Azizah Weighs in on African American Muslim Marriages and “Morocco is Not the Solution” From Kuwait

Sometimes I wonder why I am so preoccupied with concerns that are in the states. Right now I’m living in an alternate universe. I’m abroad in an oil rich country where “Fair” equals “Lovely.” All the way across the world, I’m not feeling the reach of many of the containment policies and strategies during this Cold War between Black Men and Black women in America. At this point, I’m joining the non-alignment movement, to focus on development. But I will have my defenses up just in case some missiles shoot my way.

Non-alignment is a good strategy right now. Relationships are just no big on my mind right now. I got some immediate things to take care of. But, the marriage issue does come up often. I get the usual question of whether I’m married or not. Women usually say something like, “Maybe you’ll find someone here.” “Maybe when you get married you can visit us in Yemen.” etc…etc.. A couple of occasions an expat mentioned somebody’s name.But because I’m not doing a back flip just hearing about the random brother. I’m not ready to drop out of my Ph.D. program and become an instant homemaker. So the issue usually passes. A sigh of relief, I get back to focusing on my Arabic and surviving.

I’ve been trying to play matchmaker for a while. And so far, I have a zero success rate in match making. And not so much luck in my own bureau of internal affairs and love. I know all about what not to do. But still who am I to be a matchmaker? Despite any blow back that I have received from a possible link up gone wrong, I still discuss gender relationships with a number of my married and single friends. I like having conversations about Muslim marriages and Black women in healthy relationships. I like seeing positive examples. For many women of different ethnic groups getting married is a given. But not for Black women. Who said life was fair? I guess it will all balance out in the Last Days.

One of the things that drew many Black women to Islam was the idea that women were honored. In fact, as women we applied the Prophet’s (s.a.w.) last speech to ourself, “a white is not better than a black, a black is not better than a white.” When I went to a mosque for the first time it was a predominantly Black mosque. That was the first time I saw so many Black families, in tact families. Sadly, over the years, the reality of unstable marriages in the African American Muslim community settled in. I had saw figures like Malcolm X, loyal to his Betty Shabazz, with a strong sense of self. I just kind of expected Black Muslim men to not buy into gendered racism or colorism. But over time I have seen that there is a small but increasing number of Black men who exclude Black women as viable partners.

Clearly, the growing trend has roots in some shifts in the consciousness of Black American Muslims. In the early 90s there was still that tinge of Black nationalism from the sixties movement. Black Power, Black consciousness, what ever you want to call it, whithered away. More of younger brothers moved away from the W.D. community, critical of what they saw as syncretic practices of “Baptist Muslims.” These Muslims aspired to engage with other mainstream Muslim communities. They began to seek training from immigrant teachers and some even went abroad to study. This generation hoped to integrate into a singular Muslim identity. Bloggers like Tariq Nelson seems to be of this ilk, he sees intermarriage as a way of forging a new American Muslim cultural identity.

As Black Muslims shifted from thinking of ways that Islam could solve issues that plagued the Black community, they begin focus on global issues that seemed to rock the “Muslim world.” During this time Many Black Muslims began looking for a culture. They adopted markers and signifiers. They began wearing thobes, Moroccan jellabas, shawal kameeses, turbans, wearing sandals or those leather socks in winter, speaking with an Arabic or Desi accent. Some men say they want a native speaker of Arabic, so that their children can speak Arabic. Others say they want their children to ahve a culture, especially one they see as closer to the culture of Rasullah (s.a.w.). Basically, they seem to be aspiring to create a new ethnic identity for their children by marrying Arab women or South Asian women.

But over the years, a disturbing trend began to emerge, where professional and educated Black men were buying into some negative stereotypes about educated Black women. I found that we were traded in for Moroccan and Malaysian women, many of whom were not well educated. For these men felt they were trading up. Often these men let us know why these women were the types of women that we never could be.It didn’t take me long to notice that in my immigrant community, white convert women were hot commodities. Initially immigrant Pakistani, Indian, and Arab men pursued them. Over time, I began to see more African American sunni men married to white convert women, as well as immigrant women. As this trend rose, I began to see more and more single African American women. Mind you, these observations are anecdotal. There are no studies, besides one conducted by Zareena Grewal on marriage preferences in four Muslim communities. It affirmed that Black Muslim women were the lowest on the totem pole of marriage choices. Not surprisingly, even the African American informants stated they desired an Asian or Arab bride.Overall, it is a negative message that they are sending. But then again, isn’t this world full of negativity?

