Letter to Essence

I penned a letter to the editor of Essence Magazine, but haven’t heard back. I thought I’d publish it here.

I’m a co-founding director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative. You probably haven’t heard of my organization, as we’ve only been around for three years when we launched #BeingBlackAndMuslim. Muslim Americans are a diverse community, but media often erases the contributions of Black Muslim women. Unfortunately, the #Woke100 list failed to include a single Black Muslim woman.  For every 100 Black people in the United States, at least one is one Muslim. The erasure of Black Muslim women occurs in Black institutions that tend to be Christo-centric and in national Muslim organizations that tend to be Arab-centric. A recent Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) study says that African Americans make up about 25% of the American Muslim population. While Muslim American institutions are embracing our contributions, our faith identity is not always embraced in Black communities. Black Muslim women are making important contributions to our communities and society at large. I’d love for Essence to feature  Black Muslim women, both those who are descendants of enslaved peoples and more recent immigrants from the Mother Land. These include Black Muslim women from countries President Donald Trump tried to ban, Sudan and Somalia. There are so many examples that I look up to, including Clara Muhammad, Betty Shabazz, Ilyasah Shabazz, Ameenah Matthews, Ilhan Omar, Aminah Wadud, Su’ad Abdul Khabeer,  and Ibtihaj Muhammad.  It is so important that Black media celebrates our diverse faith traditions and shares nuanced stories about Black women that are not featured in mainstream media. Starting with Black Muslim women, who face triple marginalization, would be a good place to start.

Margari Hill

Programming Director, MuslimARC

Post Election Reflection

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On Tuesday November 8th, 2016,  many of us were frozen with anxiety as we awaited the results of an  unprecedented presidential race with the two frontrunners, Hillary Clinton running as the Democratic Nominee and Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.  Due to the Electoral College system, Trump is the fifth elected president to win while losing the popular vote (Pew). The reactions among Muslim Americans are varied, some with shock while others, including  the first Muslim American Representative in Congress, Keith Ellison  predicted that Donald Trump could win. His election was a culmination of a very bitter presidential campaign that exposed the dark underside of America’s racial, gender, and class politics. From a racial justice framework, I am gravely concerned about the President Elect’s statements about Black Lives Matter, Muslim Americans, and Latinos. The slogan “Make America Great Again,”while nostalgic about America’s past,  triggered many  People of Color, especially  African Americans, Mexican Americans and Asian Americans who historically faced the brutality of white supremacy enshrined in law. It is foreboding when International Human Rights Watch calls for the President Elect Donald Trump to govern with respect for rights and ACLU preparing to sue if Donald Trump implements his proposed policies.

Many people who voted for Trump were concerned about immigration, terrorism, the economy, and crime, while supporters of Clinton were  concerned about inequality, gun violence and the environment as serious problems (Pew). Without a question, this election highlighted the racial divide in this country, as the majority of White americans including the majority of White women, voted for Trump. They often using coded language around immigration and criminality for people of color.

My work at MuslimARC focuses on  diversity and  cultural competence training and  racial justice education. We are committed to  amplifying narratives, and advocating for those who will be most affected by legislation and policies. We stand in solidarity with racialized groups, including  Native Americans, African Americans, Latinos, advocating for equal protection under the law. We find strength in our diversity, in our common bond due to our multiple intersecting identities that connect us to all of humanity.

I am concerned about the safety, civil liberties, and as well as access to quality healthcare, and quality education.  The uptick in hate crimes and racial and religious intolerance against Muslim Americans are a deep concern. Yet, I will face my fears with courage. We continue to speak truth to power and not be swayed by the temptation to fall in step with this tide. We should not work to appease those who obfuscate the truth for their own benefit.  Instead, we should continue to shed light on the truth, in how corporate interests and elites pit us against one another.

