Coates, West, Public Intellectuals and Black American Muslims

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Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X

A major sticking point in the Coates-West feud was the discussion of Barack Obama and Malcolm X in We Were Eight Years in Power.  Given the chapter on Malcolm in Between the World and Me, I anticipated a thought experiment exploring what would Malcolm say about Barack Obama’s presidency.  While that didn’t happen, after Cornel West published his bombastic critique, many Black intellectuals weighed in. And there were a lot of Malcolm references to talk about Malcolm’s internationalism, his critique of power, and even critiquing West for hanging out with Malcolm’s rival, Louis Farrakhan. Yet, all of these references failed to explore Malcolm #BeingBlackandMuslim and what did that mean during the Obama years.  While valorizing Black Muslim heroes like Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X in their death, mainstream Black civil rights leaders, public figures and even activists act as if we are historical footnotes. We’re still here. Black American Muslims in Detroit, Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles were targeted by harmful policies during the Obama administration. We still are targeted, but our plight is often erased in Black spaces.  

How do we write a whole book about Executive Power without talking about how that power was weilded against Black and Brown bodies in the U.S. and abroad?  It’s a legit question that Muslim Americans had and one reason why aspects of West’s critique resonated with many us. During Obama’s administration there are segments of Black America that were subject to similar COINTELPRO policies that helped create the conditions for Malcolm’s assassination. It was during the Obama administration when imam  Luqman Abdullah  was killed by federal agents. Only the local Boston chapter of Black Lives Matter brought attention to Usaama Rahim’s  killing. Often, when high profile Black activists, even radical ones, talk about Muslims they imagine they are talking about people “over there” or immigrants. Yet, one third of American Muslims are Black and we are especially targeted by National Security system and criminal justice system.

Given that climate of entrapment, career damaging investigations,  and public drudging, many Black Muslims were highly critical of the Obama administration. Yet his symbolic victory was not lost on us. Nor was it lost on those of us who were invited to the first and likely last 2016 eid celebration at the White House that was hella Black. 

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#BlackOutEid

COINTELPRO is not a historical concept when you have informants in our spaces of worship, volunteering for your organization, and FBI agents showing up at your trainings.  Nor is it a that far off when you have your whole community fighting about a partnership with DHS to investigate your own community. Drones and bombings are not an abstract concept when you have to comfort a mentor whose families members were obliterated by US made missile. Nor is the no fly list a abstract issue, when your key participant is detained at an airport and misses their flight to your event. Rendition or secret detention is not just a political thriller when you’re at a baby shower hugging a wife whose husband was disappeared in a foreign prison. Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer reminds us, we Black Americans need to contend with our relationship with empire. She had a simple but powerful letter to deliver to Obama that day.

We have to look at the tools and tactics that the main beneficiaries of white supremacy use to maintain their advantaged position. Sometimes, we are its tools. Just as we suffer in this country, we cannot turn away from the collateral damage of white supremacy.  They are the undocumented laborers, the Black and Latino kids pipelined into prison, the indigenous people fighting for sovereignty and environmental sanctity. There are many who are getting crushed in the systemic mechanism, and  it is not accidental. Their sweat, tears, and blood are being used as a lubricant for the gears to work together. If we cannot find another social lubricant, other than suffering, for the gears to move, then we must build better social mechanism that renders white supremacy irrelevant.  

If Black public intellectuals are going truth tellers shining light  on White Supremacy to massive audiences, then their light needs to multipronged and not cast those of us at the intersections into the shadows. This is why much of my focus last year was in making the connections. I sought to explore the ways in which the criminal justice system, immigration system, and national security system targets Black Muslims by bringing together organizers from Undocublack Network, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Prison Education Project, Black Liberation Project, Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA), and more. I’m hoping that in 2018 Black kinfolk can work together more. I’ve been reaching out for the past few years, and I’m hoping that some of y’all respond to my call because we need our kinfolks now more than ever.