African American men frequently feel the brunt of racism when their immigrant brothers at the masjid won’t let their daughters marry African American men. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a Black Muslim man tell me that was his primary grievance. South Asian families are even more resistant to interracial marriage than most other groups. And they are very unlikely to approve of their daughters marrying an African American male. So some men , with the aspirations of transcending the ethnic, tribal, and so-called racial boundaries have found other ways around it. They have found a place in the world that seems not only to accept interracial marriage, but families seem to welcome these African American men as knights in shining armor who will wisk their princess away to the Land of opportunity.

While this fairy tale should have a happy ending. One where, that the newly married couple cursed, harrassed, or bothred by all those evil Black spinsters and their jealous glares. But apparently some Muslim men are finding certain trends problematic. Maybe I’m not such a evil wench after all.
Umar Lee wrote about the Muslim marriage session at the MANA conference in his blog entry,
“Morocco is Not the Solution” and Thoughts of Muslim Marriage Discussion
. He wrote:

Brothers have personally told me that they would go over to Morocco and spend a lot of money on getting married (flying back and forth a couple of times, flying the sister back, the visa application process, paying the necessary bribes in Morocco to get the marriage license, paying the actual dowry, paying for the wedding, paying for the wedding celebration, giving the family money, etc.) ; but would not give a black woman in America a significant dowry because in their minds black women weren’t worth that much. They would say you can always marry a black woman who will only want you to teach her a sura because she may be hard-up and needing to get married ASAP.

For anyone not familiar with Umar Lee, he is a white American convert who writes a popular blog. And no, I don’t think he’s mad at all the brothers who are stealing those white convert women, let alone the seemingly endless supply of third world women. He continued:

The moment that brought the loudest applause though came towards the end when a brother from the Washington, DC area came to the microphone and simply stated ” brothers, going to Morocco is not the solution” and at those words the sisters erupted in cheers and laugher and many of the brothers chimed in ( although more in laughter).

So then the brother who stood up and said the infamous state, Abdur Rahman, wrote a blog entry explaining his reason for the statement.

It sends a loud and pernicious message to the world that our Black women are too unruly, uncouth, unmanageable, unlovable, unredeemable to take as a wife and to build a life with. I’m sorry, I believe she is not only lovable, but worthy of love. She’s crazy at times, but who isn’t. You can’t be a Black man or women in America and not be a little crazy? And if she happens to be in a lowly condition, isn’t it our responsibility as men, followers of the final Prophet and Messenger to humanity (pbuh), to raise her up by Allah’s permission and place her in her proper station. Does it ever occur to us, or do we even care really, that her lowly and unrefined condition stands as an indictment on our own manhood. I should like to know what other people turn their backs on their own women, heaping scorn and invective on her, calling her vile and despicable names (”chicken head”, “Safire”, “B*#th”).

Over the past year, I have written about this issue. Several times I have weighed in on this subject in comments and other discussions. People may consider me a racist for exploring the damaging effects of racism in the communities that I consider myself to be a member of. Sometimes I speak some uncomfortable truths (well, they’re true for me) from a very unique perspective. But just to be clear, I am not angry that someone made their personal choice. But I am angered when I hear about men who abandon their Black wives and children in favor of their new “mixed-raced” family. I am angered when I hear unfair statements about Black women thrown around to justify their personal choices. But ultimately, I have to let those statements roll off my back. I move on. I can’t internalize it. Yes, there are people who will judge me by color of my skin and say I’m not good enough even though they have felt that how much that hurts when they were discriminated against. Perhaps in their pain, they can’t see the hurt they dish out when they tell women who are not blond enough, not light enough, hair not straight enough, too educated, and have some genetic predisposition to have an attitude. I guess it is hurtful when you live in a society that discriminates against you, then in your own little ethnic enclave, you get devalued. To tell someone they are unworthy of love is truly an injustice.

I don’t think that every Black man who has traveled abroad has consciously though about denigrating his sisters in the states. Nor do I buy into the negative stereotypes about Moroccan women or women from developing nations. Once again, I would like to assure my readers that I am not condemning interracial relationships, but I am condemning racist, essentialist notions that may drive the popularity of a growing trend. I just hope we think about the underlying reasons of why we do things. Ultimately, it is not up to me to judge, but Allah will know your intentions. And that’s what you’re going to be judged by. That’s what we’re all going to be judged by.

All’s Fair in Love and War

NewsWeek’s cover story“Love and War” explores the hope and sadness surrounding the relationships between Iraqis and Americans.