Many of us have aspirations that this country could achieve its promise of equality and freedom, that we can right our historical wrongs, by setting a new course towards guaranteeing every resident dignity.Deepa Iyer beautifully articulates this vision for a multi-cultural society in We Too Sing America. Much of the anxiety about crime, immigration, and jobs comes from the  demographic shift sis this country becomes majority minority. I repudiate divisive rhetoric, condemn acts of racial and religious intolerance, and appeal to our highest values and aspirations for this nation. I know our journey will be long, that we will be tried and tested. But this work, is a crucible of our faith in action. My work is to train leaders from amongst the people most affected to be better equipped to hold those in power accountable.  In this moment, I  renew my intention continue this work, to strengthen my  resolve to institutionalize racial justice work in Muslim communities. I remember the chapter of the Qur’an:

بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمنِ الرَّحِيمِ

وَالْعَصْرِ

إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ

إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ

In The Name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful 1. “By Time”, 2. “Surely Humanity  is in loss,” 3. “Save those who believe and do good deeds, and enjoin on each other truth, and enjoin on each other patience.

I know we will face many challenges, but we cannot be complacent or resigned. For my MuslimARC family, I have been so encouraged to see you change things with your hands, with your words, and with your hearts.  For my partners in MuslimARC and all the the various organizations I’ve worked with over the past three years, I am proud of  your civic engagement, of your activism, your service to humanity,  and your continual dedication to the Creator. I am honored to be on the right side of history, of bringing Mercy to humanity.

Chicago Muslims Join Mass Protest in Chicago

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With the full support of The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), Muslims are joining thousands in a rally and  march from Chicago’s Federal Building to City Hall to call for an elected Civilian Accountability Council. Grassroots campaigns to address violence and criminalization of Black and Latino communities are significant in this movement. This is the city where our sister Ameenah Matthews  and other Interrupters have courageously stood between rival gangs. According to Bill Chambers, CIOGC is a federation of organizations that represent over 400,000 Muslim Americans in the Chicago area.  Activists have long been fighting to change police policies, from Stop and Frisk, police killings, and even torture. In the past eight years, 400 people have been shot by Chicago police and only one was ruled an unjustified shooting. Don Rose points out,  Dante Servin, who was only the second Chicago police officer to be indicted in 20 years, but even he was recently acquitted of manslaughter for shooting Rekia Boyd.   In the Homan Square police warehouse interrogation facility  200 suspects from 1972-1991 and Emanuel Rahm approved a reparations settlement for victims of torture. Anjum Ali explains, “I heard a WBEZ story about the Chicago review board, IPRA, made up of mostly law enforcement people, and how they almost never rule an officer-involved shooting to be unjustified.” Ali  pointed out the connections between Human Rights violations against Muslims and the war on terror and Chicago. He notes, “Det. Richard Zuley who honed his torturing skills in Chicago and was sent to be an interrogator at Guantanamo Bay. Ali highlights,“The Muslim community and others have been outraged by the techniques used in the Guantanamo Bay facility, but it’s happening right here.”

 

In the video, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid  affirms, “Black Lives Matter” and states that the historic march aims to do two things:  Stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, and ask for city council to pass a law to establish civilian oversight of Chicago’s police. On the CGOIC website, “this march coincides with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who used coalition building as a major strategy in his efforts for peace.” The Muslim efforts are largely coordinated by Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, Volunteer Chairman for Justice for All, an organization that “… has taken on the mandate of doing political advocacy for causes that do not get mainstream support.”

 

As of Saturday morning 201 have joined  Muslim Join August 29 March the facebook page.  Churches, mosques, temples, and labor unions are joining in the organized rally, which According to the facebook page, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago  is providing water for 10,000 people.

 

On the Facebook Event page  hosted by The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression states “We are uniting our shared experience fighting for justice in order to bring about a systemic change. We are empowering the people to hold the police accountable for the crimes they commit, and to decide and control how they are policed” As of early Saturday,  1263 people signed up on the facebook page. Buses are schedule to pick up participants from ten mosques including  the Muslim Community Center (MCC). Muslim Education Center (MEC), Islamic Center of Wheaton (ICW), Islamic Community Center of Des Plaines, Islamic Foundation, Islamic Foundation North (IFN), MECCA Center, Mosque Foundation, Dar-us-Sunnah, and Masjid Al Farooq. The mass rally is utilizing the hashtags #ChiRisingAug29 , #StopPoliceCrimes, and #BlackLivesMatter

