Back, well sort of

 I’m back, well sort of. I’m back in Kuwait from my two week trip to Egypt. Fourteen years ago, I used to only dream of visiting places like al Azhar and the pyramids.  I definitely could not have imagined living in the Gulf.  I became Muslim shortly after the Gulf war ended Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iraq. I definitely could not have imagined that I would thrive here of all places. Like every dream I’ve had and been able to live, my dream of seeing the Middle East turned out so much different than what I expected. Even with this trip to Egypt. It was really a lifetime dream. It was so much different but so much better than I expected. Slowly, over time, I am getting to know Egypt. I am learning how to get around, to find places I love. I’m learning how things work. How things don’t work. And I’ve learned a lot in a short time. I’ve learned that I’m prone to erupt in tears when hungry and frustrated. I’ve learned how much luggage I could lift just to avoid feeling jipped by someone demanding bakteesh. I’ve learned that I can meet people on common ground. I’ve learned to cross the street while cars are racing by, as if I have some force field to repel cars. I’ve learned to be patient. I’ve learned more the obstacles I face in life (the biggest one being myself) and a bit about what it will take to overcome them. I’ve learned that I am here because of the goodness of my brothers and sisters (regardless of race, religion, or creed). All that goodness comes from one source, and for that I am truly blessed.

Taking real trips, avoiding tourist traps, going alone and seeing the down and dirty you get to experience real life. A few years ago, I was able to  see how poor and Middle class Moroccans live. I have mingled with the upper middle class Egyptians, spent way several evenings in city stars, visited a family in the City of the Dead, experienced life in the suburbs of Cairo. I have met religious and western trained scholars, teachers and educators, everyday workers and craftsmen. I have spent 8 hours with a taxi driver conversing  in broken English and Arabic.  I have seen seen beach side resorts, watched a lively Alexandrian woman bargain to have a duffle bag handmade on the spot.  I have ridden on a felucca blasting belly dancing music, watching muhajabats bellydance. I have strolled old palace gardens, ate ice cream outside a pre-modern fort put my feet in the Mediterranean.  I have been on the receiving end of lewd comments and unsolicited flirting. I have had met men who were protective and made sure that I was okay.  I have been hustled and received kind gifts of generosity.

For me, traveling and living abroad is a chance to learn a different way of life. I believe we are made of different so that we can get to know each other, and as we get to know each other, we can learn from each other. I believe travel is a way of learning about yourself, about others. It is an ideal opportunity to transform yourself (and I don’t mean just going native). Some of the things I have experienced really make me want to be a better person. Arab hospitality is something that I have really come to admire.  Years ago, I first experienced it when visiting my Libyan American friends. They fed us hearty North African food, couscous served with savory tomato based stew, lamb soup with cilantro, tomatoes, and pasta, sweets,  Ahmad tea with milk served in beautiful cups. My Muslim friends made us as comfortable as possible frequently asking me to stay the night in order to avoid a long drive in the dark. I never felt unwelcome or that my presence was burdensome. My experiences with Muslims from various cultures raised my bar for hospitality. For fourteen years, I have had high standards to meet. Sometimes I come short. But often, when I grocery shopping I buy something just in case I have a random guest drop by. At minimum, I have an elegant tea set to serve my guests. I love cooking,  I love having people over to share food with. But the pace of life in grad school often sucks up all my spare time. But the value of hospitality is something that I feel is still ingrained in my from my grandmother’s southern roots. The past two weeks in Egypt reminded me how hospitable Arabs can be. The kindness I was shown really warmed my heart. I know that if ever I have a guest, I will try my best to do what was done for me in the past two weeks.

Being away has been nice. It makes you appreciate little things. It makes you appreciate being able to let go of less important things. Walking the streets of Cairo or the malls of Kuwait, so much that seems heavy back in the states lifts away. It is break from the provincial thinking that many Americans have. For the past 7 years I have thought about where I want to live, knowing that I would spend a considerable amount of time in the Middle East and Africa, and maybe even Europe. While abroad reading blogs reminds me about what people are struggling with in the States. I think about those issues, and what type of life I want to lead. Sometimes the prospects and opportunities of teaching in some American University overseas some really great, especially considering the flurry of negative, unconstructive comments.   Although for the most part, my comments have been encouraging  I get frustrated sometimes. It reminds me that going back home means going back to a place full of baggage.

The first time I went to Morocco I felt a sense of relief. Honestly, I felt like it was a break from being Black. By that, I do not mean that I was escaping my Blackness. People did notice my skin color and I was treated differently than my white classmates abroad. I didn’t mind being nothing special on the street. I just kind of blended in.  People noticed my color, made reference to it, but my skin was in a completely different context. I wasn’t just another angry Black woman, nor did people assume that I was. Noone assume that I was from the hood, but they were surprised that I spoke “perfect” English and that my family didn’t immigrate to America. Many people assume I’m African, and a number who have said I look like a black Arab. Maybe because they haven’t been to America or they haven’t been exposed to all the stereotypes and the people who perform them perfectly to a “T.” But no one assumed I had a chip on my shoulder. If I had a grievance and got loud, that’s no problem because that’s what everyone does here. Arab women can be very dramatic bargaining or expressing complaints about services rendered. I never had to get too dramatic often ticket agents examining the size of my head luggage or forgiving the extra luggage would  say  things like, “I like to be kind to my American Muslim sister.” Many Egyptians and Kuwaitis don’t seem to assume that I’m un-marriageable. I meet women of various ages and they say things like, “Maybe  you will find somewhere here and stay” or “Marry an Egyptian and move here.”

I am not saying that this is solution to all my worries. But that not everybody is looking through a racialized lens every living breathing, waking moment. Nor do I claim that everything is perfect or that I’m living in a utopia. There are struggles, there are challenges, but I have been embraced by an amazing group of people. I miss my family like nothing else. But I’m not ready to go back to the States. Not yet.

Half Empty

No, my cup does not “runneth over.” I’m looking at it half empty. I read a recent study that suggests that some people may be hard wired to be optimists. I don’t think I came equipped with that hard wiring. I’ve tried to reset my hard wiring. But I’m an over-achieving, constant worrier, sensitive, hyper-critical, driven person.