In Baghdad in May 2003, amid the chaos, fear and hope (it is easy to forget how much hope there was in those early weeks when Americans and Iraqis began meeting face to face after years of tyranny and war), Jimmy and Lena were among the first to fall in love. He was a career officer in the U.S. Army—Capt. James Michael Ahearn from Concord, Calif., winner of two Bronze Stars, veteran of tours in Korea, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. She was from a middle-class Baghdad family that had seen better days.


Such romances have been part of the American way of war for as long as anyone alive can remember. In the 1940s, wherever U.S. troops were deployed, whether among steadfast allies or recently conquered enemies, and regardless of culture, language, religion or the best efforts of the military hierarchy to prevent “fraternizing,” soldiers and locals got married. “War brides” (and a handful of grooms) came to the United States from Britain and Australia, Italy, France and eventually Germany and Japan. Their stories were the stuff of comedy (“I Was a Male War Bride” with Cary Grant) and tragedy (James Michener’s “Sayonara,” about thwarted love in occupied Japan in the early 1950s). A reasonable estimate of the total number approaches 1 million from 50 different countries. Certainly there were hundreds of thousands. War brides from Japan, the Philippines, China and Korea, for instance, increased the population from those countries in the United States by 20 percent in just 17 years from 1947 to 1964. By the 1970s, thousands more spouses had been brought to American shores from Vietnam and, sadly, like Miss Saigon, many other partners were left behind.

What is striking about the Iraq War is not that couples have met and fallen for each other and succeeded like Jimmy and Lena in getting married. It’s that so few of them have.

The feature details several couples’ struggles and James and Lena Ahearn’s tragically cut short marriage. James converted to Islam to marry Lena, but had a real interest in the religion. As a convert to Islam, married to an Iraqi, he had hoped to build bridges between Americans and Iraqis. His life was cut short by a roadside bomb.

More on James Michael Ahearn here.

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.

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
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sometimes your best isn’t good enough 1
tafilelt 1
men like light skinned women 1

On the Desirability of Brown Babies

I was a bit inspired to write this blog after reading Umar Lee’s blog, On Being a White Muslim in America . I also read a few blogs where the authors stated that black women wanted to have babies by white or Arab men in order to have light skinned and curly headed babies. Sure, I know some ignorant black women who have said similar things. But for the most par, my friends are conscious and wouldn’t spout of some nonenense like that. On the other hand, I have heard a few educated black men say that they want to marry a mixed girl because mixed girls are prettier. I have also heard a few black say that they wanted to marry someone white, Asian, or Latina so they would have pretty babies. As one author stated in the comments, it was often hoodrats who stated that they desired a non-black baby’s daddy in order to have babies with good hair. But more than blackpeople, I have heard these statements from members outside of Black American community. In fact, I hear about the desirability for pretty-brown-mixed-babies from liberal white, Asian, Arab, South Asian, and Pacific Islander women. So, if we are going to analyze and critique the ethnic self-hatred of some African women and Black American women, we must analyze and critique the reasons why some women want to adopt African babies or have bi-racial babies who do not look anything like them.
Is it ethnic self-hatred? Is it admiration for African features? Is it a vision of a racial utopia where we are all shades of brown? Or is it something else. I would argue that some really problematic constructs underly America’s fascination with mixed babies.

Keep in mind, I am not saying that all people involved in interracial relationships hold these views. But there are some tendencies that are problematic. I am not saying that mixed people are not attractive. I think all groups and ethnicities are beautiful in their own light, including multi-racial babies. And being in a multi-cultural environment, I enjoy seeing little blonde babies and little Asian babies, as well as little chocolate drop babies, and the curly headed brown babies running around. However, I just find it problematic when you assume that multi-racial children are more attractive than mono-racial babies. And while this might sound liberal and progressive, especially if you are a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant who is rejecting white supremacy, it is still supporting white supremacy because you imply that an African person is only beautiful if their genese are diluted with European, Asian, or Meditterranean genetics. This is problematic in a European dominated society with European standards of beauty. It has had disastrous effects in the Black American community. And it is the reason why we celebrate Beyonce, as opposed to Kelly. For those of us who are phenotypically Africa, these notions are especially harmful, as they affect our self image. But my focus is not on why African women and women of African descent (Black American, Black Latina, and Carribbean) and their responses to European standards of beauty in a global order that is dominated by Europe and the West. I am talking about women, and perhaps some men, who are not members of the African Diaspora who want to have ethnic babies–especially black babies. I see it as part of fetishization and there is something about fetishizing black-ness that is deeply disturbing. Then on top of the fetishization, the celebration of those who are not-quite-black or nearly-white over their darker skinned counterparts.

