storeowners and predominantly Black and Latino communities.

On the other hand, faith based initiatives and individual Muslims inspired by Islam and their hopes for bringing power to underserved communities have led to developments such as Kenny Luqman Gamble’s Universal Companies. It is important for us to know what Muslim community leaders are doing in terms of Urban Justice. They can inspire us, while providing important models to follow. But we also need to think more about how we can mobilize the broader Muslim community to support these efforts.

When it comes to Urban Justice, what are Muslim community leaders with strong organizing experiences on the ground doing? What models can we follow? How can the broader Muslim community support community leaders who are addressing Urban Justice?

Join  this important conversation by viewing the livestream and tweeting your questions and reflections on the panel using the hashtag #MuslimUrbanJustice Thursday August 13 at 3:15 pm PST/ 6:15pm ESTTo address these issues, MuslimARC is very excited to organize a live streamed online panel highlighting the work that organizations like IMANDream of DetroitLA-Voice, and Sahaba Initiative are doing to advance Urban Justice.

We hope you’ll join us at 6:15pm ET this Thursday to discuss some of these important questions. Click here to join the event on Facebook and be sure to share it with friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s In a Name?: Using “Muslim” As a Cultural Category Erases and Stereotypes

Image source: Nsenga Knight from A Guide to the Last Rite 2011-12 ” tumblr_nihv1yRokW1qex654o1_500

In seeking solidarity with Black movements, organizers must be cognizant of and uproot anti-blackness from the content and approach to their work down to the terminology and vocabulary used. Whether doing this for the purpose of talking about solidarity with Ferguson, or in terms of addressing Islamophobia and civil liberties violations, the framing of types of social justice or, social justice issues has resulted in tangible exclusions of Black/African American Muslims and feelings of erasure. Even in the realm of  Muslim American social justice work, certain voices are privileged over Black Muslim voices. The latest wave of this patterned behavior raises serious concerns in the engagement with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.  In an “Open Letter to Non-Black Muslims,” Nashwa Khan wrote:

We Muslims who are non-black, and non-black people as a whole – we need to move away from constantly wanting to center and insert our own identities. I want to see solidarity with our black brothers and sisters be genuine and authentic. I want to witness non-black people unpack our benefits and complicity. I want to see us raise black voices in this discourse instead of inserting our own thoughts or letting every black individual relive trauma by presenting ourselves as special snowflakes.

The socio-economic background of many Black American Muslims has not positioned them to engage with immigrant-origin college-educated on the same footing.  Nor do many of the Black/African Muslim activists have access to the same platforms as many non Black Muslims. Further, many do not have  institutional backing to address their grievances. Compounding inequities, Black American Muslims,  who are most affected by policing and surveillance, are often relegated to a secondary role in national Muslim organizations or Muslim-related religious civil rights advocacy groups. Making “Muslim” a cultural category, along with ethnic groups like “South Asian” or “Arab,” is problematic in a number of ways, often resulting in  practices that exclude or erase Black/African Muslims.

Effects

The of Muslim a cultural identity include reifying South Asian and Arab hegemony in Muslim discourses. One particular issue is using “Arab and South Asian” as a synonym for Muslim, or on a group that is intended to be open to all Muslims but only uses some names and ethnicities. On one level it makes sense that civil liberties groups have developed the category “Muslim, Arab, and South Asian” to address the ways in which some communities have borne the brunt of government surveillance and discrimination in  post-9/11 society. However, the cultural category has resulted in the exclusion of Black Muslims in the discussion of Muslim civil liberties or the effects of Islamophobia. Black American Muslims have been under surveillance and discrimination many decades before 9/11.


American Muslims are a diverse group, comprised of individuals of South Asian, Arab, North African, Middle Eastern, African, Latino, White, Indigenous, Asian, and Pacific Islander background. Indeed, over ⅓ of the US Muslim population is Black/African. US media,  government agencies, and organizations often ignore this, to much criticism from and distress of  Muslims. However, Muslims – both at the individual and the institutional level – engage in the framing of “Arab and South Asian” in the same category as “Muslim” and vice versa, frequently. While it may be unintentional, the results of this exclusion have toxic potential, including but not limited to the following:

  1. Centering South Asian and Arab voices as larger groups that retain their own complexities (i.e. individuals are able to identify or not identify as Muslim yet speak for Muslim communities) while reducing other groups to only their religious identity
  2. Ensuring the idea of Islam and Muslims are linked most strongly to Arabs and South Asians
  3. Minimizing the historical contributions of Black and African Muslims, as well as of Muslims in North Africa who are not Arab and Muslims from regions including Southeast Asia and East Asia.
  4. Privileging Arab and South Asian perspectives as representative of the Muslim community at the expense of marginalized groups
  5. Allowing for South Asian and Arab Muslims with little ties or stake in mosque or Muslim community life to have the privilege to set the agenda religious and spiritual life in mosques and Muslim community centers.
  6. Marginalizing Muslims who strongly identify with their faith tradition by moving “Muslim” to a racialized but secular humanistic framework.
  7. Making South Asian and Arab cultures normative.
  8. Not allowing South Asians of Sikh, Hindu, Christian, or Buddhist religious identities or Arab Christians to speak to their faith traditions, while allowing solely Muslims to speak to theirs.

