This is a hard post for me to write. I”m a white American. My heritage here in the US goes back all the way to Revolutionary times, with ancestors arriving mostly from the British Isles. I’m white, pale, pasty, European, don’t-stand-in-front-of-the-fridge-when-taking-a-picture-white. I live in the suburbs of a typical American town with my husband, five kids, six chickens, and a cat who is currently sleeping off a food coma on the sofa. I live a modest life, but compared to many of my fellow Americans, it is rich with blessings. Financially we live frugally but don’t really struggle to pay for food. We drive older cars that were purchased used. I shop the sales and buy stuff from the thrift store. We have cable TV and high speed internet.
My kids are a shade darker than I am, ranging from tan to golden thanks to my husband’s Egyptian blood. They can “pass” for white or maybe Italian with the darker two. They fit well within the range of white privilege. They don’t know what it’s like to be considered less because of skin color. They’ve never had anyone get out of the pool when they get in.
With this being my background, I hesitate sometimes to comment here or on Facebook about racial stuff. I don’t want to be viewed as a suckup to blacks if I post something positive about a racial issue or commiserate about the death of a young black man. I feel like it’s not my place to comment on some of the deeper issues, like absent black fathers and the drug and hiphop culture and the angry black woman. It’s not like we white folk have got it all together – Jeffrey Dahmer, David Duke, pretty much every mass shooting killer – we whites have our own issues and they are no less indicative of the state of our souls than black on black crime. So I usually shut my mouth, say something generic enough to not offend anyone, and go on with my life.
But that’s not enough, is it? I’m actually creating a division when I look at something as a black issue instead of a human issue. I should know better, and I’m sorry.
Michael Brown, I’m so sorry for your death at the hands of police. Trayvon Martin, I’m so sorry for your death at the hands of a racist cop wannabe. My dear brothers in humanity who just happen to be brown instead of ivory, I’m sorry for every time you are stopped on the street, pulled over for driving while black, followed around a store by employees, left alone in an elevator by a frightened white lady, and otherwise singled out for humiliation and fear. It sucks, it’s not right, and it needs to STOP.
I’m no civil rights activist and I’m not one for marching in protest. I haven’t really done anything in regards to racism like sign a petition or write my congressman. I would be happy to do something if I knew what to do and what would be helpful, but I don’t want to be the token white lady who feels oh-so-pious for holding a black child on her lap for a photo op. I want my caring for my brown and black brothers and sisters in humanity to be part of my overall striving to help ALL of humanity, for as the late Dr. Martin Luther King warned us, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”. I don’t want to be a fool or a tool.
So what do I do while I’m figuring out what to do? Well, I will keep doing what I’ve been doing, which is making sure that I raise my kids to understand that racism is unacceptable and they must do better than my generation and the generation before. I’m proud that my kids don’t care about the color of their playmates and I am making sure they are exposed to great people of all colors and backgrounds in their schoolwork and out in the wider world. I was so happy when my eight year old son did a project for school on Monsa Musa, may Allah have mercy on him, a King of Mali from back in the 1300s. He found a role model in a Muslim African man and proudly told the whole class about him. Once he brought home an illustrated book that told about the Woolworth’s Lunch Counter and the courage of the black men and women who sat at a whites-only table. My older son actually saw that very lunch counter enshrined at the Smithsonian. We don’t really lecture the kids on race, but we deal with issues that come up and we always try to be good role models. My husband is Egyptian, but he’s well known in the Muslim community for reaching across the invisible but near-impenetrable lines of race and ethnicity that divide everyone up. He preaches the Friday prayer in front of a majority Indo-Pak crowd and admires some of the local black leaders in our community who are out getting stuff done while the Arabs are sitting on their butts smoking shisha and complaining. He loves people based on their insides, not their outsides, and yep, I did ask him directly about race before I married him.
I repeat what I said earlier today on a Facebook post: I swear by Allah that I am free of animus towards any human being based on his color or ethnicity. I will teach my children that they are to live by the famous quote of Prophet Muhammad, may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him, when he gave the Farewell Sermon towards the end of his life:
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.”
This I believe and this I will teach and this I will emphasize not only with my own family, but with everyone I meet, Muslim or non-Muslim. I also bear witness that I will not remain silent if someone is being harassed on account of race or ethnicity, and that I will not stand for racism in the form of jokes, comments, pictures, or actions. I will not consider the harassment of black males in the US as a black issue – it is a human issue, a Muslim issue, and even though I’m just a white chick from the suburbs, I will add my voice to the voices of others until we become a mighty roar and our brothers and sisters of color will have the justice they deserve. And if you don’t like that, well, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.