I know a lot about myself because I began my self exploration at a young age. Much of it was influenced by mom mom. She was always an avid reader. She had library of self-help books. I remember seeing expensive book and tape sets from Dianetics, the Silva Method, and Tony Robbins. She had books like How to Win Friends and Influence People, and dozens of titles from how to became a self made millionaire, to how to actualize your dreams. My mother read popular psychology books, relationship books, horoscope books, speed reading, and Mega-memory. She had a range of new agey books about positivity, meditation, relaxation, personal development, and spirituality. But growing up I just thought most of the stuff was rubbish. I mean, I respected her meditation. She’d come home from work and handle her business until around 10 when she’d listen to her relaxation CDs till she fell asleep. She’d then wake up at 4:30 and begin the next day. My mom did not have a lot of encouraging people around her. For her, these books offered keys into providing a better future for herself and children.But I grew up skeptical about the books. Mom was wasn’t positive all the time, nor did all her aspirations fall into place as her positive visualizations envisioned (at least that’s how I saw it at that time).

I developed a fatalistic attitude because contrary to what the books claimed a positive outlook didn’t always get you what you wanted in life. Then my intellectual proclivities added a hyper-critical aspect to my outlook. Sometimes I just lived in my head, trying to find overall patterns, the underlying logic to seeming absurdities. Everything I saw around me had to be picked apart. I developed insomnia thinking about ever interaction through the day, global issues, my own person conflicts. My life, itself was a battleground, a constant struggle to prove to myself and the world that I was a worthwhile. But how does one prove something that is inherent? How do you prove to people who wouldn’t be convinced no matter what evidence you brought forward? And why did I need to convince myself? Why do I still need to? My mom used to tell me that half the world will love you and the other half will hate you. Growing up I was obsessed with the half that hated me.

As I’ve matured, I have had some deep conversations with my mom. You know when most kids would claim that their moms were the most beautiful mom in the world. My mom was always stunning, turning heads wherever she went. She was well read and articulate, dedicated, tough as nails, and vulnerable. She spent her life searching for answers. Much of her quest centered on overcoming the box that people tried to put her in. Considering my mother’s hardships, she is a very optimistic person. In one of the conversations I told her of all that she accomplished. So many people looking on the outside would be jealous. She was owned her own home in one of the most expensive regions in the country, she had a luxury car, she dressed nice, two of her daughters attend prestigious universities, her son has never been to jail and is an entreprenuer, she has traveled abroad. She grew up in New Jersey’s rural area in poverty, at times living in a house that had an out house. She picked vegetables in the field to earn money. Her family then moved to the city and experienced the struggle of urban life, where my grandmother raised 6 children by herself. My mother had her first baby at a young age. From her teen years, she was independent, working jobs from shoe shine girl to seamstress. She lost one of her babies, let her abusive husband, and flew all the way to California to start a new life. She pushed her other three giving whatever our fathers didn’t. She said that for years she didn’t feel accomplished. But when she looked at an old list of goals she had set, she had accomplished many of them. It was suprising to her.

I learned some important lessons before I left the States. There was a family reunion and I spent almost a week with my grandmother. My grandmother is one of thse old school tough as nails little black women. After listening to a week’s worth of my grandmother’s complaints and grievances against everyone, I was tired. I began to realize how much a struggle can wear you down. I rsaw how much of that was instilled in me. It is the reason why I left the question mark in the title of my blog. It is the reason why I explore issues that touch sore spots, especially for Black Muslim Women. We struggle. My people have struggled. There are triumphs, but many of the stories are heartbreaking. That collective memory, as well as my own struggles were becoming part of me. I began to feel like everything was a fight. Every injustice and every affront (real or imagined) was a battle ground. For some of my ancestors it was life or death, it was the flight or fight from the lynch mob. We had real grievances, real injustices that reverberated in our daily lives in sometimes small and other times profound ways.

I have shared much of my struggles. But it recently dawned on me what have I said that is wonderful or amazing about my journey. There are many things. Today, was a mostly positive day. I had someone tell me that something I find spiritually rewarding and beneficial was fundamentally wrong. I didn’t want to engage in an argument. My linguistic capabilities in Arabic are not up to par to spar with a native speaker. I recognize people differ on many things. The way people feel about their particular stances will make best friends go to blows. As I try to navigate the world of new friends, I recognize that large parts of me will not be accepted by others. But that doesn’t mean that I want to be only around people like me. But I want to find a common ground with people who have different experiences and world views. I could focus on the half that we disagree on. But, I am hoping to find a way to find that base where we can agree to meet half-way.

I drove and got lost following simple directions to a park. I was about 40 minutes late and stressed out. It was a relief to make it there. I sat outside enjoying company of three really nice women. Two American and one British, we couldn’t be more different, we couldn’t be more alike in many ways. I can say after the past few weeks of solitude, I can appreciate the warmth. It was a breath of fresh air. The rest of my day rolled out smoothly. I see today may have provided me some major openings.

Plus, I got inspired to keep moving forward in changing the direction of my writing. One of the things that struck me in the conversation this evening was the conversation about the blog world. One woman said it was just draining. Another pointed to endless debates, generalizations, and unsubstantiated claims that try to pass off as dialogue. As I ween myself from pointless debates (I know I still have work to do on breaking away), I am more reflective of the way my writing may reflect of skewed worldview. By skewed, I mean one that focuses on the ugly, the controversy, the negativity, the injustice, that jumps out in our minds. This skewed vision overlooks the beautiful, the harmony, positive things, the examples of heroism and selflessness that should inspire us. While I take a break from serious intellectual clashes, I am still going to explore complicated issues. But as one sister pointed out, I’m not going to make my point with generalizations. I will qualify my statements. I will humbly recant when proven wrong or if my underlying logic is flawed. The exhausation from struggling, fighting, and climbing over obstacles is not a negative thing. I may have gotten the wind knocked out of me. But a lot of people are in my corner cheering me on. My cup is still half full. I might be able to savor that cup, enjoying every drop. Plus I got enough juice in me to get some steam going. Insha’Allah once that steam builds to a critical mass, I am sure I will be able to do some meaningful work.

When Life isn’t Fair…

I don’t think I’ve passed by a single pharmacy or beauty supply section in any corner store or hypermarket without encountering some skin lightening creams, soaps, powders, lotions, or treatments. It makes me acutely aware of one thing in the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa—Black is NOT beautiful for many of these communities. There are skin lightening creams in the states, for sure. I remember on my way back from abroad, I stopped by a Queens shop to get my eyebrows threaded and henna. The lady next to me stopped in to get some brightening. She went in the back of the salon and underwent the uncomfortable chemical process. She happily walked out the salon a hint of a shade lighter. Several times I’ve seen flyers featuring skin brightening/whitening treatments at halal stores in the Bay Area. During the year I took a summer class in Berkeley, I discovered an Indian owned spa/salon right on the halfway mark between my dorms and Cal. I grew up with sistas who used to slather on Black and White creame everyday. My family never thought there was anything wrong with being brown. In fact, my mother used to put my sister in the sun when she was a little in hopes that her porcelein white skin would pick up a little tan. It took years before my sister tanned, as opposed to just burn and freckle. Now she has a peachy complexion of a southern California girl. The other day, she said her friend told her she was still to pale. It was funny to have that conversation considering the recent controversy over a skin bleaching product. Normally skin lightening creams have been marketed to women. But it took a campaign designed to appeal to men that finally drew controversy. Shahrukh Khan endorsed “Fair and Handsome,” a bleaching creme designed for men. The BBC reported on the criticism he received in an article titled, Beyond the Pale?