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

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

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

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

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

Effects

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


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

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

Stereotypes

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

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

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

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

——

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

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

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

Strategies for Coping with Islamophobia

Muslims in the West face a barrage of negative images in the media, Islamophobia, anti-Black, anti-Arab, anti-South Asian racism, and xenophobia.   Muslims in Canada and the United States  are grieving after the murders of Deah Shaddy Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad and her sister Razan on Tuesday and the lesser known murder of Mustafa Mattan.  Some members of Muslim communities have faced increased intimidation, and others fear copycat crimes and further backlash. In the aftermath, Muslims across the country are experiencing psychological trauma, which adds to the environmental stress that Muslims have been facing. Whether in their work places, schools, public places, or neighborhoods, Muslims feel pressured to defend their identity, be exemplary citizens, and counter negative images of Muslims. Although Islamophobia is a form of religious discrimination, Muslims are a racialized group subject to interpersonal and structural racism in society. Thus, individuals with Arabic names, those who are identifiably Muslim, or appear non-white can be subject to racial stress.

The forms of racism and Islamophobia can be subtle and overt. Nadal, Griffin, Hamit, Leon, Tobio and Rivera (2012) list six major themes of microaggressions:

1) Endorsing Religious Stereotypes of Muslims as Terrorists,

2) Pathology of the Muslim Religion,

3) Assumption of Religious Homogeneity,

4) Exoticization,

5) Islamophobic and Mocking Language,

6) Alien in Own Land.

The toxic climate of these microagressions, negative media representation, employment discrimination, and law enforcement surveillance has implications on the mental health of many Muslim Americans. According to the Counseling Center of University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, race related stress causes has the following negative outcomes:

Intense emotional reactions:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Depression
  • Helplessness-Hopelessness
  • Isolation
  • Paranoia
  • Resentment
  • Sadness
  • Self-blame
  • Self-doubt

Ineffective coping:

  • Avoidance
  • Disengaging
  • Substance Use

Health Concerns:

  • Heart Disease
  • Hypertension
  • Muscle Tension

How to deal with Islamophobia? Many people do not know take action because they do not know how to respond when they witness someone telling an anti-Muslim joke. Studies have shown that bystander anti-racism does have an affect. Perpetrators of racism are less likely to perpetuate racism after confronted.

Individuals who experience racism and Islamophobia, as well as those who have observed it, often feel powerless when they do not know how to respond. Students may not know who to turn to or what recourse that they have. Knowing strategies for addressing Islamophobia can feel empowering. There is evidence that regardless of the resistance or hostility people expressed when confronted on the use of stereotypes, they are less likely to express prejudiced views afterwards (This study ). However, it is not the job of the victims of prejudice and discrimination to call out the perpetrators or make every Islamophobic incident a teachable moment.

First, draw on your faith for strength and direction. Check your intentions in responding to Islamophobia. You will have a range of emotions. Keeping your connection and communication with Allah (swt), both will help bring ease and guidance to any situation. Second, find colleagues who will help by supporting you or by becoming advocates for addressing the situation. Organizations such as CAIR, Muslim Advocates, Take On Hate, NAACP, and SAALT advocate for and assist individuals facing racism and Islamophobia. If you are going to a mental health professional, be sure that the he/she is multicultural competent and has understanding of micro aggressions and racial battle fatigue. There is no one right way to respond to Islamophobia. The following are a few suggestions that can help empower everyday Muslims.

Recommendations for Coping with Islamophobic-Related Stress

Connect

You are not alone. You are part of the ummah. Although Islamophobia can cause feelings of isolation and depression, know that there are Muslims all over the country who share your experiences, who will validate the reality that you are facing and who are open to provide you a sense of support and solidarity.

Find your Roots

Developing a positive cultural and religious identity will help combat the invalidating experience of Islamophobia. Knowing your religion and your heritage will help bolster you against the dehumanizing experience of racism and Islamophobia. Take a history course, watch a documentary, read the Qur’an, the seerah, or historical non-fiction. Even Muslim literature may uplift your spirit and help you feel connected. Celebrate being Muslim and contributions Muslims have made all over the world.

Have a little faith

Center yourself by building your Iman. Find hope in the Qur’an and sunnah and strength and in the early Muslim community who faced oppression. Focus on the power of dua and remembrance of Allah (swt) we must also be careful not to unwittingly convey the message that crying and feeling sad is unacceptable. We should absolutely trust in Allah’s wisdom and mercy, while also acknowledging how painful this is for so many Muslims.

Take Care of You

You can empower yourself with healthy habit. Taking care of your spiritual, mental, and physical health will help you cope with the stress of discrimination.

