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How Not to Stop Racism in the Arab American Community – A Response

How Not to Stop Racism in the Arab American Community – A Response

By: Diala Khalife

A response to “How do you stop racism in the Arab American community? Heck if I know”

I write this in response to a deeply problematic blog post published by Muslim Matters on December 11th. The piece was met with objections and critiques by some Arabs and non-Arab Muslims on Twitter [1].

The original post attempts to analyze the persistence of anti-Black racism in the Arab American community. However, it reduces anti-Black racism to interpersonal interactions, and minimizes its severity and consequences.

The post also commends Brother Dawud Walid for his writing  and work to challenge anti-Black racism in the Arab American community; however, the author does not acknowledge or process his or his community's complicity in perpetuating anti-Black racism, or our accountability to dismantle it.

Confronting or “stopping” anti-Black racism requires us as Arab Americans to both elevate our discourse on the subject and to develop community efforts to dismantle it. I offer these recommendations on how we can deepen our discourse on anti-Black racism in the Arab American community:

1. Do not discuss Arab American anti-Black racism as a pathology “that can lead someone to judge another based solely on the color of their skin;” also, do not reduce it to “bigotry,” or Arab Americans “being jerks;” do not discuss racism as though it is unrelated to power.

Referring to racism as “bigotry” minimizes the severity and consequences of anti-Blackness in our community. We need only look to Black men like Michael Haynes, murdered by an Arab gas station owner in Detroit, to recognize how devastating its consequences can be.

Racism is not a “disease” or a pathology. This analysis reduces anti-Blackness to the ways it is manifested in racist interactions, and is perpetuated at the individual level. This is the same reason why it is reductive to suggest “engagement between the communities” or “basketball leagues” as a means of confronting anti-Black racism – it naively assumes racism can be “solved” by basketball games that increase interaction between Black and Arab Americans.

Racism is not the product of repeated racist interactions: anti-Black racism is a set of multiple, intersecting structures. White supremacy is one structure that is foundational to the distribution of power, resources, rights, protections, and the assignment of ability and worth along racial lines to uphold a hierarchal system in which Whiteness dominates. White supremacy is maintained by systemically – though not to equal degrees – advantaging all non-Black people in the US at the expense of devaluing, dehumanizing, exploiting, killing and marginalizing Black people and communities. And white supremacy is not just made and maintained by white people – it is also upheld by people of color. This means as Arab Americans, though we are also marginalized by white supremacy, we are also privileged by it in relation to the majority of Black Americans.

For example, we light-skinned Arab Americans [2] are privileged by our ability to pass as white. Also, the majority of Arab Americans are class-privileged, meaning we benefit from the ways capitalism intersects with white supremacy to marginalize and exploit Black people and communities. Not only do we benefit from white supremacy – we are actively complicit in upholding it. This segues neatly into my next recommendation.

2.  Do not generalize anti-Black racism among Arabs and Arab Muslims as simply “racism.”

In order to seriously address anti-Black racism in the Arab American community, we need to talk about anti-Blackness with specificity; this means naming and analyzing the specific ways Arab Americans have been and are still complicit in producing and maintaining structures that dehumanize, abuse, exploit and devalue Black people.

Let us take, for example, the lecherous Arab-owned liquor stores and gas stations in poor Black neighborhoods, such as parts of Detroit and Chicago: these stores participate in the ways that capitalism systemically exploits Black people and communities. Arab American gas station and store owners often deliberately set up in poor Black communities and become financially successful at the expense of the people in these communities. Most of these store owners, who usually do not even live in these neighborhoods, suck money out of them without putting any of their profits back into the community.

Not only are Arab Americans– at both the collective and individual level – actively complicit in the economic exploitation of Black people and communities: Arab Americans also reinforce these systems by justifying the inequalities that are the result of it. I repeatedly hear materially successful Arab immigrants in Michigan, for example, disdain poor Black people who have not “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” and other statements that blame Black people, not racist structures, for the high concentration of poverty in several Black communities. You can read about some Arab American store owners that have made similar statements in the relevant chapter in Arab Detroit: From Margin to Mainstream.