But there are many in blogistan who have written insightful posts about colorism and skin bleaching. Two of my favorite entries are “Ultra Brown” and The Right Shade. In addition to recent coverage of the controversy, I pulled up a few articles about the health risks of skin bleaching. I was suprised to see the prevalence of bleaching creams in Africa’s most populous nation. The article, Whitening Skin Can Be Deadlyreveals:

So, the prevalent medical evidence of high levels of mercury poisoning among women of Saudi, African, Asian and Mexican backgrounds reflects a common and prevailing belief that whiter skin has greater currency and appeal.

The article, African women risk all in quest for lighter skin colour, reports:

In Nigeria, where the use of skin-lightening creams is widespread, an estimated 77 per cent of women use them. In Senegal, the figure is 52 per cent, in South Africa 35 percent and in Mali 25 per cent.

Researchers in South Africa have pointed out that, “Society has a significant impact on the misuse of skin-lightening agents. It is known that during slavery years, light-skinned people were often given preferable treatment…and in modern times, studies have indicated that the majority of black men prefer light-skinned women as partners, girlfriends or wives.”

I walk past those pale women in black abayas who look like they never stepped outside in the sun a day in their lives. They add to their achievement by caking on the finest, whitest face powder.I wonder how they see me. And sometimes I see the disdain in their eyes. Even in societies where you see all sorts of shades, milky moon white to rich mohaganey browns, I find those bleaching creams offend me. They send a not so subtle message, that life is so much better when you’re fair. But you cannot be fair enough. Each time I see those creams, I feel like it is taking a jab at me and the beautiful brown people that I love so much.

Cultural Matters–Bridging Worlds

One of the great things about travelling to Muslim countries is to be able to witness the various ways people express this faith and its traditions. Even if some of the things I’ve witnessed were strange and seem illogical (one day I’m going to write about my field trip to an oracle in Morocco), for the most part I have enjoyed the similarities and contrasts. There are all sorts of ways that culture plays a dynamic role in keeping the tradition alive. Culture is important, it is dynamic, culture is a dialogue. There are many cultures that are disappearing under globalization, but at the same time new ones forming out of hybrid identities and close encounters of the humankind.

This raises questions about Islamic culture? What does it mean? Last year I taught a class and one of the major themes was showing that there was no monolithic Islamic civilizaiton and no single Muslim culture. And none of us saw that as a bad thing, but a testament to the beauty of our faith tradition. I taught the period from early Islam to the early-modern period. While the Mughals, Safavids, and Ottomans were exciting Gun powder Empires, I didn’t get to explore the questions that preoccupy us in the 21st century.

Today, my friend’s husband asked me if I thought there was an “American Islam.” Some of the neo-cons are in fear of it. Their arguments sound pretty close to what some of the early 20th century progressives (and KKK) had said about Catholics and the Catholic schools. They didn’t think that Catholics were loyal Americans and that they hoped that the Pope would become ruler of the world. That resonates with the crazy arguments that establishing a Khalil Gibran school will make inroads into Jihadism and will someday works towards establishing Shari’ah and imposing it upon hapless Americans. Well, there were a whole bunch of polemics then and there are a whole bunch of polemics now. Despite the intolerance, America has always been made up of a mosaic of faiths. And I know for a fact that there is an American Islam. I think there are several. But if we are going to talk about American Islam, we should take into account the largest indigenous American population who are Muslim, African Americans. Many of us are converts, and a number of us are children of converts. Our lives are intimately tied with our non-Muslim family members. In a major event I spoke up and said, “Hey I don’t join an organization or hold an event to participate in interfaith dialogue. I do that everyday with my family and loved ones.” Nothing dispels myths and misconceptions than close personal relationships.

In August, Just before I left the states, Christine Morente of the Oakland Tribune interviewed me about the depiction of African American Muslims. I talked briefly about the role of African American Muslims and their marginalization in the media African-American muslims fight misperceptions. Other commentors have mentioned that African American Muslims have been rendered voiceless in the media. Much of the media focuses on the immigrant struggle integrate in America while maintaining their cultural and religious values. I have also known that in the past decade, immigrant Muslims propel white Muslims to leadership positions. The conversion of a White American affirms their faith, rather than the conversion of those who they deem as lowly and marginalized (but contrary to what many foreign Muslims might think, 3/4 of Black people are living above the poverty line. And many of us are doing well with institutions established like universities, libraries, political lobbies, and large companies).

I became kind of nostalgic for the days when the Warith Deen community was really strong and that there were clear African American Muslim institutions (And Halal Soulfood and catering). Back in the 90s, a lot of Muslims really had it out for culture. Muslim Student groups looked down upon leaders who catered to ethnic communities. The most important identity was Islam. Culture was the source of all bad things. It was the source of nationalism, bida’, superstition, and division. We were one Ummah, there were no differences. Yes, that’s what we learned in halaqas and lectures.

I took Shahada at Masjid Waritheen because the brother (a family friend) figured I’d be freaked out by the gender segregation at MCA. This was even though I lived 45 minutes south of Oakland. Masjid Waritheen’s sunday Ta’alim (pronounced Taaaleem) had the feel of Church. There was call and response. Imam Faheem Shu’aib told us stories and parables that many of us were familiar with in the West. He used Greek myths and parables, historical figures, Prophetic sayings, stories of the Sahabi, Great Muslim leaders, and Western classics to teach. And there was call and response. “Umm hmmm!” “Teach!” “Ameen!” “That’s Right!”
Their modes of dress differed from the dour black, grey, and navy blue abayas and jilbabs Black and white big square scarves pinned neatly beneath chins at the MCA. MCA by the late 90s turned into a modesty contest. The contest for who could be the plainest contrasted directly with my experience at Emmanuel Baptist Church, which was about who could be the fliest at church. There is was a shame if you wore the same outfit twice. But me being the impressionable Muslimah that I was, became a true product of the MCA. I wore the jilbab and big square scarves came to look down upon the sisters who wore bright colorful patterns and African prints.