Stereotypes

  1. Conflating Arabs or South Asians with Islam
  2. Reifying concept of a monolithic Muslim culture
  3. Ignoring overlap between Black and Muslim identities
  4. Promoting the idea that Islam is a foreign religion without American roots
  5. Ahistorical depiction of Black Muslims, downplaying the historical role that Black Muslims have played in freedom struggles of which #BlackLIvesMatter is a part. This includes people like Jamil El-Amin, (H.Rap Brown) who is currently imprisoned, and many others from centuries ago to today..

By talking about Muslim solidarity and taking Islam out of it, we support the creation of a Muslim cultural category that excludes people who are Black American Muslims, as well as other Muslims who do not fall into these dominant ethnic categories. While embracing the concept of self-identified Muslim, it is important to address how treating “Muslim” as an ethnic, cultural, or political identity can invalidate the experiences of converts and/or Muslims who do not fit into the major cultural categories associated with Muslim identities.

Some options to use instead (note: each of these categories has a pro and a con, which I encourage you to help flesh them out in the comments below):

  • Confessional Category: Just use “Muslim”: i.e. Mobilizing Muslims for Ferguson
  • Footnote it: Use Muslim, but include a footnote that lists the major ethnic groups: i.e. Muslims for Ferguson1

——

Calling on all self identified Muslims, including but not limited to Arab, African/Black, South Asian, North African, Iranian, Latino, Asian, and White Muslims.  

  • Direct Marketing Approach: List the target Ethnic groups for participation: i.e. Arab, South Asian, African/Black Coalition against Spying.
  • HIghlight major groups: List the groups comprising largest demographics ie: African/Black, South Asian, and Arab Muslims (ASAM) or Muslim African/Black South Asian, and Arab (MASA)
    • Include in a footnote or clear statement that all Muslims and people of all faiths and backgrounds are welcome to join.
  • Interfaith route: i.e. Middle Eastern and South Asian Interfaith Alliance for #BlackLivesMatter
  • Get Creative: i.e.  Non-Aligned Movement for #BlackLivesMatter
    • the Non-Aligned movement harkens back to the non-aligned movement comprised of multiple states, many of which also had Muslim populations, including India, Ghana, Egypt, Yugoslavia

This resources should be used liberally by non-Black Muslims to end the erasure of their Black Muslim brothers and sisters. Although many members of the Black community may not be offended by some use of the language (such is the case with non-Blacks using the n-word where some people will give their friends a pass, but overall the use is not accepted by a more conscious crowd), it is still recommended to modify the language in response to a vocal few. This article is meant to start an important conversation, one which we hope will be particularly sensitive to those who are largely excluded in Muslim American narratives. In developing inclusive language, we must be open to continual dialogue and critiques. Please share your thoughts and concerns in the comments below. 

#IAmMuslimARC

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This short video below outlines one of the major motivation for doing this work, my work in an Islamic school. I am committed to supporting healthy environments for Muslim children to thrive and prosper. I found that many of our children were ill equipped with the skills necessary to challenge the racism they faced, whether it came from their peers or from the broader society.

I don’t want people to think that the experience was all negative. I saw many wonderful examples of students and families who embodied Islam. I have a young daughter and I constantly pray that my daughter grows up to be like many of the girls and young women I came to know. Empowering our youth with healthy self-identities and with a sense that they can help create a better world are two of my greatest motivations.  Those two years teaching secondary school left a lasting impact on me. Those students taught me much more than I could have ever taught them. I still see those beautiful young children, although most of my students  are adults, in college, starting their own families, and taking on leadership roles themselves.

Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative in many ways represents the beauty of Islam. Although I felt those deep bonds of sisterhood with individuals over the years, I had struggled calling my co-religionists brothers and sisters. Sometimes it was because of some of the  socio-economic, gendered, and racial power dynamic  that dehumanized us. Other times, it was because I felt in the end our futures were not intertwined. But this past year, the tireless  work  Namira Islam, Bangladeshi American woman who lived thousands of miles away, Laura Poyneer, a white American Muslim who at the time lived on the other side of the country, and over forty volunteers who gave their precious time showed me the depth of our bond. Our shared visions,  frustrations, hopes,  and struggles bind us together.

I am asking you to join us in this movement. We are need your input to know a bit more about MuslimARC’s reach. Please take a moment to complete this short survey.


If you checked any of these than, YOU are part of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative.

 

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Come out and show your support for anti-racism education and activism in the Muslim community. Join us for a hashtag event that is part of MuslimARC’s new LaunchGood campaign to both raise awareness and funds for anti-racism initiatives and projects throughout the US.  Give $5 or 5 minutes to spread the word. Follow the event at https://twitter.com/muslimarc and use the hahtag #IAmMuslimARC to be part of the conversation on Tuesday November 11 2:00PM PDT/ 5:00 PM EST.