3. Do not praise Brother Dawud Walid exposing anti-Black racism in your community while simultaneously not articulating a commitment to take action against it yourself, and not calling on others in your community to take action.

When you highlight Dawud Walid's commendable efforts to combat racism without taking action yourself, you inappropriately place the responsibility on Black people to dismantle the racism that dehumanizes and exploits them; it is never their responsibility. At the same time, you also deflect from your complicity in this racism, and fail to claim accountability for it. This is especially problematic in the absence of a concerted effort to confront anti-Blackness in the Arab American community.

Claiming accountability and recognizing our complicity are only the first steps we must take to challenge Arab American anti-Black racism. I hope this post will compel fellow Arab Americans to recognize the urgency of developing community efforts and discourses that aggressively challenge anti-Black racism.

 

[1] My thoughts draw on Twitter conversations with Amina Wadud (@aminawadud), Dawud Walid (@DawudWalid) on the original Muslim Matters post; they are also are informed by Tweets from Tareq Yaqub (@Tareq772) on it. My thoughts have also been formed and informed by an Open Letter to Non-Black People of Color written by students at the University of Michigan, and by the Black Girl Dangerous post “We are not all Trayvon: Challenging anti-Black racism in poc communities.”

[2] I recognize that my post in many ways reinforces a Black-Arab binary that essentializes Arabness and Blackness. I did not have room to discuss nuances and complexities in this piece. I hope to discuss why this binary is problematic in future writing, along with discussing intra-communal ethnic racism in the Arab American community.

I Tweet on anti-Black racism in the Arab American community and in the Arab world at @ArabAntBlackRac.

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49 comments

  1. Jazzak Allahu khayr for your input. Since you took the time and care to respond to my article in long form, I’ll return the gesture. InshAllah we will publish my response next week. In the meantime, I will encourage others to read and comment on your piece. Again, thanks for your effort.

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    • Salam Youssef,

      Thank for taking the time to respond to my article and engage with it.

      In the effort of extending this conversation in ways that are more centered on pushing the discourse than responding to each others’ pieces, I am wondering if instead you’d be interested in collaborating with me on an open letter to the Arab American community. We can include a broad sketch of anti-Black racism in our community, highlight examples of community efforts to address this, and include our own recommendations; most importantly it will include a call for action/a statement of individual and collective community accountability.

      I think working together could enrich our writing on this. I understand we have different understandings of anti-Black racism, but I think we have more to gain by writing together than writing in response to each other. Please let me know your thoughts on this.

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      • W/Salam Diala,

        If the goal is to push the discourse, I think it is important that we first clarify what it is we’re talking about. I’d like to spell out my ideas a bit more, some of which I think have been misunderstood or misrepresented.

        ***

        First, the aim of my article. My post was, in large part (I’ll get to the exception in a bit), not meant as an analysis of racism in Arab-American communities, but an acknowledgment of the phenomenon, a nod to Br. Dawud’s efforts to increase awareness, and preliminary thoughts on how to address these ills. That is why although I acknowledged some of the factors that have influenced anti-Black attitudes (including structural ones), I did not elaborate on them. Aside from it not being the focus of my piece, the reason I did not go into greater analytical detail is because I’m generally skeptical of our ability to recognize the relationship one process has with another, let alone form a coherent understanding of multivariate complex processes.

        Put differently, I have no idea how one can, with any confidence, disentangle (among other factors) the influence of American racial stereotypes, economic disparity, Arab historical legacy, etc., on anti-Black attitudes in the Arab-American community. Barring disaggregation, I don’t see how you can have a meaningful discussion about the structural causes of racism that are specific to Arab-Americans, let alone hold Arab-Americans collectively and invariably complicit in maintaining such structures. Such an enterprise is far too generalized and deterministic, making light of the agency that has lead to multiple examples of inclusive Muslim communities with comparatively healthy race relations. Thus, in an effort to get to what we really care about, I took for granted the existence (to varying degrees) of anti-Black racism in Arab-American communities and focused on a preliminary discussion of what we can do to undermine it.