Even as I became fully entrenched in the whole MCA thing, I felt torn between those two communities. One of the things I struggled with early on in those youth groups and student groups, was that I felt like so many people pulled me in several directions. There were so many causes overseas: Bosnia, Chechnya, Palestine, Philipines, Afghanistan, etc…. Plus corrupt leaders in the Muslim world who didn’t let Muslims practice Islam and Allah forbid didn’t let young Muslim men wear beards. Their was a critique of the secular leaders, religious repression of the Muslim brotherhood, petty tyrants, Kingdoms (which we were told were haram). There were dreams of revolution and the creation of an Islamic Utopia. As youth, we were the vanguard, we had the energy, we had the sincerity to change everybody’s perceptions of Islam, as well as change the world.

But that stuff started to break down. I was struggling as a young Muslim woman on my own. I felt like no one really cared about social justice issues or economic disparities that affected African Americans. All the zakah money went abroad. There, the need was far greater, in their minds, than the needs in the states. But there were real economic issues that I faced as I tried to put myself through school. Those same economic disparities increased the steady decline of African Americans from the South Bay. Not many African Americans felt like they belonged there or were really wanted there by the organized leadership of the MCA. For me, it was a mixed bag. It was in that community that I forged really strong ties with my immigrant friends (mostly Arab and North African and a few Pakistani and Indian women). But there was always a peripheral feelings. At the same time, when I visited Warith Deen community, I normally got the cold shoulder. I wasn’t Black enough, as evidenced by my “wanna-be-Arab-style-triangle-scarf-and-jilbab.” It seemed like in the women’s parties, we created little utopias where we were all equal. But all of our realities were different.

I struggled to straddle my multiple identities and deal with all the communities that I belonged to. Back in the 90s, I remember an overzealous Arab Muslim woman (who now longer practices or associates with many people in the Muslim community) chewed me out because I wrote a paper about my multiple identities with a title something like this “African American Muslim Woman.” She was upset because I put African American first. She said that Islam should come first. Mind you at that time, I had been Muslim less than two years. Second, even in the MCA, the quickest way to identify me was to say the African American sister. There were only two, so it wasn’t that hard.

Most of my life and cultural values were shaped by my Western and Christian upbringing and experience as a Black child growing up in an integrated community. My conversion experience did reshape how I engaged with those values, cultures, and experiences. Islam became the filter by which I viewed my world, my moral lens, the basic framework that guided my actions and ethics. My engagement with Islam gave me meaning and still to this day, my life’s work is really about understand Islam and how various people understand and live this faith. But at the same time, I’m influenced by Englightenment thinking. Freedom, rational thought, inquiry, questioning, basic underlying assumptions about truth and justice shape my orientation to Islam. When I began my academic career, I realized how much I was a product of multiple worlds. Even when I rebel, it is within that framework. I know there are people who consider me less than Muslim because I don’t conform. There are people who consider me less than American and some who think I’m not Black enough. Who is it that decides how does one engage with the communities that you belong to and who decides for you what those traditions should mean? I am beginning to ramble…knowing this blog entry really started out to talk about how fun Girgian was.

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.

Flavors

Tariq Nelson reminded us that colorism still exists in his blog entry, And you Still Deny it. His short entry directs us to Umm Adam’s blog entry Racism and Colorism in Saudi. Time and time again, we read about negative perceptions of African Americans. Dozens of African American authors, like Toni Morrison in her book The Bluest Eye, have explored racial self hatred. Recently more people are recounting stories of colorism and racial self-hatred among Afro-Arab communities. When I went to Southern Morocco, I saw the most beautiful Moroccans in all shades and colors. It reminded me of home.After reading the entry, I didn’t feel angry instead I felt kind of sad for the people who are not allowed to see their beauty.

I went to New Jersey to visit my grandmother in 2005. One day she brought me to her work in order to introduce me to her co-workers. My grandmother, a seventy year old chocolate woman who beamed as she introduced her grandchildren, told her co-workers,”My babies are the colors of the rainbow.” Last June my family took me out to lunch at in celebration of my graduation. A white American couple stopped by our table and told my mother, “You have a beautiful family!” My mom smiled, “Yes, they are all my babies.” My mom noted, “Whenever we go somewhere people stare and are drawn to us. It’s like they’re suprised to see attractive Black people.” My mother gave birth to striking children of distinct hues: dark chocolate, peachy cream, and me somewhere in between. I enjoy the skin that I’m in. I look at my family pictures and all the shades, I think of that poem:

Harlem Sweeties
by Langston Hughes

Have you dug the spill
Of Sugar Hill?
Cast your gims
On this sepia thrill:
Brown sugar lassie,
Caramel treat,
Honey-gold baby
Sweet enough to eat.
Peach-skinned girlie,
Coffee and cream,
Chocolate darling
Out of a dream.
Walnut tinted
Or cocoa brown,
Pomegranate-lipped
Pride of the town.
Rich cream-colored
To plum-tinted black,
Feminine sweetness
In Harlem’s no lack.
Glow of the quince
To blush of the rose.
Persimmon bronze
To cinnamon toes.
Blackberry cordial,
Virginia Dare wine—
All those sweet colors
Flavor Harlem of mine!
Walnut or cocoa,
Let me repeat:
Caramel, brown sugar,
A chocolate treat.
Molasses taffy,
Coffee and cream,
Licorice, clove, cinnamon
To a honey-brown dream.
Ginger, wine-gold,
Persimmon, blackberry,
All through the spectrum
Harlem girls vary—
So if you want to know beauty’s
Rainbow-sweet thrill,
Stroll down luscious,
Delicious, fine Sugar Hill.

Cross-Cultural Discourse on Black Culture and the Black Family

After the Michael Richards racist tirade many non-Blacks chastised Black folks for being angry and suspicious about white America’s hidden racist views. A number of non-Black commentators said that Black folks’ suspicions were just as bad as Richards’s use of the term nigger and references to lynching. I have been called the nigger with the same contempt and rage that Richards spewed on that stage. I am not alone, I know a number of Black people who have been insulted, intimidated, physically threatened, and even assaulted under the banner of white supremacy (all over the country). It isn’t rare to hear family histories where relatives or family friends were lynched, gang raped, or chased down by white mobs. Based upon this real, and not imagined history, a lot of us Black folks were enraged. And NO… apology is still not accepted. It is especially not going to be accepted when the American public belittles our rage by pointing out that rappers appropriated the term nigger. Same thing for Don Imus calling those young women at Rutgers nappy-headed hos.

The internet discourse on Richards, Imus, and Black rage is emblematic of many cross-cultural discourses on race and class in America. I have often been disappointed by some of my conversations with well meaning, open minded, and liberal white people. I have spent my life having cross-cultural discussions because I grew up in a multi-cultural environment. Coming from different backgrounds and expeirences of race, we approach the issue from very different subjective positions. Sometimes the conversations are difficult, they challenge underlying assumptions, they expose logical inaccuracies, and, above all, they push us to confront deep seated and complex issues.