A Critical Verse in the Quran: Interview with the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative

 

AltMuslimah’s Shazia K. Farook spoke to Magari Hill of the Muslim Anti-Racism collaborative, an organization dedicated to strengthening dialogue between people of different backgrounds, and ways to eradicate racism from within the community.
altmuslimah: The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative was recently established. Can you explain the purpose of this group? Is it mainly an online presence?

Margari Hill : We established Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative in response to conversations on social media that began late in 2013 about the prevalence of anti-black racism amongst Muslims. Our purpose is to challenge intra-Muslim racism through educational resources and programs. Right now, we are mainly an online presence with members located all over the country collaborating through telephone conversations, video conferences, and email. At the end of this month, we will begin on the ground programming and anti-racism training with the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament in Detroit.

You can read the rest of the interview at altmuslimah.

DroptheAWord

Throughout the country, Muslims of all stripes have honored Black History month, recognizing the contribution of Black Muslims to the ummah (Muslim community).We’ve shared a lot this month, in #UmmahAntiBlackness we examined stories and accounts of anti-Black racism in Muslim majority societies. One of the themes that came up in #BeingBlackandMuslim was the pain some Black/African Muslims as they experienced racism.

DroptheAword

This is the A-word we are talking about, the Arabic term abid (s. slave), abeed (pl. slaves), abda (female slave). As stated early in this blog post, MuslimARC largely developed in response to the virulence and pervasiveness of anti-Black racism in social media. Drop the A-word as a campaign is not limited to Arabs, but to all Muslims who have used racial slurs. Dawud Walid wrote an article  titled Intra-Muslim Racism: Confronting Ethnic Slurs and Racism Among American Muslims  where where he explains:

 It is not uncommon for Arabs from the Levant to refer to Blacks as abeed (slaves). In the South Asian community, Blacks or people with darker skin are sometimes referred to negatively as kallu (Black person). In the Somali community, it is also not uncommon to hear other Blacks being called jareer (nappy head) and adoon (slave). And even among some Nigerians and Ghanaians, there is widespread usage of the word akata (wild animal) to describe descendants of their former enslaved tribesmen who are Americans.

While some may see such calls as divisive, we are standing up for and with those who have been wounded by racial slurs.   Several studies show that interpersonal racism has a cumulative effect, resulting in negative emotional and physical health outcomes for the victims. We are calling each one of you to play a role educating your friends, family, and co-workers. Regardless of where you come from or your background, the use of racism slurs is hurtful.  And this needs to stop. In the Holy Qur’an, Allah Subhana wa ta’ala says:

49_11

Sahih International: O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. 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. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.

This verse reveals that even if you think it is cute to use the n-word and you don’t mean it offensively, it is something that Allah Subhan wa ta’ala considers  wrong. Even if you don’t think the subject of your offensive nickname is not offended, you have offended someone else. Someone like me,  felt the full brunt of the violence behind those words.  As a child, I was attacked by a bully, had a plug of my hair ripped out my head and called the n-word. I asked an old man for the time and was told, “I don’t speak to N—s!” I grew up hearing the jokes in the back of the class, and that experience was crushing. For years, I didn’t know Muslims used anti-Black slurs. Then when I slowly discovered them, I heard embarrassed apologetics. But what really bothered me was that many Muslim schools were not well equipped to deal with racism on their campus.

One can be actively racist, passively racist, actively anti-racist, but you can’t be passively anti-racist. I spent months calling out people on twitter for using the word abeed. Many questioned our methods. And this work, itself angered me, frustrated me, and made me wonder was it worth it. I still believe that there is a place for calling out foul behavior. This study shows that regardless of the resistance or hostility people expressed when confronted on the their stereotypes,  they are less likely to express prejudiced views afterwards.  But I don’t think it should be the job of the victims of prejudice to call out the perpetrators. You need to check your own people and do it out of love for them because it is cutting away from their humanity.

There are many methods that we can take to confront racism and stop our Muslim community centers, Islamic schools, camps, and outreach programs from becoming toxic, ethnically and racially polarized spaces. We still have to explore the best methods and see which ones would be the most effective. Regardless, we have to stick to the Qur’anic injunction of  enjoining the good and forbidding wrong. It is time for our community to say this is unacceptable and incompatible with the spirit of Islam.  We’re calling on our co-religionists to take a stand against the use of anti-Black slurs (and all racial slurs), whether in English or in other languages including those of their fore bearers. Wednesday February 26, tweet your thoughts on ways we can #DropTheAWord. We know better, we must do better, and it is up to each of you to do your part.

GuidelinesDropAWord

Alexander M. Czopp, Margo J. Monteith, and Aimee Y. Mark. 2006,”Standing Up for a Change: Reducing Bias Through Interpersonal Confrontation” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology  Vol. 90, No. 5, 784–803