        ***

        Second, the call to action. Contrary to your assertion, I did not place the onus on Br. Dawud to remedy our situation. In fact, you alluded to (albeit in caricatured fashion) the preliminary recommendation that I mentioned in my post. I admit that I could have chosen a more apt example; in offering a basketball league as a possible manifestation of the crosscutting interactions that I suggested communities implement, I clearly opened myself up to charges of reductionism and triviality. More importantly, a trusted mentor advised me that some may read into that example racial connotations that clearly I didn’t intend. So, mea culpa on that point.

        I stand by my underlying contention, however. No one could argue against the need for more discussion and awareness of this topic in our masajid and conferences. It would no doubt be beneficial to educate those who are not aware of the harm that is caused by racial slurs (or are unaware that they are racial slurs in the first place), as well as underscoring the Prophetic teachings on brotherhood in our community and the evils of any chauvinist belief.

        Yet, we have to be mindful of the limitations of these tactics. Are we assuming that the ones who pay close attention to what their imams say are the same ones perpetrating racism in our community? Are the individuals that are attentively sitting in conference sessions the same ones that go back home and casually throw around racial epithets?

        This is where the exception to my analytical sidestepping comes in. Clearly segregation plays a meaningful role in the perpetuation of racism in our communities, and so my previous piece suggested that we – everyone – work together to build a more inclusive atmosphere with activities that bring together our youth, especially. My point is that discussion decoupled from engagement has a low ceiling of success. The only proven way to undercut racism is by ratcheting up empathy. If an Arab kid goes to an Arab mosque, has all Arab or White friends, and gets his cultural legacy from his Arab parents, do you really think that some lecture from an imam is going to reach him if the ideas of his own supremacy and another’s inferiority are everywhere else reinforced?

        I argue, then, that we should address the issue, but make sure we are attaching with it a concreteness that will instill empathy in those that talk alone are unlikely to reach – which are the ones we need to reach the most. We don’t want to lecture, we want to educate; and anyone who has studied pedagogy will tell you that the more you center the learning around the subject’s self-realization, the more likely the lesson will hit home.

        ***

        Last, a note on your approach. I think you may focus a bit too much on within-group solutions to racism. This problem, however, can’t be addressed in a vacuum. This is an issue that must be tackled at the broader community level since, as I’ve alluded to above, it is isolation that provides the breeding grounds for racism.

        A corollary to the level at which we address racism is the way in which we address it. There is a sense of blaming and shaming that I feel accompanies the litmus test of complicity that you offer. I realize this may not be your intention, but it is nonetheless manifest in the interactions I see on Twitter where individuals are called out for using racist slurs and multiple people pounce on their ignorance. The effect of this tactic is often retrenchment and an ossifying of racist attitudes. We have to be more mindful (and this is a reminder for me first) not to harden hearts in our quest to make a point, however valid it may be.

        ***

        In sum, while I recognize that there are structural reasons for the persistence of racism among Arab-Americans, I feel it is far too difficult to pinpoint and generalize about these structures in any meaningful way. That is not to say that on an individual community level, structural factors that heighten racial tension cannot be addressed — the case that one commenter noted below about IMAN surveying liquor store owners and the neighboring community, then finding solutions to help the owners provide more wholesome products is a prime example. Each community, however, will have its own dynamics and forces at work, so generalizing would lead to false assumptions and false conclusions.

        The only apt general recommendation I see is greater education coupled with greater interaction. Here, too, each community will have to assess how to broach the topic effectively and manifest cross-cutting activities, but this general approach I feel provides the most bang for your buck. To that point, a more inclusive community would not only tackle the ills of racism, but of classism and other chauvinist behavior, too. I make no claim that this is a panacea, but it a sturdy foundation and guard, nonetheless.