Yet there is often a complete dismissal of my viewpoint. Sometimes, a reluctant acknowledgment. It is not unknown to experience a fiery backlash that seems to come out of nowhere. Despite the many opportunities for cross-cultural understanding, I find that many non-Black people do not seem to get it. There are people who do get it, but they seem to be few and far in between.

Two trends in my discourse on race and class really bother me: 1.) color-blind approach; 2.) Blackness-as-a-pathology approach. In the first approach, they assume that America is color-blind society. They tend to point to Irish American or Italian experiences in America to make their case. They tend to overlook the fact that the Irish, Southern Europeans, and Eastern Europeans were not considered white when they immigrated by the masses to America. The people who argue for a color-blind society rarely have a critical understanding of how whiteness is construted in this society. The color-blind view minimizes the traumatic experience for many of black folk under the barrage of a global system of White supremacy. The second group does see race, America is not color-blind. But this group insists that African Americans do not have a distinct culture. Basically, they believe that AA do not have any cultural contributions that are worthwhile. Black culture for them is poverty, crime, a key example of the dangers of matriarchy, social depravity, and social marginalization, etc. Blackness becomes a pathology, a sickness, a “Negro Problem.” Black cultural heritage is invisible to them and any positives produced by Blacks is often attributed to them letting go of their Blackness and “becoming” White in a cultural sense. The people who see Black people as pathological basically see people who celebrate Black culture or highlight connections in the African Diaspora as dreamers, Black nationalists, facsists, ethnocentric. They are not satisfied in the conversation until you say that we are all the same, except somehow Black cultures is manifestation of the worst in American culture. Basically, they are not happy until you are so full of self loathing and shame about the condition of Black people that you are apologetic for being of African descent.

If African Americans are pathological, so is everyone else. It just plays out in different ways in the AA community because of the break down in social structures and networks due to exploitation, various migrations, and ruptures in families. Despite these challenges African Americans have many beautiful things to share with the rest of the world. And it is not just about singing, dancing, or playing basketball. We have strong family ties based upon extended and fictive relations, strong loyalties, spiritual values, inclinations toward communalism, and cutting edge intellectual thought from the academy. But this gets lost in a lot of discussions.

Without the writings of amazing Black intellectuals, and white anti-racist scholars and intellectuals such as Tim Wise, Allen Johnson , Dalton Conley, I think I might have checked my self into some psych ward. Many of white folk have told me that my perceptions were off, observations skewed, and experiences imagined, especially when things did not line up with how they perceived race and class in American society. But over the years, I have become increasingly sensitive to the asymmetries of power that allowed them to be so dismissive of my views in those exchanges. I am beginning to see how white privilege or male privilege plays such a prominent role in many of my cross-cultural conversations on race.

A while back, I read Sunni sister’s blog about White privilege. She wrote:

White privilege tells a male who admits he has nothing to do with this belief that he knows more about radical Black Islamist and racial seperatist movements than Black Muslims who follow a mainstream path of belief, who may have even come out of those movements themselves. And White privilege means that White male can tell Black people this. And he can call those Black people names and get applauded for it. And White privilege, and male privilege, means that he can represent himself as a voice of Islam, and outsiders don’t question this, and others egg him on and encourage his “voice,” without giving a moment of thought to the racist implications of his actions and words. He too, extends his middle finger.

In some ways I found myself in this type of exchange as I chimed in on a Umar Lee blog entry My Thought, Culture Matters. There was a side argument that developed where I argued that Black families instilled strict discipline on children because of the legacy of slavery. A White Muslim man, who argued that he had daily contact with African Americans of various classes, contested my claim about cultural practices in rearing Black children. Who was right? The insider or outsider? What came to mind was the anthropological view of the outsider. There is this historical legacy of the impartial observer (a rational white male) who draws upon empirical observations. His point of view is priveleged in both academic and mainstream circles. Academia, like mainstream media, is often quick to dismiss the insider’s point of view. We cannot get beyond our bias. So, as an insider speaking about Black issues or Muslim issues, I better be on point. If I have anything to say that challenges the sensibilities of my white friends, I better have my facts 100% together. They cannot be based upon my personal observations, and I better have 10 widely accepted scholars and their books to prove it. Importantly, I need to conjure up a white person like Tim Wise to make sure my view point sticks. Otherwise, not much I say holds weight.

I will continue with the discussion that begin in Umar Lee’s Blog. The reason why I think it is important is because there is something at stake, for me. I value my culture and feel that some of the views expressed on Umar Lee’s blog about Black culture were demeaning and not problematized. I will only address one topic. The issue that drew the most ire from a well meaning commentor. I am arguing that there are some cultural specificities of African American culture by looking at child rearing and disciplining young children. So, in the spirit of my own scholarly endeavors, I will support my arguments with evidence. I’ll start with an article on discipline, then provide some empirical evidence with a study on spanking, then I will list books that deal specifically with sociology of the Black family to show that this issue is subject to several erudite studies. Finally, I will point to a brief sample of one of the academic programs that specialize in the sociology and culture of the Black family. (Mind you, I am not an Americanist so my knowledge of the material is limited). My primary argument is there is enough scholarly work and anecdotal evidence to support my insider view that Black cultural practices in child-rearing tend to emphasize discipline (and corporeal punishment) because of the historical legacies of slavery. Here goes:

In support of my comments on the blog, I found this article in Salon magazine that discussed corporeal punishment.
In the article,“Spanking: A Black Mother’s Point of View” the author points out Black cultural perspectives on discipline:

Spanking is part of a long, historic continuum in our community. During slavery, a black person’s pout or backtalk to the wrong person could not only get him whipped, it could get him sold — or, if the transgression was deemed bad enough, maimed or killed. So black mothers and, by extension, the entire local community, had a vested interest in keeping their children alive and safe. Swift physical retribution for even minute transgressions tended to reinforce the rules, and adhering to the rules meant you were able to live to raise another generation — who, in all probability, spanked, too, but not as hard as the previous one.

The annals of black comedy are rife with examples of strict parental discipline. Sinbad, Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby, Chris Rock, Richard Pryor and the late Robin Harris have all riffed howlingly funny on the subject of gettin’ whupped. Cosby used to make audiences scream in delighted recognition when he went into his routine about The Belt that hung in his father’s closet: how long it was. How thick it was. How big the metal buckle was. What it sounded like as it whistled through the air, accurately aiming, like a smart bomb made from the cow’s outside, at his quivering buttocks. What it felt like when, on impact, his flesh was sucked through the holes.

