From the Field

Essay: Ignoring black Muslims feeds anti-black racism, Islamophobia


Kalia Abiade • May 20, 2015

In an essay on the new website Sapelo Square, anthropologist Donna Auston explores the different ways black American Muslims are affected simultaneously by anti-black racism and Islamophobia, even as few in the media and in the movement take notice. She weaves together the recent uprisings in Baltimore and the response to Pamela Geller’s “traveling circus of a public hate campaign” in Philadelphia to demonstrate how black Muslims are not only harmed by the sometimes “parallel” forms of racism but also how black Muslims are responding.

Read: Mapping the Intersections of Islamophobia & #BlackLivesMatter: Unearthing Black Muslim Life & Activism in the Policing Crisis

Auston writes:

“… In public discourse, we easily link anti-Muslim and anti-Arab discrimination as being nearly one and the same. Yet, in spite of the fact that a full one-third of the U.S. Muslim population is black, we rarely tend to think of issues of anti-black racism, poverty, mass incarceration, or police brutality as legitimate “Muslim” issues. This is because we rarely consider black Muslims.

Black Muslims do not come to this issue as bystanders or allies—even well meaning ones. Yet we are often erased—even from the narrative of our own struggle. That erasure renders our communities even more vulnerable—to Islamophobia, to anti-black racism (including from WITHIN the Muslim community), and to all of the attendant perils that accompany them.

“Black Muslims exist right at the intersection of these two forms of racism. Baltimore and Philadelphia are two American cities where the commonly accepted narrative of who American Muslims are, where their concerns lie, and the specific cocktail of intersectional racisms that they live with is radically disrupted. Both cities have long and rich black Muslim histories—and diverse manifestations of Afro-Muslim religious expression that are as much a part of the landscape of their respective cities as crab cakes and water ice. …”

“Given the entrenchment of black Muslimness within the broader context of black life in these particular cities, it should come as no surprise to find African American Muslims in the spectrum of activists and intellectuals working to combat these issues.”

Auston says its critical to recognize how invisibility from outside of and within the Muslim community compounds the impact of racism on black Muslims, in particular:

“Dominant narratives—in both media and scholarly literature tend to doubly efface the existence and voices of black American Muslims—even in this moment when black bodies are at the very center of the unrest. Black Muslims do not come to this issue as bystanders or allies—even well meaning ones. Yet we are often erased—even from the narrative of our own struggle. That erasure renders our communities even more vulnerable—to Islamophobia, to anti-black racism (including from WITHIN the Muslim community), and to all of the attendant perils that accompany them.”

She says that while Muslims in America are often thought of as foreigners, black Muslims “have been living with the unique reality of both being completely inseparable from America since its foundations as a nation—yet literally dying for recognition and protection under the law as bonafide citizens of the land of our birth.”

“We fight because we are profiled both on the street and at the airport—as existential threats to white, Christian America. Yet we refuse to answer to any of our given epithets—either “thug” or “terrorist.” We are unapologetically black. We are indisputably Muslim. For better and worse, we are fully and ambivalently American. And we are enough.”

Sapelo Square is a new online resource for African American Islam. According to the website, “Sapelo Square hopes to intervene in the marginalization and erasure of African American Muslims in the public square by building an online forum that places African American Muslims at the center. Our goal is to celebrate, document and analyze the experiences of this unique community in order to shed light on its global impact.” Read Auston’s full article at Sapelo Square.

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