        There are lots of forces that opt us in to various beliefs of our superiority over another. Our goal should be to foster an environment that makes it easier to opt-out of these misguided notions.

        I apologize for writing a lot here, but it will be my last word on this topic for a while as conference papers and qualifying exams beckon. I readily admit I could be wrong about some of my notions and I still have a lot to learn (please feel free to forward any material you think would be beneficial). I hope, however, that I’ve offered something of use for you to consider. Barack Allahu feeki for your diligence.

        w/Salam,
        Youssef

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    • KHADIJAH BINT COSTELLO

      The words of our Prophet Muhmammad sala lahu alahi wa salam make it so very clear, that remains an enigma as to why racism among Muslims continues to be a big problem. In his last sermon he said to his Ummah:
      “All of mankind is from Adam and Eve. An arab does not have superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; white have no superiority over black, nor does a black have any superiority over white; except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shallbe legitimate to a Muslim, which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.”

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      • Mashallah! beautiful words! nothing can be more beautiful than the sayings of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). Allah may guide all the sisters and brothers along the right path.

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  2. In response time to this article cease with blaming Caucasian people out of convenience for points. The hub is Blacks and Arabs not having a good structure in Detroit and etc. That is the consequence of unary.

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    • Hi David,

      Thank you reading my piece and thank you for your comment. As The Saliba mentioned in their comment, the references to whiteness and white supremacy do not deflect accountability from Arab Americans in their role in perpetuating anti-Black racism, nor dismiss the role played by structural inequalities in Detroit.

      I am referencing whiteness to account for the ways in which Arab Americans’ (Levantine, and other typically light-skinned Arab Americans) classification as white on the census, as well as our light skin, have given us access to many privileges that come with being assimilated into this category, and the ability to “pass” as white.

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  3. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  4. In point number 1, the case you mention of Michael Haynes, how was it related to racism? Is it automatically assumed that when crime is committed against black person it must be due to racism, not just person committing crime being jerk?

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    • Salam Hassan,

      Thank you for your comment. There are outrageously high numbers of Black men (and women – Rekia Boyd, Renisha McBride) that are murdered because they are falsely perceived as a danger or threats to their killers lives; this fear is racialized – it is deeply connected to and produced by tropes (images and narratives) that depict Black people as hyper-aggressive, prone to violence and criminality.

      So due to these images, narratives, the high tensions between Black residents and Arab storeowners in these neighborhoods, and the fact that anti-Black racism is deeply internalized in the Arab American community, I think we can safely say that Michael Haynes’ murder was due to anti-Black racism.

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      • I think this is a quite dangerous that you assume intentions, but regardless the person is dead and the killer should be punished.

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        • Respectfully, I actually do not presume intention, but consider intention irrelevant; what matters is impact. And I think it is more dangerous to presume the staggeringly high numbers of Black people murdered by non-Black folks has nothing to do with race, than to presume purposeful intent.

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  5. Thank you sister Diala for writing this piece. And thank you for recognizing your privilege and standing in solidarity with black Americans. I was appalled by the previous article on this issue, and said to myself – of all people Arab Americans (and other Muslim immigrants; 1st 2nd or nth generation) should have nothing but praise to say about black Americans because had it not been for the civil rights struggle and the sacrifices of so many black bodies, this community would not have been able to even establish roots in America.

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    • Thank you, sister Safia, for reading and for your comment. :)

      I agree, we are deeply indebted in many ways to Black Americans, whose language and ideas we have consistently used to mobilize and inspire our own civil rights struggles. I would add to your thoughts that we also have a responsibility to be more active and consistent allies in their continuing struggles to dismantle anti-Black racism in the US – especially in the face of their consistent, tireless solidarity with us in Palestine anti-Zionist struggles.

