“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.” ~ Angela Davis.
While you may like to think of youself as a non-racist (hopefully), are you an anti-racist?
Are the fundamental teachings of the Quran and the Prophetic tradition on brotherhood, unity, and racism, just empty slogans you use to prove that you are not racists? Or are these ideals social justice and anti-black racism practiced in your family, your workplace, your Masjid, and your community as a priority?
Over the last few weeks, as the Black Lives Matter movement gets louder and stronger in the aftermath of several incidents of police brutality and killings of black people in America, I have reevaluated my own long held biases and my own complacency and inaction when it comes to fighting anti-black bigotry in the Muslim community as well as in our country.
It led me to have critical conversations with some wonderful young black activists, leaders, and artists in the Muslim communtiy, who are not only at the forefront of fighting anti-black racism (in addition to countering Islamophobia), but have also taken on the burden of educating the society about the urgent need to proactively challenge deeply rooted systemtic anti-black attitudes and behaviours.
So, how can you be an anti-racist? It starts with asking a practical question: Are you an ally of the black community? Remember, allyship is not a token representation of the marginalized community in your family circle, your business, your Masjid, or your community organization. It is a lifelong journey of developing and maintaining relationships based on love, trust, and accountability with the marginalized people. And it has to be based on the needs defined by the marginalized community, not what you think is needed.
Here are ten things you can do to show allyship with the black community based on my interviews with a few black Muslim leaders. Note the following advice assumes you have already done self-introspection and educated yourself on the issue of anti-black racism as a non-racist person.
1. Call Out the Racists within Your Family & Community. Have zero tolerance for anti-black humour or language in your family and your circle of friends and influence. You should be known for being vocal against any ethnic jokes and xenophobic stereotypes. Whether it’s the youth or elders, they need to witness serious consequences for anti-black racist behaviour.
2. Befriend More Black Brothers and Sisters. If you don’t have black people in your circle of close friends, it’s time to rethink your priorities and expand your own comfort zone. It will require you to proactively seek out friends from the black community with whom you will spend considerable time playing, praying, chatting, eating, studying, and hanging out.
3. Listen to Your Black Friends. It’s time to listen. Don’t assume the pain of the black community. Don’t think you can relate to the collective experience of centuries of subjugation, humiliation, incarceration, segregation, isolation, and discrimination of black people. Don’t assume you know what our black brothers and sisters need and want changed. Listen first. Listen to their grievances without judgement. Listen to their demands. Listen with your heart.
4. Study Black History and Black Muslim History. How much do you really know about the black history? Have you made an effort to explore the history of African Islam? What about the stories of black American and Canadian Muslims? You may be in for a serious shock as you discover the deep roots of Islamic civilization going back to Africa. Part of allyship with the black community involves a sincere study of the civil rights movement led by the African American leaders and activists, to whom we are all indebted today.
5. Center and Amplify Black Voices. If we are sincere about allyship then we have to ensure black friends are prominently featured in our community, including conferences, Khutbas, media, social media, volunteers, and leadership. Black Muslim voices are typically an afterthought at Muslim events. Black voices should be at the centre, not only when we are addressing social justice and racism themes, but at all times. You will find an expert on every topic in the black Muslim communtiy, as you would among Muslims of Arab, Turkish, South Asian, or European decent.
6. Protest with Black People in Solidarity. Yes, your presence at peaceful demonstrations of Black Lives Matters speaks volumes. Your chanting and marching in the street shoulder to shoulder with the community in pain, as another black man succumbs to police brutality, screams true allyship and solidarity. Numbers and diversity of crowd at protests matter.
7. Sponsor Black Youth. Invest in the next generation of black youth. Pick a couple of black youth in your workplace or community, believe in them, mentor them, help them discover their talent, and give them opportunities to grow. Champion them and their cause. Invest in their life and career.
8. Organize an Unconscious Bias or Micro-Aggression Training. One way to develop allyship with the black community is to organize a training in your workplace, organization, Masjid, and community on identifying unconscious biases related to black people. A micro-aggression training is critical to proactively deal with daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities and derogatory slights, whether intentional or unintentional, towards black brothers and sisters.
9. Learn from Black Muslim Scholars and Imams. When was the last time you listened to a lecture by an African American scholar? Do you believe a Somali Imam is as learned and qualified as an Imam from Syria or Pakistan? Do you feel comfortable learning the Quran or getting a Fatwa from a black Sheikh? Sadly, for a majority of Muslims the answer is no. Make sure to expand your own list of favourite Imams and scholars to include African and black scholars. Also demand from Masjid leaders and organizers of events to invite more black scholars, leaders, Imams, and artists to speak and teach in their spaces.
10. Donate to Black Organizations on the Frontlines. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him said, “Chairty (Sadaqa) is a proof (Burhan),” as recorded by Imam Muslam. It’s critical to strengthen the genuine social service and community organizations led and run by black leaders and volunteers. Investment with your donations is one of the most powerful proofs of your allyship with the black community. Start strategically supporting black Masjids, black youth organizations, black women’s associations, and black political empowerment and civic engagement organizations.
11. Support Black-Run Businesses & Services. Just as black people face racial barriers in their personal lives, so do their businesses. Make sure to intentionally do business with operations run by black friends in the community. Support their products and services. Visit their restaurants. Promote their businesses to the wider community. Money talks and it talks louder when invested in the marginalized communities.
Taha Ghayyur, is a not-for-profit leader, writer, public speaker, and a host on Muslim Network TV. He serves as the Vice President at Sound Vision.