I live in California, the Bay Area that is. There is a lot more racial mixing and there really isn’t a middle class black community anywhere in sight of Northern California. So my experiences reflect the product of my environment. In California mixed families and bi-racial people are common. More often than not,it is the mother who is non-black and a black father. Few of my black friends were single mothers, but many of my non-black friends eventually did have mixed babies out of wed lock and at young ages. I often see white, Asian, Latina, etc. women (and teenage mothers) pushing a stroller with either a clearly bi-racial child or an ambiguous child. I have pretty good ambiguously black radar because so many people in my family are light skinned, multi-racial, and racially ambiguous. Sometimes it is the subtleties that you notice, but I digress. I grew up in a terribly racist elementary school. I was subject to a lot of racial discrimination because I was the only black girl in my school. But now when I look back, there were a few mixed children in my class who just passed. They were not subject to the daily enslaught of racist jokes and cruelties such as “let’s play segregation today.” On the other hand, my brother’s experiences in Santa Clara were different because many of the white and Mexican American girls pursued him. Black men were cool, they were the athletes, the dancers, the popular kids. But for black girls in integrated environments, it tends to be a lot harder. We are often overlooked by our black male counterparts and the non-black men will not take a second look at us.

Now that black is in, a lot of women who are not black want little curly headed brown babies. Someone noted that in Belgium and Amsterdam, there are European women who get pregnant by African men and raise their children on their own. I don’t know much about this phenomena, but I thought it was interesting. But this leads me to reflect on the kind of ideologies that non-black mothers tell their children. Some of the ideas the ideas are really messed up. Some believe in the racial essentialisms. For instance, one bi-racial man told me that because he was black and white he reflected the merging of two distant strands of humanity. This made him more powerful than either because he was a bridge between the two races. Of course, this is bullshit. In fact, there is more of a genetic range in East Africa than anywhere in the world. In fact, European and Asian lines are really a small recent branch off of a long and ancient family tree. Some bi-racial families like to tell their children that they are extra special (as if Black Americans are ethnically or racially pure) and that they bi-racial people saviors to the world. Some claim that racial mixing is the solution to the world’s problems. But they often fail to look at the case of Brazil to see that social stratification and racism exts there, despite official policies that encouraged racial mixing. All one has to look at how white the government looks like to this date. Some of the racial essentialisms serve to create dangerous color hierarchy that only serves to reaffirm white supremacy. They try to teach their children that the world is color-blind, but many fail to teach their children the complexities of their heritage (especially the Black heritage that has been silent in historical record). The desirability of having brown babies often has little to do with affirming this rich heritage or linking up with the struggle of people of African descent.

At times, it has to do with the ways individuals would like to construct themselves and the fantasies that they have about the black “other.” It can be a way of rejecting white privilege. A white woman with a brown baby is not accepted into white elite circles. Nor are Asian women accepted in their communities and Latina women are often ostracized by their friends, families, and associates. Many are disowned for dating or marrying outside their race (On the other hand it is rare for black families to disown their sons or daughters. And they often raise multi-racial children and treat them well). Having brown babies can serve as a way of advancing an agenda or affirming a new constructed ethnic identity. They can participate in black culture because they now have a rightful place as mother of a black child. However, many women who only date black men and have brown babies would not change their own ethnicity. They do not want to be black women at all. They comletely enjoy their privileged place as desired/objectified other in a community that is so rife with self hatred. In fact, many non-black women feel superior, while at the same time, they often resent black women. I have heard several non-black women talk completely disparaging of black women, our looks, our hair, our body shape, our attitudes, and intelligence. (I am sure that many are regretful that they disclosed to me their off the cuff thoughts. But they have been extremely insightful). This is especially the case when they are competing for the attentions of a black man, or trying to bolster themselves up when comparing themselves to their partners’ exes. I have always wondered why some of my friends and associates felt that confortable saying such statements to me. Perhaps they were looking for me to validate their views. And I take responsbility for not challenging them on their wack statements. It seems as if many non-black women who are into urban/hip hop/black culture hope to raise new brown/black women who will accept their authenticity and be color blind. Having brown babies seems to be a complex social phenomena that I think we have only begun to unpack. We should look at what’s going on to understand how colorism is being reproduced in our community and how the ultimately can have devastating effects on those who are phenotypically Black.