[…]

A new study by Marjorie Linder Gunnoe, a developmental psychologist at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., has revealed something different from previous studies, which found that race and class do not affect the decision whether or not to spank. According to Gunnoe’s study, which tracked 1,110 children from 4 to 11 years old over a five-year period, spanking may be divided along racial lines. Gunnoe found that spanking increased antisocial behavior (lying, cheating and bullying) among white boys, but was correlated with a decrease in aggression among black boys. Her explanation: Spanking is not only tolerated, but endorsed by the black community. The culture expects that adults will be seen, and treated as, authority figures.

Whether or not certain traditions are dying, Black families have traditionally used corporeal punishment, taught children to respect elders, taught children to not talk back to authority figures, to be seen not heard. I’m not saying that all of these practices were good. But my cultural sensibilities were rudely shaken when I went to nanny for a mixed-race couple.

I found a study that breaks down stats:

Non-Hispanic black women are more likely than Hispanic women to agree or strongly agree that spanking a child is sometimes necessary. In 2002, 80 percent of non-Hispanic black women, compared with 56 percent of Hispanic women, agreed that a child sometimes needs a “good hard spanking.” Seventy-four percent of non-Hispanic white women say that spanking a child is sometimes necessary. Differences for men were not statistically significant.

See the rest of the study here.

I have encountered two books that demonstrate the cultural and social practices in Black families. The first is Theodore R. Kennedy’s

    You Gotta Deal with It Black Family Relations in a Southern Community

and the second is Carol B. Stack’s

    All Our Kin: Strategies for Survival in a Black Community

. I am sure there is a wide range of scholarly literature on Black families. These books detail parent-child relationships and relationships between children and extended kin and fictive kin. I think they move beyond the clinical approach to the Black family, diagnosed as disfunctional because of matriarchy, to point out complex social relationships.

In addition to various books, there are legitimate degree programs and classes that explore issues specific to the Black family. I will not even mention the graduate programs that focus on similar issues.
San Francisco State’s Africana Department

The Black Studies Department at San Francisco State University was the first Black Studies Department established on a four-year college campus in the United States. The birth of Black Studies at SFSU in 1968 was, in fact, inspired by student-led opposition to the then Western intellectual hegemony and racist scholarship that characterized the limitations found in traditional approaches to college education. In 2005, the Black Studies Department at SFSU changed its name to the Africana Studies Department.

They offer courses on the Black family. Also, Virginia Common Wealth universities offers a sociology course on African American families:

206/AFAM 206/SOCY 206 African American Family Relationships
Semester course; 3 lecture hours. 3 credits. Focuses on the African American family from the 1940s to the present. Examines the values and the interpersonal/role relationships that are involved in forming and maintaining African American families in the contemporary United States. Topics include dating and sexual relationships, marital relationships, parent-child relationships and relationships with members of the extended family.

Finally, I found a curious final exam for class on the Black Family from the department of Pan African Studies at University of Louisville :

PASS 520.01: Black Family in America
Exam Questions: Summer 2002
Instructor: Professor Lateef P. Badru

1) What evidence would you cite to support or oppose the thesis that the black family in America today is disintegrating or dying? Discuss your answer.

2) Drawing on your personal experience and observation of the portrayal
of African Americans on popular TV, identify the basic stereotypes associated with Black family life in the United States. Discuss your points.

3) What aspects of African family pattern are still retained in the
African American Community? How do you think a comparative study of
family can be of value to you? Discuss your points.

4) What major functions does the Black Church, as an institution, perform today in the African American community? How are these functions different from the ones performed immediately after emancipation? Discuss your points.

5) What are the major obstacles to “plural marriage” in American
society? Can multiple cohabitation (men- sharing) solve the crisis of
shortage of mating partners for black women? Discuss.

6) Briefly define the following concepts:

i. Polyandry us Polygyny.
ii. Matrilocality vs. patrilocality
iii. Matrilineal vs. patrilineal descent
iv. Exogamous vs. Endogamous marriages

v. Nuclear vs. extended family

7). What role does religion play in black family life? Discuss your
answer with specific reference to the adoption of Christianity during
slavery and after emancipation

This is not to say that the students in this class come out blazing experts. But I am sure they have been given tools to think critically about issues involving cultural and social practices in the Black community. A number of the top scholars studying race in America are white. And they deal with the topic empathetically while focusing on understanding Black realities. An outsider’s gaze can be helpful in providing perspective on issues that face a given community. But when it comes to dealing with communities of color, the white point of view is often given more weight than a person of color. This is not to say that Africans or Black people have a monopoly on truth, but that insiders have an important perspective that is often overlooked but should be taken into account.

When it comes to engaging with these issues, whether over dinner, at a cocktail party, tea party, internet forum, or wherever, it is important to distinguish between informed opinions and unsubstantiated claims. In cross cultural discussion, neither party may fully understand the socio-economic and cultural structures that undergird our social worlds. But when it comes to weight of evidence and cultural translations, I would rather refer to the insider’s (especially those who have been rendered voiceless by the dominant group) viewpoint.

There are few mysteries in the Black community that others cannot participate in. It is really a matter of whether people want to join. The anthropologist’s gaze is on us on a daily level and he often tells us that he knows more about us than we do. That would be great his assessment was accurate. But sometimes those observations miss the complexities. Instead, they often provide an unnuanced understanding of Black culture and the challenges we face. I extend an olive branch in hopes of an honest and respectful cross-cultural discourse. But it is important that we all note our positions of power and privilege. I recognize that my status as an educated Black American Muslim Woman means that I have to fight tooth and nail for my voice to be heard by almost anyone. My perspective is so easily dismissed by so many. But it is still worth fighting to get it out there, don’t ya think?