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

Post-Racial America, Yahoo News, and White Angst


Santiago Matamoros (Saint James the Moor Slayer)

America’s not so post racial, as evidenced by the nasty comments on Yahoo News whenever the subject matter features anything about Blacks, Africans, Arabs, Muslims, Pakistanis, Iranians, etc. I’ve spent years arguing with some of my white associates that the racism Black Americans encounter is not a figment of our imagination. It’s funny how some of the most anti-Black Americans are insistent that we just “Get over it!” Reflective of Dr. Laura’s racial tirade, many white Americans claim that Black people’s grievances about racism are about power and control. That’s why Sarah Pailin told Dr. Laura to not quit but reload. And I’m sure that Dr. Laura’s brand has struck a cord with many Americans who hold the same view. With a Black President, many white Americans are rising against what they see as the hegemony of political correctness. They claim it is alright to stereotype, crack offensive black jokes and call somebody a N$@&% because ignorant Black people have appropriated the N-word and call themselves niggas. But really it is a veiled attempt to dehumanize, demean, belittle, generalize, and stereotype anybody who has a different perspective because our differences arise from our cultural and social backgrounds and the ethical principles that guide our social life and political beliefs.


San Luis Obispo, Spanish Mission

But how does religion fit into this, when faith is not about skin color? The reality is that some religions are racialized, and this is especially the case with Islam in America today. In fact, much of the anti-Muslim sentiment is linked to the resurgence of racism in the country. The Park51 debacle is a case in point. This controversy exposes much of the fragmented racial/religious logic in America today. Compare the hollowed ground of 9/11, which is is in reality the burial ground of the thousands who perished that day to those who perished a few hundred years ago in the name of Christianity. In California, we often call missions (i.e. Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo), Indian concentration camps because so many Native Americans were forced to live, work, and die on them. None of the people protesting Park51 are arguing that my alma mater, Santa Clara, move its church elsewhere because it is disrespectful to the burial grounds of native Americans. White American Christians have selective memory when it comes to remembering atrocities committed in the name of white Christiandom (i.e. the Crusades, The Reconquest, the Spanish Inquisition, trans-Atlantic slavery, Native American removal acts, the Herero genocides, the Holocaust, and Bosnian ethnic cleansing). There is even more hypocrisy in the dominant racial logic. While crying about how they are tired of being guilted about slavery (while ignoring the legacy of Jim Crow and decades of institutional racism), many white Americans have no problem trying to make every Muslim in the world do penance for 9/11. With that logic, I should get a reparations check and an apology from all White Christians for slavery. After I cash my reparations check and sow some seeds on the land my short changed ancestors were supposed to receive, then I’ll say sorry for what the hijackers did in the name of my religion. Long shot, no? While I condemn terrorism in all its forms, similar to one billion other Muslims, I’m not responsible for the actions of a few nuts.

American Muslims and Black Americans have to bear with generalizations and the racist vitriol with dignity and grace. But checking the daily headlines shouldn’t have to ruin my day or make me paranoid that many Americans want to see me either convert or relocate to an “Islamic” country. So, I’ll stop reading articles from Yahoo News and other online publications that allow people to post offensive, virulently racist, sexist, and Islamophobic comments. I’m doing in order to restore my faith in humanity. I’d like to hold on the belief that most Americans are decent people. I don’t want to think that most white Americans hate me because I’m Black and I’m Muslim. That’s why I never watch Fox News and I’m changing my homepage from Yahoo News to a respectable news source that has shut off non-productive comments from anonymous readers.

Moving on: Race, Islam, and Privilege

I’m a few hours into 2008, on the eve before New Year’s eve, I ran across Umm Zaid’s blog. She has a lot to say, and like all of us, her viewpoint on issues is shaped by her background and experiences.** I always find it interesting to hear what Muslims who are not Black American have to say about race and privilege in the Muslim community. This particular blog entry highlighted major events and trends in 2007. She wrote:

In addition, sore points finally rose to the surface: the divide between immigrant Muslims and indigenous Muslims, especially Blackamericans. It’s always been there, but this seemed to be the year when everyone started talking about it. A lot of issues have been raised, and a lot of feelings have been hurt. Again, it’s a question of whether or not we’re going to move forward or if we’re going to hash and rehash every wrong, every slight, every issue of alienation between us. We have work to do.

