satan doesn’t discriminate
he believes in equality for all
he cares not—
so long as hell
with us all.
—excerpt of even if. by Umm Zakiyyah
Like so many other survivors of daily racism, I’ve recently retreated into my personal space to take care of my heart and soul—and of my emotional and spiritual health. The company of my Rabb (my Merciful Creator) is about the only company that I can handle or trust right now.
For reasons that I think are obvious to the entire world at this time, these past couple of weeks have been extremely triggering, enraging, and mentally exhausting for Black people. So, I really don’t have the words to explain what I’m going through right now. And frankly, I don’t feel the need or inclination to. I’ve grown tired of talking and explaining. I’ve grown tired of being a talking head that serves no other purpose other than to soothe the guilt of those people who want nothing more from me than words. Then when they’re finished posting or sharing my “words,” they go right back to the lifestyle of living the racism that inspired the pain behind my speech.
This happens because many non-Black people—including Muslims—are not willing or able to actually see me as a full human being. That’s why they call on people like me to speak on Black issues, but people like me are effectively non-existent in their lives when an opportunity arises to actually utilize our skills and talents in their community events, to support our businesses and companies in their daily lives, to incorporate our books into their curricula, to compensate us fully for our services, or to even invite us to their homes as they would a close friend.
Most anti-racism work in non-Black communities is more accurately labeled “anti-racism words.” It doesn’t go much beyond that. So, I’m tired of sharing my voice over and over in environments that value nothing more than my “words”—words that will, in most cases, just fall on deaf ears.
And no, I’m not being cynical. I’m being real. But I understand if you need to see my sentiment as cynicism. Or even bitterness. That’s the convenient label that’s slapped on survivors of racism because it helps the privileged and entitled—amongst Muslims and non-Muslims—excuse themselves from seeing the integral part they play in our pain. As such, these labels are just spinoffs of the stereotypical description “angry Black man/woman” that is slapped on us in environments of White supremacy.
And frankly, I’m tired of explaining and re-explaining something that should be obvious to any person with even a fraction of honesty within their soul: Black people are complex human beings just like you. So, if there is any question that needs to be asked and answered over and over, it should be from the non-Black community toward the non-Black community, and it is this: What is happening with your own hearts and souls that prevent you from treating your Black brothers and sisters in humanity as such?
And that’s where your true anti-racism work lies. Not on podiums at events. Not on conferences to support the Black community. Not in interviews to give us a “voice” in expressing how we feel.
No, I’m not saying that anti-racism events and conferences have no place. I’m merely saying that they are not where the real work is. Yes, they can supplement the real work. But they can never replace the real work itself. And that work is within your own souls, homes, and personal spaces.
Healing in Solitude
As for me, a survivor of daily racism, I am retreating within myself and away from most so-called “Muslim communities” during this time—as I have for quite a while. And I’m doing this for one simple reason: I’m trying to protect my soul.
That might sound a bit odd in the context of discussing anti-racism because it doesn’t seem to relate. And that’s okay. I don’t expect you to understand. But your lack of understanding is precisely why it’s so crucial that I retreat within myself and away from most Muslims for my spiritual health.
I want to die as a believer, so I cannot afford to continuously subject myself to the company of people who recite Qur’an on their tongues and speak endlessly about Allah and the Hereafter, yet their treatment of me continuously makes me feel like I am not welcome in even the companionship of Islam.
But I’ll share this much with you:
I learned long ago that most people truly and honestly don’t care about what others are going through, or even are suffering daily—even if it’s at their own hands. They think they care, but they don’t. This becomes painfully obvious when they try to show they care, but then they realize that “caring” means making some personal sacrifices in their lives that they are not willing to make—the first of which is honestly confronting the demons of dhulm (wrongdoing) lurking in their own “good” hearts and lives.
So I wish you well in your anti-racism work/words. If you are sincere in this path you claim to have chosen, then you’ll find that you really don’t need my assistance in purifying your own heart and community from the disease of racism. The help of your Creator, the Master of the Day of Judgment, is the only assistance you absolutely need for that.
She Wanted Them To Die Together
As I write these words, I am recalling a painful memory, some of which I shared in my book Prejudice Bones in My Body, and it is this:
One of the most heartbreaking illustrations of what this repeated racism does to the psychology of the Black Muslim is the story of my friend’s eight-year-old daughter. At the time, the girl was enrolled in a Muslim school that was predominately Arab, and she was showing signs of plummeting self-esteem and increased depression. The students repeatedly called her racist names, mocked her skin color, and told her she was ugly. To add insult to injury, the teachers themselves did not intervene, and they routinely favored the Arab children over her.
One day the eight-year-old girl came up to my friend and said, “Mommy, I hope we all die together.” Surprised by the words of her daughter, my friend said, “Why?” Then the girl said, in all sincerity and earnestness, “Because if you and Daddy die before me, there will be no one else in the world to tell me I’m beautiful.”
Immediately upon hearing this, my heart dropped and tears filled my eyes. Not only because I hurt for the girl, but because I hurt for myself. And I hurt for all the other Black children—and adults—who daily suffered a similar pain, but didn’t quite have the words to tell the world how they felt. And even if they did find the words—as I often did as a writer—it was very rare that anyone cared or was listening.
So our only hope was in waiting for a better life beyond this world, as the wider Muslim community let us know repeatedly that even in the masjids and schools built for the remembrance of Allah and for the supporting of the believers, we did not belong.
Racism Is Trauma
Racism is trauma just as surely as rape is trauma. This should be common sense. But when it comes to systems of dhulm that benefit the privileged and entitled amongst us, common sense isn’t so common anymore.
These past couple of weeks, we’ve witnessed a sudden surge of interest amongst non-Black people, both Muslim and non-Muslim, asking how they can “help.” Though I imagine most of these inquiries are sincere (and may Allah bless the efforts of those who are), they make me feel an overwhelming sense of mental exhaustion. This emotional experience is like a person whose closest friends and loved ones and most celebrated mentors are rapists, but right before scheduling a relaxing vacation with these rapists, they stop by the home of a rape survivor to ask, “How can I help?”
Imagine how that survivor would feel in that moment. Naturally, in such a context, the answer to this question is not with the survivor of the trauma. Rather the answer is within the life and soul of the “good person” who claims to want to stop the crime of rape.
But I’ll offer two simple words to help you on the path of anti-racism that you say you wish to take: “Fear Allah.”
In other words, beg your Merciful Creator to help you live a life of taqwaa (protecting your soul from spiritual harm) for His sake, then study the Qur’an and prophetic teachings every day to learn what that means. Not for my sake. But for your own. Because ultimately, no matter how much I (and people like me) suffer due to daily racism, those inflicting it suffer more in the end. For there is no greater dhulm than what we inflict on our own souls.
As for how you can support me and others who look like me, you can start by treating us like human beings whose identity goes far deeper than the color of our skin. So if you really want to “help,” value our skills, talents, and presence in roles that go beyond speaking only for and about “the Black community.”
We are authors, speakers, and educators. We are entrepreneurs, doctors, and therapists. We are lawyers, spiritual teachers, and scholars. And that’s just to name a few.
But most importantly, we are your sisters and brothers in faith and humanity.
So the next time you are seeking to benefit from those who can remind you of Allah, or you are about to host an event and you need some “people” to fulfill certain professional roles, don’t forget (as you so often do) that we are “people” too.
Read the book, Prejudice Bones in My Body by Umm Zakiyyah
Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of more than twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. She recently launched her “Choosing To Love Alone” series via UZuniversity.com to support struggling believers seeking to nourish their emotional and spiritual health.
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