U Black Bitch

So I got this random message this morning. Parts of the message was very similar to a message I received yesterday from a yahoo user named Saad_linsa. Prodgial and Saad_linsa it is the same person and that the person is not white, but South Asian or Middle Eastern. Just check out the bad spelling, misused slang, awkwad phrasing, and nightingale reference. But here is the message:

7:07:42 AM prodgial: hi sweet girl
7:08:53 AM marjan93: ?
7:09:08 AM prodgial: can we chat plz ?
7:09:15 AM marjan93: who are you?
7:09:56 AM prodgial: we both r stranger 2 each other but im hopin so much tdat u love 2 chat with me
7:10:52 AM marjan93: no thank you
7:11:03 AM prodgial: plz m i rude idiot
7:11:11 AM prodgial: y nobody talks 2 me
7:11:16 AM prodgial: im dat bad
7:11:20 AM prodgial: plz
7:12:00 AM prodgial: plz
7:12:10 AM prodgial: I really am the greatest ever to play this game, aren’t I?
7:12:14 AM prodgial: I won?! Oh my gosh – I never win! You must suck!
7:12:20 AM prodgial: What’s it like to lose so badly?
7:12:24 AM prodgial: OH YEAHHHHH!
7:12:26 AM prodgial: What happened? I’ve been making a sandwich for the past 10 minutes?
7:12:31 AM prodgial: Nana nana nana!
7:12:37 AM prodgial: Do me a favor. Wake me when you’re done losing
7:13:20 AM prodgial: u black bitch have u seen ur face in mirror who wana talk u u r like shit even worse thatn dat
7:13:40 AM prodgial: i just wana use n throw u
7:13:44 AM prodgial: hahahahaha
7:13:46 AM prodgial: lol

7:13:59 AM marjan93: that’s pathetic
7:14:03 AM prodgial: Oh man! That is hilarious! Sucks for you though, sorry ’bout that.
7:14:10 AM prodgial: You know something? I could have gone the rest of my life without knowing that.
7:14:21 AM prodgial: Ah, c’mon mannnn. . . that makes me want to take a shower.
7:14:24 AM prodgial: Seriously, were you even typing a language right there?
7:14:26 AM prodgial: You know something? I could have gone the rest of my life without knowing that.
7:14:41 AM prodgial: u have mede me 2 type such things
7:14:57 AM prodgial: ok buh bye nightangle
7:15:00 AM marjan93: I’m glad your ugly racism came out
7:15:06 AM marjan93: you’re a disgrace
7:15:17 AM marjan93: May God help you
7:15:18 AM prodgial: say it 2 ur self
7:15:26 AM marjan93: and forgive you
7:15:35 AM prodgial: when im showin decency u r nt even talkin to me
7:15:40 AM prodgial: u made me do dat
7:16:02 AM marjan93: I didn’t make you do anything
7:16:15 AM prodgial: hey ok i dont wanna hurt ur sentiments but im very depressed now
7:16:16 AM marjan93: I don’t know you but you are a racist
7:16:30 AM prodgial: nn anger on somebody jus fall on ur shoulder
7:16:41 AM marjan93: I feel sorry for you, but I’m done with talking to you
7:17:00 AM prodgial: i was little frutrated with my job

I then blocked the user…This sort of reminds me of how Black women were treated treated historically.

This is not the first time that I have been on the receiving end of this type abuse after I refuse the advances from a non-Black man. One of my friends noted that many men expect Black women to welcome their advances. I grew up in a neighborhood where, like many other African American women, I was subject to verbal abuse and physical threats from men who were angry at me because I didn’t accept their advances (For this reason I put on hijab for 5 years). People cannot blame hip hop as the sole source for negative stereotypes of Black women.

The black woman’s embattled defense of her body and her right to sexual self-determination constitutes a recurring theme in African American women’s literary tradition. […]numbers of other black women intellectuals, activists, and writers in the last century and a hall emphasizes the vulnerability of black women to the sexual predations of white men (during and after slavery) and the stereotype of black female lasciviousness and licentiousness that has enabled and excused white men’s rape–and the general sexual exploitation–of black women.

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2838/is_3_40/ai_n18630052
vie Shockley’sreview of

    Buried alive: gothic homelessness, black women’s sexuality, and death in Ann Petry’s The Street

In the United States, the fear and fascination of female sexuality was projected onto black women; the passionless lady arose in symbiosis with the primitively sexual slave. House slaves often served as substitute mothers; at a black woman’s breast white men experienced absolute dependence on a being who was both a source of wish-fulfilling joy and of grief- producing disappointment. In adulthood, such men could find in this black woman a ready object for the mixture of rage and desire that so often underlies male heterosexuality. The black woman, already in chains, was sexually available, unable to make claims for support or concern; by dominating her. Men could replay the infant’s dream of unlimited access to the mother. The economic and political challenge posed by the black patriarch might be met with death by lynching, but when the black woman seized the opportunity to turn her maternal and sexual resources to the benefit of her own family, sexual violence met her assertion of will. Thus rape reasserted white dominance and control in the private arena as lynching reasserted hierarchical arrangements in the public transactions of men.

Jacquelyn Dowd Hall’s

    The Mind That Burns in Each Body

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~UG97/blues/hall.html

These tropes have been modified and play out through the pornographic gaze on Black women’s body. It also plays a part in the invisibility and dismissal of the Black Woman in Muslim societies where we are sexual objects but not suitable for marriage. Many non-Blacks see themselves as higher up onthe social ladder. Yet, being attracted to a Black woman destabilizes their notions of beauty and desireability. A Black woman rejecting them bursts their fragile egos and then they pull a Michael Richards in a violent racist tirade. “U Black Bitch!” What makes it sad is that often Black Arab women are treated in a similar way by crude, arrogant, frustrated men, who do not know their faith but exist in a state of jahiliyya. Afro-Lebanese women are considered promiscuous and Afro-Palestinian women hardly get any marriage offers. I know beautiful Afro-Arabs who are treated poorly in comparison to their fairer sisters. Some have spoken about the types of abuse they suffered. It just reminds me, everywhere I go, everywhere I transgress some circumscribed role for Black women, any time I do something that destabilizes someone’s racist hierarchy, I’m going to be a Black Bitch.

Top Searches that People Used to Find My Site Today

Sometimes, I wonder what is the intention of the people who google “Why you shouldn’t marry a black woman”? Was the searcher a man? Was it a woman? Were they black? Were they joking? Or do they have beef with black women? What do they think of what I have to say? Or has gendered racism prevented them from valuing anything that I have to contribute?

When I think of the people who visit my site I wonder if they have been weighted down by the same issues that have made my life feel heavy? Do I help give voice to something that they had trouble articulating? Is my blog divisive? What about those readers that I challenge? How mad do I make them? Well, I don’t feel bad because I make someone angry when I express my own subjective position. I am angry, and there should be a whole bunch more people angry about injustice and deceit. I have always had my identity and my personal choices tested, questioned, and challenged. Learning can be painful, as many of my undergrad students will attest to. Students have their presuppositions challenged, they get tested and critiqued, they have to stay up late at night trying to make sense out of seemingly incomprehensible problem sets and dense readings. Maybe some of those who visit my site find something reflected back at them that they don’t like. Some may find a reflection that affirms the struggle they have been going through. Ultimately, I hope to give speak for the voice-less, the groups whose voices have been submerged by the dominant narrative.