While I agree with the overall sentiment–we can’t just be hung up on bitching and moaning–I am more than ambivalent with this message. Yes there is work to do. And many of us who are exploring the ways race, class, and gender intersect in the Muslim world are community activists. We are thinking, we are talking, we are writing, and we are doing work.

First, as Umm Zaid stated Muslims have finally began to really talk about the racial divide in the American Muslim community? How are you going to tell folks to move on from a topic when they’ve only just begun to explore it. I’ve been Muslim 14 years and only recently have a few writers and thinkers finally gave voice to what I have experienced and observed. When I began to observe patterns of discrimination in my immigrant dominated community, a lot of Muslims were in denial. Some even went so far as to claim that I was paranoid or making things up. Maybe it is convenient to want to dismiss the grievances I had. Then as I met more and more people, we began to discover that we were struggling. I was very happy to see a number of issues that are endemic to the Black American Muslim community addressed at the 2007 MANA conference. These conversations are beneficial because 1. they help individuals realize they are not crazy and 2. recognizing our realities we can begin to come up with some solutions. But if we follow this injunction we might be in trouble and lose another generation.

There is a need for a deeper exploration of the racial perceptions that immigrant Muslim bring to the American community, as well as American Muslim perceptions of immigrants. We need to examine the patterns of discrimination that perpetuate inequality in the American Muslim community. Without proper understanding of the issues we face, we will never be able to bridge the rifts that are dividing us. While there are scholars studying various religious and ethnic communities in America, American Musilms have been under-studied. That means there is little knowledge about our social, cultural, and political patterns. We don’t even have solid statistics of our marriage and divorce rates. We can’t even produce numbers on the patterns of intermarriage between communities. But because of the internet, through forums and blogs, a long silenced voices are beginning to speak of the realities that are in stark contrast with the ideals that we believe in. While these stories are anecdotes, we can glean that there are some broader patterns.

Secondly, the thing that makes this statement troubling is that reflects a general sentiment in America.The popular notion that we are living in a color blind society and that Muslims are especially color blind has been used to silence the people who are the most discriminated against. I’m not saying that Black Americans have been really deft at broaching this issue. I think there are ways that we can better engage the broader Muslim community with the issue that affect us. In addition, I find is troubling is that Black American Muslims and White American Muslims seem to be living that great divide. Even for us professional, educated and Middle Class Black American Muslims that divide exists. Few thinkers or scholars have deeply explored why.

The ambivalence that I have towards this sentiment also reflects my frustration with the broader trend in America. I have long suspected that this sentiment was shared by a number of people, especially immigrants because they may be perpetuating discrimination. But I guess I was a little surprised to see them articulated by white American Muslims. It just cut too close to rhetoric and attitudes that are outlined in
Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States. A review of the book states:

These scholars are putting forward a fresh analysis of racial injustice that sets aside overt prejudice and individual acts of discrimination, which they say have little actual impact in today�s world. Instead they pull back the covers on social practices and policies sewn into the fabric of work, school and the medical system that privilege whites. Even the most well-intentioned white person, they say, benefits from a legacy of accumulated preferential treatment.

We are all influenced by certain ideologies and American myths. Some of the myths we are taught as Americans actually perpetuate inequality. Perhaps the myth of the color blind ummah also blinds us from seeing how racism and classism play out in our communities.