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    • Very well said Safia! Well all should be very thankful for those who sacrifices their lives for as to enjoy this country.

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  6. Assalamu Alaykum,
    Loved your article! Using Critical Race Theory definitely opens up the conversation so that we’re not just using the same old line, “Let’s all hold hands and get along.” Racism is much more complicated then that.
    Also in response to David, Dalia’s piece isn’t take a shot at Caucasians as much as she’s looking at Whiteness: who qualifies as White, and the affordances that are produced from being assimilated into this label.

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    • Assalamu Aalaykum,

      Thank you so much. :) I appreciate it! I am also weary of language like “Let’s all hold hands and get a long” that first of all, assumes anti-racist work can/has to happen without the discomfort of those perpetuating racism, and without the presence of tension and agitation. I am also weary of it because it doesn’t capture how racism is deeply tied to unequal power relations!

      I appreciate your response to David’s comment – that is exactly what I meant.

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  7. MR, Khalife. The only people that get privileges are those whom give it to others. America is governed by the U.S Constitution and this the supreme law of the land. Personally I look at the intent of character.

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    • David, it’s MRS, not MR.

      Wonderful article, Diala. I’m so glad you wrote on this subject, as it’s been something that has bothered me (as an Arab American male) for as long as I can remember. The problem doesn’t seem to be improving, either. So ironic, and frustrating.

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      • Thank you so much, Ala.

        I also do not remember a time when I didn’t observe this in our community. It is tragically ironic considering many things but particularly 1) the fact that in our civil rights struggles and in our organizing around Palestine we consistently draw on and mobilize around the ideas of Black scholars and activists; 2) Arab Americans, particularly Arab American males appropriate Blackness (particularly representations of Blackness in commercial hip hop videos) and mimic Black “swag” all while being enacting anti-Black racism.

        I think unfortunately it will remain deep and persistent until we as a community make a concerted effort to confront it, and change our practices that reinforce it.

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  8. Excellent points made, thank you for pointing out specific issues that must be addressed (especially in point 2).

    This is not a criticism of most of the content here, but I feel the author carries a rather harsh tone in her assessment (to a degree). Youssef, by his own admission, states that he has no ready-made answers – which logically welcomes this type of feedback; I feel the tone could have been a bit more respectful.

    Also, point 3 is extrapolating negativity that isn’t necessarily there. He’s highlighting the efforts Dawud has been making, but he does not argue that this in and of itself is enough to take care of the issue. He does not place the onus of addressing these structural problems on the shoulders of black Muslims by pointing out his positive outlook of one specific effort. I’m not sure why any one article on this website is supposed to be a comprehensive catch-all for every issue on a particular subject.

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    • Salam Muhamed,

      Thank you for your comment! I see where you’re coming from. However, I have to say that usually arguments/issues with tone tend to get in the way of engaging with the ideas in the article, and derail from them (see here for example: http://geekfeminism.wikia.com/wiki/Tone_argument).

      I also do not think I was disrespectful in any way in my article.

      In addition I do not think, nor did others who commented on his article on Twitter, that in point 3 I extrapolated implications that were not present in the article; the author highlighting Dawud’s work was not accompanied by a statement of his individual or our community complicity, or a call for action; this is why I say the article implicitly places the burden on Dawud and others.

      Third, I did not include this in my article, but I will get to it here – the piece did not only do the above, but also dismissed the potential impact of some of the suggestions Dawud makes as “negligible.” This is also deeply problematic.

      I did not any way expect Youssef’s piece to be a “catch-all” but I do think it is fair to expect that Muslim Matters articles contain rigorous analyses of racism that are not reductive or limited.

      Thank you and would appreciate your thoughts.

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  9. Ala, Thanks for your enlightened words. But lot MRS, Khalife speak for self.

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  10. I think it’s good to raise this subject and I commend Dawud and Diala on that level. However, I found no useful or concrete suggestions in this article. It seemed mostly to be a confusing lecture on what language one should use in describing the problem of anti-Black racism. Oh, wait, am I not supposed to say, “racism”? Confusing.