Search Views
ethnic self hatred African American 2
jamerican muslimah blog 2
darfur african muslims 1
what is jerri curl weave 1
bi racial babies features 1
why you shouldn’t marry a black woman 1
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sometimes your best isn’t good enough 1
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men like light skinned women 1

Prison Da’wa and Marriage to ex-cons

You see, Muslim women are like women all over the world, we have a lot to worry about. How do you know if you’ve actually fallen in love with a child molester, wife beater, womanizer, or emotionally abusive man? There are often signs and we often ignore them. Maybe we all need to do a background check. But what if a brother’s background is less than perfect? I think this is an issue Black Muslim women deal with more than anybody. We have a lot of infrastructure to proselytize to incarcerated men. And the conversion rates are pretty promising. Many men who convert while in prison really struggle with their deen once released into society.

The problem that I have with the prison system is that it is not there to reform people. Instead, it is a brutal system that brings the worst out of people. Taking shahadah wipes away someone’s previous sins, but it doesn’t erase niggerish tendencies. That takes a lot of work. And man, it’s a struggle out here. I mean, I know Malcolm X was an ex-con, but that was Malcolm X. You know what I mean?

There are some hard brothas who are released from prison who have straight beef with the whole womenkind. For those brothas that like to box women, maybe they need some women who can box dudes. I don’t know if they do dawa in women’s prison. I think they should. Maybe they can get a Michelle Rodrigues to take them on or what’s her name from “Million Dollar Baby.” I know it isn’t just converts and ex-cons who beat their wives. I’ve heard of brothers asking about how big can the miswack be to hit their wives. Maybe they were joking, but that shit isn’t funny. And the Muslims women’s shelter gets all sorts of abuse and death threats from angry husbands, fathers, and brothers. I don’t know the exact figures that could possibly correlate rates of incarceration with domestic abuse. But if somebody knows, get back at me.

As an African American convert, I think I’ve had to deal with this issue more than any of my Middle Eastern, North African, South Asian, white, and Asian counterparts. You see, I grew up in East San Jose and attanded the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara. Very middle class and affluent and immigrant oriented. A few of my second generation immigrants friends would tell me that I’d find my ideal match in East Oakland. That’s where Masjid al-Islam is and a lot of angry brothers would be there. Sure, they looked a lot better than many of the pasty engineers in Silicon Valley. But were they ideal matches? A number of them sold incense and oils. I remember when this one North African sister from East Oakland pumping up this other African American brother who had asked for me. Like many of my non-Black friends, any guy was a good match–as long as he was Black. She was like, “Gurrrrrrl, he has his own business.” It turned out that he sold books, but this wasn’t a Barnes and Nobles operation. It was one of those book stands you see set up next to the incense and oils stand in some Flea Market (not even Berryessa but the smaller more rundown Ashby bart variety). Now, this was a little bit much for me. I would get in arguments with my friends who would make a case for marrying one of these struggling brothers. They would advocate for them. We should only look at religion, if the brother prayed, if he was a good Muslim, etc…. But meanwhile their fathers made sure that only doctors and engineers couls step to them. They would also introduce their white convert friends to the doctors and engineers. They’d tell me, “but there’s plenty of brothas for you up in Oakland, Aziza.” Meanwhile, masjid al-Islam became the bastion for polygamy and these brothers were pulling one, two, maybe even three wives. I guess I was too ambitious to throw myself into a cycle of poverty. Maybe the brother who asked for me got it together, I pray that Allah grant him tawfeeq. But I thought about practical things like being able to pay rent, health insurance, paying tuition so I could get a degree in community college and make a contribution to my family. I think that the brother discovered Islam while in prison. I don’t think he had been out that long and the selling of books was this big push towards the entreprenurial spirit.

Okay, let me get this straight. I know I’m kind of a square, but I used to run the streets a bit and I’m familiar with the whole thug lifestyle. Back in highschool thugs were in and getting locked up was sort of a rite of passage. My mom put a block on our phone to prevent prison collect calls from my homeboys or boyfriends. So I would get the lame three-way calls or requests to make three way calls to call somebody’s people. Nowadays, you can’t click over and use three way. So anybody locked up calling my mom’s house is pretty assed out. Anyways, for some of us ladies could deny the appeal of a brother who had been locked down. Usually they come out all swoll and muscles cut from benching, pull-ups, push-ups and sit ups all day. I don’t know if they look the same since they’ve banned weights in the yard. Brothers come out of prison well read and articulate and seem so motivated. All they had to do all day was work on their Islam. But then they get out, no support, no one will hire them, bougie–and especially immigrant–girls won’t marry them. And I have just never been in a place in my life where I can carry a brother through the fire.

I used to have long conversations/arguments about this issue when one of my friends would try to push off the surplus of struggling brothers from Oakland. One friend was especially dismissive of my concerns (Perhaps she was playing devil’s advocate). I developed a motto, “No incense and oils sellers!” Not any disrespect to any brothers who have a hustle and make it work for them. I guess there was little recourse for me, being that I came into Islam in a predominately immigrant community, and little recourse for them. When I was 20, I just had one simple requirement, that the brother have an associates or at least be a junior in college, with some job skills. Otherwise, how was the brother going to hold down a family?

Muslim brothers use all sorts of innovative techniques for giving dawa to pretty women they encounter in the work place, on the street, and in their social circles. They’re not giving dawa to women on skid row. They are not giving dawah to women in correctional facilities. They are not giving dawa in halfway houses. So, that means, that the community is not really dealing with as many women who need help reintergrating into society. In fact, it means that Muslim men have better options for suitable matches. On top of that, Muslim men a clearly not limited to Muslim women. They can marry Christian and Jewish women. I know of a number that marry Buddhist, Pagan, Wiccan, Agnostic, and Atheist. This doesn’t inlude the foreign brothers who go abroad marry some poor hapless women who knows nothing about American society and lives isolated thousands of miles away from her friends and family. When you add it all up, level headed brothers actually become rare commodities. I know a lot of Muslim women who are actually opting out of marriage because it is such a headache.

I know brothas are doing some serious dawa work as prison chaplans and whatnot. But for reals though…can yall do some dawah to brothas with jobs for some of us sisters. So, please even up the chances for sistas by working on your male friends, co-workers, and assocites who don’t have super long rap sheets and records that prevent them from working. I know way too many on-point sisters who are wont to find a suitable partner. There’s a Medical School, Business School and Law School just walking distance from me. I can show you right where they are at, or you can Google Map it. Set your dawa table right across the quad. I’ll support yall. We gotta balance out things the demographics. Also, let’s hook up the struggling brothers. Maybe we sistas need to work on some dawa for the ladies in the correctional facilities, aka the industrial prison complex.