Take a Stand

Pushing back against anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination is one one to empower yourself. Although this may look different depending on the situation, there are many ways that you can take a stand. (Adapted heavily from Coping with Discrimination)

              

Report It

Report any hatecrimes, Call law enforcement if you see anything threatening. If this is happening in your workplace or school, report it to HR or student affairs.

                                               

References                 

Kevin L. Nadal, Katie E. Griffin, Sahran Hamit, Jayleen Leon, Michael Tobio, and David P. Rivera . Subtle and Overt Forms of Islamophobia: Microaggressions toward Muslim America. Journal of Muslim Mental Health Volume VI, Issue 2, 2012 http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.10381607.0006.203 http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jmmh/10381607.0006.203?rgn=main;view=fulltext

Do you have any more resources or suggestions? Put them in the comments below. jazak Allah kheir!

Muslim Anti-Racism Response to Structural Racism

 

Show of force

Image by / Adrees Latif
04:05 23/08/2014

Today’s twitter Hashtag event was a deeply moving, and much needed conversation, among Muslims Americans. #Muslims4Ferguson organized the event with Omar Suleiman, Suhaib Webb, and Linda Sarsour. I would like to send a special shout out to Dawud Walid who gave us a heads up on the convo. Please consider standing with Muslims4Ferguson.

A letter I wrote to MuslimARC Members on August 15, 2014

Dearest brothers and sisters.

I have started writing and erased the beginning of this message several times. I, like many of you, are frustrated, outraged, and saddened by the deaths of Mike Brown, Ezell Ford, John Crawford, and Eric Garner at the hands of law enforcement. Vulnerability of Black life and police brutality are deeply personal issues for me, as I explain in an article I recently wrote for Islamic Monthly. The heavy-handed force used by the police in Ferguson has truly been disturbing. The images of militarized police confronting protestors evoked images from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The recent events point to an endemic problem of the criminalization of Black bodies. MuslimARC has closely followed the events, tweeting links and sharing the Press Release written by Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer.

On social media there is a flood of images of police brutality recorded on smart phones. As most of you know, police brutality is just one issue in a web of oppression, including school to prison pipeline, mass incarceration, wage inequality, housing discrimination, etc. One third of the American Muslim community is African American and we too feel the brunt of structural racism and the daily effects of racial microaggressions. The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “The example of Muslims in their mutual love, mercy and sympathy is like that of a body; if one of the organs is afflicted, the whole body responds with sleeplessness and fever.”(Hadith-Muslim).

Although these events weigh heavy on our hearts, the discourse in Muslim American communities is shifting and national Muslim organizations are beginning to acknowledge the need to address structural racism in America. CAIR’s statement is an important step in the right direction, as well as public statements by many renowned scholars. Hena Zuberi published a thought provoking piece on Ferguson, Anti-Black Racism, Muslim Owned Liquor Stores, and Gaza. I believe that our efforts collectively, as a collaborative of Muslims committed to anti-racism has helped shift the discourse. We still have so much work to do. MuslimARC needs your help to move beyond awareness to sustained action in our communities.

The Muslim community in North America is in a unique position, due to the intersections of our multi-ethnic community, to build bridges and address racial injustice. SubhanAllah, we have come a long way in the six months since our inception. MuslimARC has a strategic plan which entails certifying educators and community leaders with anti-racism training and ranking Muslim institutions in terms of anti-racism policies and practices. We also aim to foster knowledge creation on the state of our community through research and information. We need committed volunteers who understand the urgency of our situation, as Muslims in the West. Even an hour a week on a project can help us develop effective training and programs that can help us dispel the biases that blind us and the tear down the boundaries that divide us.

I apologize for my disjointed writing and hope that this message is received well. Please keep us in your prayers and may all of our endeavors be rightly guided.

Jazak Allah kheir,
Margari

It is going to to take deep support of grass roots organizations and national initiatives to counter racial discrimination and structural racism. The real work isn’t glamorous, it is not going to garner a lot of retweets or publicity. but it is something that will be pleasing to your Lord. We are here today because people have being the hard work consistently, that have faced hardship with patience and constancy, and they haven’t given up.  Systematic racism is a many headed hydrah that requires multi pronged solutions. We have so much work to do, improving education, stopping the school to prison pipeline, undocumented worker’s rights, and the rights of refugees.   MuslimARC has developed a faith based approach that aims to have a lasting and substantive impact on how our communities address racial justice and inclusive practices. I hope that these conversations inspire each of us to action, rather than the lull us into the complacency. Now is time to move beyond platitudes about justice and begin to do the hard work that is required for addressing the ills of our society.

