To be Black and Muslim

On Friday January 27th millions of Americans, immigrants and citizens alike, were in shock once news broke of President Trump’s most recent executive order: “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States”. This directive targeted Muslim communities by implementing a ban on the travel and immigration of people from seven Muslim dominant countries into the U.S.  However, Trump’s executive order is not an isolated instance of islamophobia in America. Islamophobia has taken a particularly strong grasp of our country since the 9/11 attacks. Since then, widespread propaganda has narrowly portrayed the entire Islamic faith as dangerous, projecting them to be a common enemy for Americans. However, this problematic generalization has consequences beyond minimizing and overlooking the millions of peacefully practicing Muslims. It has also perpetuated the erasure of Black Muslims and the unique struggles that they face as well.

The inaccurate portrayal of solely Arabs being subject to this ban and other attacks against Islamic communities ignores the struggle that Black Muslims, both American and of African origin, are facing as well. Nearly one third of all Muslims in America identify as Black but their voices are nearly nonexistent. Of these, there are Black Muslims from countries such as Somalia and Sudan that are directly targeted by the executive order. There are also native born Black Muslims that only identify as American and who continue to be left out of the discourse surrounding islamophobia. A cry for visibility and representation exists in the space where Black and Muslim lives intersect, though this cry continues to be overlooked.

In the words of esteemed activist and author, Dr. Jamilah Kareem, “To be Black and Muslim, too, means being silenced even though we bring the boldest Muslim voices ever”. Even with this bold and unique voice, it is Black Muslims who have been othered, considered unfamiliar, unusual, and unworthy of being heard.  To be Black and Muslim is to be subject to a distinct kind of pressure as a result of being doubly affected by discriminatory structures, yet it is also to be invisible. To be Black and Muslim is to be burdened with the task of constantly having to prove that being black doesn’t invalidate your faith and being Muslim doesn’t invalidate your race. To be Black and Muslim in America is having to be weary of the racism that has burdened your people for hundreds of years and still hyperaware of the ever growing threat that islamophobia presents. The distinct anxiety of being a minority in America is amplified where these identities overlap, and complicated by hesitancy from both communities to accept or even acknowledge each other’s identities. For a long time, intolerances, from colorism to religious persecution, have been used against both groups to justify the control of their people. These shared experiences and struggles alone should be enough to break any hostile attitudes one group may have for the other, and unite them, especially where they intersect.

Considering the direction of politics today, securing solidarity across marginalized groups is more important than ever. We need to take advantage of the beauty and diversity of these combined identities while still recognizing and addressing the weight of the persecution that Black and Muslim groups face independently. In short, we need to embrace intersectionality. Learning from these experiences fortifies the mobilization of unified communities. By creating this solidarity, we’re ensuring that our fight against both islamophobia and racism is inclusive and therefore most effective.

By: Adama Kamara, Staff Writer