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 …

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The Medina: Muslim Urban Justice

MuslimUrbanJustice_flier

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

N-gga Talk

Last year I wrote about a teacher who was suspended for telling his student to “Sit Down Nigga!” I made a brief reference to the Michael Richard’s racial tirade in a blog entry about Cross cultural discourse on Black Culture and the Black Family . Even though the NAACP staged the funeral of the N-word, it appears that the N-word is alive and well and exploited by all sorts of people.

Let me tell you my most recent experience. I met a friend at a random franchise Mexican restaurant for a bite to eat. We haven’t been able to catch up in a long time. She’s from the East Coast and spent several years in New York. Anyone coming to Palo Alto from a major East Coast city often experiences a major culture shock. This is especially the case for African Americans who move from areas where there is a significant African American population. I know of a very WASPy guy whose father moved to Idaho because he felt like the Mexicans and Asians were taking over. One has to wonder how do some of the old timers feel when they see brown faces walking in their multi-million dollar neighborhoods and local spots . You see Palo Alto is an affluent suburb of San Francisco that is predominately white. Rarely do I experience racial hostility, except for the one time when my brother and I were seated next to a skinhead couple at another more trendy franchise restuarant. He had a Black jacket that said “White boy” and “Fuck all yall!” his girlfriend wore a hat that said “Skin.” I am sure they felt like us two Black people invaided their white space of Palo Alto. They didn’t say anything to us, but then again there were only two of them. The issue was that they wore their white supremacist ideology as accessories in order to let people like me and my brother, and the dozen or so Somoans who would have destroyed them in an altercation, that this was their town and Fuck all of us.

While this was a rare occasion, I do get other instances when I am very much aware of my outsider status. Normally, I get stared at a lot. Last Monday, one of my friends who is racially ambiguous but clearly not white noticed how all these white people stared at us. Some with mouths agape. I assured her it could not all be just because I am black or they are staring at my hair. On occassion someone will pay me a compliment. So, I just assume they are staring for more positive reasons. Not that I should let that get to my head. But last Friday, an old white man at a cafe just stared at me with one of those stone cold stares. I swear it had to last about 20 minutes. There was no friendliness involved, just one of those stares that made me quite uncomfortable. But I tried to act like everything was normal and not let it phase me.

Maybe something was in the air this past week. But it wasn’t just me. I’m not hyper-sensitive or something, and it was more than just stares. That Thursday evening my friend and I ate outside at that franchise Mexican restaurant. After I got up to take wrap up my leftovers my friend informed me that a young hispanic/latina/Chicana used the N-word. She was talking to her Asian and White friends who sat at the table. From what I recall, she said “Oh he’s using that nigger talk.” Immediately I got pissed. My friend, who has dreads, just experienced a child commenting on her hair. This was the last straw. So, my friend went up to the girl and checked her. My friend’s point was that if this teenager felt comfortable saying the N-word in front of her, then what else does the girl have on her mind. The thing that was so disturbing was how comfortable she felt saying it. The girl defended herself by saying that her boyfriend was Black, so she’s not racist. So my friend said, “Would you use that language in front of his mother or grandmother?” The girl said that his mother wasn’t black, he was mixed. That logic amazed me. My friend tried to tell the girl how disrespectful that was and that as a young woman she needs to think about what she says. I am sure in that girl’s mind we were two Black women with attitudes, so I wonder how much did it sink it. We did not appreciate hearing the N-word appropriated by some teeny-boppers who don’t know the gravity of that word. We did not appreciate having to be confronted with that type of issue when all we wanted to do was relax and catch up. But somehow this young woman felt that it was okay to use the N-word within ear shot of two Black women. Who said it was okay? Was it her boyfriend or some of their Black female friends that gave them a pass? Did one of their friends tell them, “Hey you’re one of us, so you can use the N-word around us.” Guess what my friends, none of us are authorized to give out that pass. We ned to think about the gravity of our words when we say them. We need to hold ourselves and others accountable for what they say and how it can affect others.

Language Wars: Don’t talk about people in your language assuming they don’t understand

I cut a several inches off my hair, which means the volume is kind of high. So I was sitting on the train. Two youths who clearly were followers of the hyphey movement (dreads and gold fronts and all) passed by with a lame pick up line, “Oh, damn, Erica Badu!” One goaded the other to try to holla, but I guess they thought wisely against it. The signs were all there that both were likely to get shut down because I had that granola-organic-natural-positive-sistah vibe. I don’t really buy it, cause maybe it was just San Francisco and the fog blew out my flat iron. Anyways, that wasn’t the point of the story. The point of the story is about languages and the assumption that people don’t understand.

So, a few stops down. Two Mexican-American men. I’m not sure if they received the hyphen and were naturalized citizens. But they passed by. My Spanish is rusty, but I understood much of what they said. “Where are we going to sit?” “Here! Here! Behind the Black girl!” “She has a lot of hair.” “She’s pretty” They made a few more comments about my hair and giggled like school girls.

During my first week as a waitress years back, I remember one of the bussers asking our co-worker “Te gustas la morena?” (Do you like the dark girl). Our co-worker responded, “No.” For the year that I worked there, I was La Morena. And when my friend came to work there, they were stumped to find her a name because she was black to. I didn’t tell them right away that I spoke some Spanish. The guys used to cuss us out in Spanish and smile in our face. I understood the foulness coming out of their mouth and at first pretended to ignore them. Then I began the wordplay and mind games in the kitchen language that was a blend between English and Spanish.

It seems as if many Spanish speakers forget that Spanish is taught in high schools. Some of us picked up Spanish from friends and caretakers. In California, Mexican Americans seem to assume that if you are black you can’t possibly know Spanish. I guess it escapes them that there are Panamanians and Dominicans who are black. Besides, sometimes even when you don’t understand what people are saying, you can often detect that they are talking about you.

Middle Easterners should take heed. For example, more and more Americans are learning Arabic. Even though I only know limited colloquial Arabic, I often know enough to know if an Arab is talking about me. My Turkish boss told me that one time, he and a friend were talking about an American woman in Turkish. The woman then told them off in Turkish. She learned Turkish because she had married a Turk. They learned their lesson to assume that a blond haired blue eyed, Northern European looking woman could not understand the lewdness that was spewing from their mouths.

Asians are not immune. They often talk about us Black folks right in front of us. One of my friends returned a video at DeAnza college. Two Vietnamese girls working at the desk cracked some jokes about the guy. He then told them in perfect Vietnamese that his mother was Vietnamese. He then told them, they never tell by someone’s looks if they know Vietnamese and that it was rude to talk about someone in front of them.

I have traveled abroad where few people spoke English. One time in Morocco, a bunch of us girls were chatting in a packed taxi with other passengers. One Moroccan young man told us to shut up. Maybe we were annoying and loud. But perhaps there was an anxiety that we were talking about him and the other Moroccan men. I admit that the anxiety comes from a real place. But, I have never said condescending statements, objectified someone, or ridiculed a non-English speaker in English right in front of their faces. It’s rude and disrespectful and widens the gaps that divide us all.