I’m not trying to bash the sister. Not at all. I think that people who want Black American Musilms to just move on and stop talking about discrimination and inequality are well meaning. But I wonder if at this stage of the discussion should people like Umm Zaid enter in the dialog, especially when they are insisting that we just pack up and move on. Or maybe she isn’t part of the dialog, but making an outsider commentary. At this stage, many of us in the Black American Muslim community are trying to put our cards on the table. It makes me wonder if these dialogs should be closed in order to avoid the dissonance. At the same time, I am reminded that Civil Rights leaders going back from Reconstruction times to the civil rights movement were constantly told to not make waves, that they were trouble makers–basically they were told to stay in their place. Without meaning to attack anyone, I just wanted to remind folks that silencing this discussion will not help advance our cause. It actually makes me keenly aware of how unaffected some of us are and how in their privilege they can afford to just be Muslim. Meanwhile, I have to make sense of the opportunities and limitations that are afforded to me as a Muslim who happens to be Black and who happens to a woman in America. Not everyone is directly affected by racism. You may not be subject to anti-Black discrimination or you may not be a person perpetuating anti-Black discrimination. These issues may be illegible an insignificant in your life. And you have every right to remain uninterested. And if you are an uninterested party, you don’t have to weigh in. But then again, weighing in implies you have some interest in the dialog going a certain way. But by you insisting which direction it should go, isn’t that asserting some kind of privilege?

**This is a correction where I stated that Umm Zaid was white after I was informed that Umm Zaid was not White America but white skinned.

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.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, But You Can Get it On DVD

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A number of people heard about it but they couldn’t get their paws on it. I finally saw the film version of one of my favorite books, Sam Greenlee’s “Spook Who Sat by the Door.” I think I read the book when I was around 18 or 19. My mentor, friend, boss, and lonely visionary who helped guide and shape my career recommended the book. For years this brotha tried to reach out to the youth and guide them. Yeah, in his own way he was a spook who sat by the door, but people weren’t trying to feel him though. I recommend the book, if you can find a copy, cop it. There’s three left on Amazon. Greenlee wrote his book in 1966, but black community is still rife with the same problems 40 years later. 30 years after the release of the movie, the issues are still real. Too bad a number of us have abandoned the movement towards true liberation and freedom. Greenlee calls out the Bling Blingers, the black bourgeoisie, and the failed black leadership. He calls for grass roots activism of the working class and reflects on the grass roots movement of the sixties that was led by educated elites who did not subscribe to elitism.

Months ago, I had a dream that my friends made a film. That dream was full of powerful symbols that indicating to me that such a project would be uplifting to world weary audiences. Greenlee wrote that two professors from the University of Toledo raised $800,000 to make the movie out of the black community. This sends a positive message about what can be done, he says with the technology now people can make purposeful films. Although Greenlee’s screenplay highlights the violence of black rage against an oppressive society, the message is not about violent action. But, clearly it is a call to action. I feel called. Rent the movie, better yet buy the movie, or track somebody down so you can borrow it.

Here’s a link to a review (warning for those who haven’t read the book: Spoiler!!)

spook.jpg

As much as I loved the movie, as a woman I had some problems with the way women were depicted in the film. This is why “Battle of Algiers” is so fresh. Women played a critical role in the resistance movement. In fact, women played an important part in every successful revolution and independence movement. Who do you think ran supplies, hid insurgents, and suffered threats of violence and rape at the hands of enemies? Some of our most visionary activists who have written blue prints on revolution tend to ignore women’s active role in social movements, resistance, and revolution. A number of black women academics have spoken on Fanon and his macho revolution. One of my main criticisms of Fanon’s writings is that he focuses only on men’s roles in revolution. His own personal choices reflect his own inconsistencies. The colonized are not only men of color, but women of color. It appears that black men like Fanon to liberate themselves, while leaving black women in passive roles. To me, Fanon isn’t so revolutionary. He doesn’t acknowledge black women’s constributions, instead he sought as he elaborates in “Black Faces, White Masks,” the white man’s prize, his women. (I know I may be slammed by the brothers, we can enter in to dicourse in the comments and you can correct me if I’m wrong.) So, as I read “Wretched of the Earth,” I couldn’t find a place for me in his vision of world revolution. He dropped some seeds for his students, but even the student must criticize their teachers. This is how we push forward in intellectual development.

