By Layla Abdullah-Poulos
When navigating and addressing issues of social justice, mistakes happen. Even knowledgeable people will make errors or have lapses in judgment resulting in instances of social and cultural insensitivity and trauma. The more competent seek to rectify their offenses and learn best how to avoid them in the future.
This week on Twitter, Black Muslim women addressed the continual erasure of African American and Black Muslim experiences by their fellow Blacks and challenged Black resistance culture to appreciate the complicated intersections they navigate.
Author and autism advocate Umm Juwayriyah brought attention to erasure language in an article by C.C. Saunders, wherein the Black womanist referenced Muslims in a manner that aligns with the prevailing Middle Eastern South Asian (MESA) categorization, thereby discounting the existence of Black Muslims.
Saunders was primarily railing against skin tone favoritism in hip-hop, but she made a statement that alienates Blackness from Muslimness:
“white media functions to illustrate Cardi B, as they do the LBGT community, those of Mexican ancestry and those of Muslim faith– as bearing a subjugation far worse that any black person– deeming the reference groups more worthy of central placement than black bodies.”
By juxtaposing “Muslim faith” against “black person” and “black bodies,” Saunders engages in something to which Black Muslim women have particularly become increasingly observant.
Black Muslim women took exception and alerted the writer:
There’s a lot of criticism I can drum up in regards to Cardi and her brand of rap + colorism in the Caribbean. But what really bothered me about CC’s article was how she tried to other Muslims in the West and disregard history. @deenonthebrain https://t.co/nsoLtbjX2u
— Author UmmJuwayriyah (@UmmJuwayriyah1) January 9, 2018
@womanistwriter definitely made a slip that propagates the very erasure she’s decrying. She ignored not only African American Muslims cultural presence historically but also our influence in the music industry, especially hip-hop.
— Layla Abdullah (@deenonthebrain) January 9, 2018
So naw, I’m not feeling the erasure cause the policies and dominant narrative affect me in tangible ways
— Margari Aziza (@Margari_Aziza) January 10, 2018
Humans navigating multiple subjugated social intersections (race, faith, gender, ability, sexuality, etc.) tend to encounter layers of insensitivity and callousness by people sharing those spaces with them.
Black Muslim women have been proficient at highlighting problematic behavior stemming from non-Black Muslims, Black Muslim men and White women, so it’s should only be expected that we offer Black non-Muslim men and women opportunities to recognize when they are symbolically violent and remedy accordingly.
Unfortunately, instead of identifying her cultural shortsightedness, Saunders became defensive and dismissive:
Her reply conveyed to Black Muslim women that she was not inclined to hold herself accountable for her oversight and was not ready to engage in any kind of restorative actions.She also confirmed a limited knowledge about Black Muslim identity and attempted to enforce her hegemonic conclusions they should define themselves.
Black Muslim women responded to shed a lens on Saunders’ disdainful position and why it is socially damaging to discourses about identity and intersections of oppression.
Meh…. how does the third paragraph of someone else’s writing explain that you erased Blackness with regards to Muslims in your piece? Just stop it and do better next time.
— Maliyka, MPH (@1postpartummama) January 10, 2018
Margari Aziza pointed out how Saunders’ inattention to the relationship between race and faith results in tangible problems for Black Muslims:
Given the climate where #BeingBlackAndMuslim folks are targeted by criminal justice system and national security system, as well as immigration system, It would be amazing if our kinfolk listen and rectify shortcoming in their analysis rather than dig in their heels.
— Margari Aziza (@Margari_Aziza) January 10, 2018
This is the point that needs to be made clear. Black Am. Muslims are more vulnerable to violence and by erasing our presence and struggles, it creates more vulnerability.
— Author UmmJuwayriyah (@UmmJuwayriyah1) January 10, 2018
Finally, the writer punked out, blocked Black Muslim women and decided that any enlightening information provided by them was not worthy of her “womanist” time.
Saunders apparently prioritized ego and maintaining a facade of correctness over recognizing any required accountability or necessary restorative actions. She created a barrier to positions that didn’t jibe with hers, behavior typical in what Kimberly Foster calls “drag and cancel culture.”
She behaved in a way that is counterintuitive to her moniker “womanistwriter” as well as the objective of womanism – the wholeness and well-being of all humanity.
Black (esp. African American) Muslims have extensive heritages and social capital that many seem primed to expunge from social and cultural discourse. We must remain vigilant in resisting marginalizing behavior and actions across social intersections.
Follow Layla Abdullah-Poulos and NbA Muslims