Dear fellow white converts:
When we wear hijab, we have NOT given up our white privilege. If I hear one more of us say that I think I’ll scream.
Ask black sisters who wear hijab and you will learn that they are still treated MUCH differently. Our whiteness still gives us a pass in most situations.
When I lived in Oklahoma for example, our local tag agency made news for telling a black sister she had to take off her hijab for her driver’s license photo even though the law clearly stated that religious headwear is allowed in photos. I was surprised that this happened because I had never had that problem. My black sisters told me straight out: “That’s because you’re white. When you’re black, they treat you differently.”
Also, we are not suddenly absolved from our own unexamined internalized white supremacy and white privilege. And we cannot erase these things by simply declaring that “there is no racism in Islam” and we DEFINITELY do not erase these things by marrying guys from other cultures, especially if they are non-black Muslims.
Here are a few examples of our tendency to fall into patterns of unexamined white supremacy and white privilege as white converts:
*When we assert that Muslims should not follow their cultures and instead “only follow Islam.” We do not have the right to evaluate or demand erasure of other people’s cultures.
*When we get upset because we feel “out of place” in the masjid because people are speaking languages other than English, eating spicy food, or generally not prioritizing *US* in the social space. We are not entitled to instant popularity the minute we set foot in a Muslim space.
*When we expect or accept to be positioned as the “real” representatives of Islam, Muslim converts, or Islam in America.
*When we act like we are the first/only “Americans” to become Muslim and spend a lot of time complaining that it is so hard to be both, again while making no effort to learn from the long history and vibrant community of African American Muslims doing just that.
*When we try to “become” Arab or “ethnic” in unexamined and performative ways. When we believe that Arab Muslims have a higher authority on religious matters than other Muslims.
*When we accept to be taught about Islam only from “ethnic” Muslims but not African American Muslim scholars. (Pro tip: Have you diversified your social media and the scholars/teachers you listen to online?)
*When we criticize the ways different Muslims practice Islam that don’t make sense to us-that may in fact be valid interpretations- because we believe that all Muslims should think and act the same.
*When we leave Islam citing mistreatment by the Muslim community, yet we have not made any effort to learn from the history and experiences of the black Muslim community and/or have made no effort to seek out black-majority mosque or learning circles to attend.
*When we claim that we completely understand the black experience because we have faced discrimination while wearing hijab.
*When we uncritically jump on the bandwagon of right-wing Christian arguments about society, economics, and morality because we assume that Muslims are “the most conservative” and therefore all conservative causes and opinions must also be Muslim causes and opinions.
*When we uncritically jump on the bandwagon of privileged immigrant arguments about “hard work” being the solution to all socioeconomic problems. South Asians and Arabs in America have benefitted from the fruits of the civil rights movement and DO NOT face the same challenges and roadblocks as African Americans.
*Finally, I have found that when I raise this issue in groups of white converts, there are some people who react very strongly to these points and feel very offended by them. Please look up the concept of “white fragility” and realize that recognizing the ways in which we carry unconscious and unexamined attitudes and habits is part of spiritual development.
Can you think of others?