I propose a sequel, “The Revolution Pt. 2: the Sister’s Struggle.” Yeah, that plot line is going to be crazy complicated as sistas gotta fight double oppression. She is going to be fighting beside her man, not behind her man. She is going to hold it down in his absence, even when he’s chasing fool’s gold. She’s going to liberate him from those mental shackles. Togther, they are going to be on the vangard of a movement to end imperialism and worlwide oppression. Black women aren’t waiting to be liberated, we just want to be respected partners in the struggle for liberation. I haven’t forgotten my Muslim sistas and all oppressed people world-wide. Each one of us wants to to live lives of dignity and security, but some of us work to ensure that for others.
Peace to all the activists and righteous teachers out there!!

Black Jesus

This entry was inspired by some questions a Muslim brother asked me about conversion, Christianity, race, and my views of a white God:

As a Christian, I had a hard time absorbing that whole race division issue. I didn’t understand how could KKK be good Christians and hate us so much. How could someone be a good Christian and fight the Civil Rights movement? Interesting thing in history is that the Catholic Church condones interracial marriage. And had it not been for the virulent opposition of the Irish American community, the Catholic Church would have played a greater part in the Civil Rights movement.

Muslims do have divisions, but we have important rituals and texts that combat racial, ethnic, and cultural divisions. This is why the Hajj scene in the Malcolm X movie was so powerful. Through this universal ritual all Muslims are brought together and class divisions are eradicated. Even in prayer, you can go to any mosque and perform prayer without understanding the language of the local community members.

Another thing that drew me to Islam was the Prophet’s (SAW) last sermon. He addressed racial equality, relationships between men and women, all sort of important issues that affect us today. This is during the 7th century, predating any racial equality movement by 1400 years. The closest we get to that in the Bible is the story about the Good Samaritan, but that is a sectarian difference not really ethnic or racial.

When I was a little little girl. My sister and I used to try out different churches. At one church, the people told us that when after we die and go to heaven God would burn off all skin and we’d be white like everyone else. Of course this was horrifying, up till then I didn’t know that anything was wrong with our brown skin. I didn’t really even know the difference between black and white. I thought my mom was white because she was lighter than everyone else around us.

Years later, I remember going to a Mormon church with my mom. They showed us pictures of Jesus and God visiting, I think, Joseph Brown. Jesus was totally Aryan (with a beard though)and God was just an older version with white hair and a white beard. That picture just creeped me out. They told us that there was a war between God and Satan and that there were angels who stayed with god and some angels sided with Satan. Then there were the fence-sitting angels who could not choose. According to the story, God cursed these angels and they became black people. So this explained slavery and the condition of Africans. Of course, I was totally horrified to hear such a thing.

Then, we get to more mainstream depictions. The pictures always bothered me, worshipping a white God. I read lots of illustrated bibles. And I never saw any black people, unless we were talking about Noah cursing Ham.

As an African American, the story of the Jews and four hundred years of slavery in Egypt had a special resonance. I wrestled with this notion of a chosen people and the pictures of a European Jesus (who was God). Maybe this is all reflected in the appearance of Black Jesus paintings. Funny thing is, my dad had long straight hair when I was a kid. He kind of looked like the picture of Black Jesus. Sometimes women would see him on the street, sometimes as jokes, sometimes real (according to my mother’s account) calling out “Jesus!” I am trying to find that picture, because that would be pretty cool.

In early church iconography Jesus did look Middle Eastern, especially in Greek and Russian orthodox churches. During the Renaissance, the Italians decided to paint scenes using local models, so thus the pictures of Mary, Jesus and the Saints looked like Northern Italians. This allowed for people to relate to them. If you look at nativity scenes, they look like Italian villages because many of the artists did not know what Bethlehem looked like.

There is a controversial movie set in modern where Jesus is an African. Many people are in an uproar. Not to offend Christians, but the image of a white God has been used to dominate non-Europeans and justify white supremacy. This has been an unfortunate consequence that has developed out of Europeans doing the same thing that the African producers are doing–making an image of the Messiah in a way that is culturally accessible to the local population. I think it is is worthwhile, but if we make it universal then it becomes oppressive. So, if we want to make a Native American nativity scene, East Asian, South Asian, Aboriginal, African, even Mixed Race nativity would be totally awesome. Why not? Palestine is at the cross roads of three different continents.