Lessons in Misguided Attempts at Solidarity

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For many Women of Color (WoC), Twitter allows them a platform to engage with thoughts and ideas. It is also a platform for activism, allowing people who would have been marginalized to bring certain issues to the fore, to respond to media coverage, and to engage with people who they might not reach otherwise. Twitter has allowed WoC and other marginalized women opportunities to call out their more privileged sisters. There has even been intense push back against elite White women and feminists because of their exclusion of different voices and perspectives.

I believe that people start out with the best intentions. Most people want to believe that they are inherently good. Most people want to believe that they are not exerted power in a way that has oppressed another. And most people who say the most racist stuff will preface it with, “I’m not racist, but…” Part of this has to do with our own biases about ourselves as people. The vast majority of people will do everything they can to protect their interests and maintain whatever advantages they earned or were given to them in life. When confronted with our privileges, most of us are defensive because we all want to believe that we are good, we are worthy, we are deserving, etc. Often people will wield their unequal advantage against those who may call to question their efforts or stances. And with that in mind, it is important for those in a position of authority,  influence, or power to be even more reflective about how they deal with others.

For awhile, I wondered why so many WoC were railing about White Feminists. Mistakenly, I thought that in the realm of ideas we were all equal. It just mattered who could present their ideas better, who had more articulate positions, and warrants to connect their facts to their argument. But, oh was I wrong. I witnessed power wielded in ways to silence dissenting marginalized women. I saw this happen over the past three days with the online discourse surrounding World Hijab Day (WHD 2014), founded by Nazma Khan. There are many beautiful and thoughtful accounts from non-Muslim participants.

My post is not about  WHD 2014. There are pros and cons to the event, and the jury was still out for me. I largely agreed that Muslim women’s experiences can’t be reduced to wearing a scarf on their head. At the same time, I do applaud their efforts at mobilizing support from non-Muslim women. I feel that others have been done better unpacking some of the problematic aspects of the campaign such as Yassmin Abdel-Magied, Ms. Muslamic, and NoorulannShahid  But what is important is that we, as Muslim women,  should have a  discussion and exploring what it means to be a Muslim woman. We should also think about solidarity and how to build bridges without becoming reductionist.

Today, I jumped into a debate the broadcaster and theologian, Vicky Beeching, a non-Muslim participant of World Hijab Day 2014.  What I found most troubling with her discussion was that she was completely oblivious to how she wielded her power and privilege to silence dissent about her participation. And she did this all the while claiming empathy for Muslim women and even going so far as to speak for us. In several discussions, she said that dissenters made libelous statements. She even told me that based on my curating the tweets on Storify was , that she would seek legal counsel. There was an uproar on Twitter and some of Vicky’s Muslim friends pointed out that our discussion was not benefitting anyone.

Please see the highlights of the exchange, reaction, and background readings in my first ever Storify

Even if we all were wrong, how can you claim to speak for Muslim women but threaten to use your litigious might and sue us? You would sue someone who observed your gas lighting techniques of argumentation? My little bit of research said that according to US law, that would be a difficult case to prove in US courts. Observation about uncited sources is grounds for libel?  Is this how you show solidarity? No, this is how you intimidate those who don’t have the same platform, who lack the financial resources, who don’t have access to five news sources, and who don’t carry as much symbolic capital.   Is this not an example of good will gone bad? Had the dissent just been dismissed or had she even addressed the Muslim women who were offended by hijab tourism with some iota of respect, I would assume good will. But instead, it just reeks of another opportunity to propel a career and become a victim at the hands of aggressive and angry brown women. The call of friendship and threat of litigation was a bit much to bear. In past discussions, some have argued that interfaith/intercultural conflicts like this are learning opportunities. So, what is the lesson we want to walk away from? No, not all elite White feminists are like this. But when they are, it is deeply hurtful and leaves a lasting impact on many of us who have had to experience these types of erasures throughout our lives
over and over again.