    I’ll offer an idea, though though it is not fully formed.

    Wealthy Arab-Americans and Muslims should create a foundation that would do two things:

    1. Train and finance poor Arab immigrants to start businesses other than liquor stores. These immigrants get into the liquor store business because their relatives are already in it, so the know-how is there, and because the bar to entry is low. Give them alternatives.

    2. Finance African-Americans to start businesses in African-American neighborhoods, with a focus on alcohol-free grocery stores that offer fresh produce and meats at affordable prices.

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      • Am glad to read of such an initiative and pray this will become more widespread throughout the country. Reading the articles, it is striking to me how much people fear not having enough money if they stop selling alcohol and other prohibited items. People should understand that the amount of rezq/sustenance one will have in a lifetime has already been determined while in the womb. How you acquire it, however, is up to you.

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    • Salam Wael,

      Thank you for your comment. Please point out what parts of my article are confusing to you so I can explain and clarify. I think your comment that “It seemed mostly to be a confusing lecture on what language one should use in describing the problem of anti-Black racism” is dismissive.

      My article focused on the discourse the previous article lacked in analyzing and describing anti-Black racism. I tend to think that analyses of racism that are limited and reductive are harmful to efforts to address it; here’s why: they undermine the severity, pervasiveness and consequences of this racism in our community, and they do not compel aggressive responses to it.

      You say “Oh, wait, am I not supposed to say, “racism”? Confusing.” I wrote that we must specify that we are talking about anti-Black racism because there are specific ways we have been complicit in perpetuating it, and this specificity of our relationship and racial positioning to Black people is not captured with the general term “racism.”

      To your other point, that my article contained no concrete recommendations – I agree this is a shortcoming, and I hope to write on my suggestions and recommendations in future articles (see my comment to Youssef above). I agree that the Arab owned convenience stores, liquor stores and gas stations in poor Black neighborhoods is one crucial area in need of urgent change.

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    • Baaraka llahu fiik, good idea . Racism doesn’t exist in real
      Islam , dangerous is to sell our faith in Allah for fear to lose
      some dollars.We should stand up for the poor people , justice
      and bounty will come from Allah.
      Prophet Mohammed was sent as a Merci and we are representing
      of him.
      Living in ignorance is not part of Islam, we should learn our dine and
      act upon it, if not we will become foam as the prophet said.
      Thanks

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  11. I am stunned that Muslims Matters is dealing with this in such an articulate fashion. I know Islam tells us not to be racist, but for years, I have seen many Muslims dodge this issue totally. To be fair, there is Indo/Pak racism and Spanish racism and even black racism. But each has a unique feature. Indo/Pak racism is really classism based on the setup in the old country and black Americans end up being the untouchables. Spanish racism is a softer racism since they have a high degree of miscegenation in Spanish society. Black racism is another one we as Muslims don’t condemn enough. It is only a small impotent group, but we should all make it very clear we do not like Louis Farrakhan lying on our Prophet or our deen. We say they are not Muslims in a too-polite way and as a result, way too many people are confused about the fake Muslims in the Nation of Islam. To be racist is one thing. To operate a business based on your racism when you claim you are a Muslim is another thing altogether. We all like money and some of us, even Muslims, we get so desperate we do haram and don’t care who we hurt. That best describes the Arabs who sell the haram in black neighborhoods. As Muslims we all know it’s wrong to sell poison. The only justification I can think of when I see my Muslim brothers and sisters selling haram is that they think that because they are in America and in a black community, the rules of Islam do not apply to them. We all have a preference for what we grew up with, the people and the language. But when that preference veers off into hurting those who don’t look like you is what hurts me. I have dark skin. Praise be to Allah, Islam is my life’s achievement. I live in a black area and I hurt for all those who have not received guidance and I hurt that the people who come to my community to exploit the ignorance and lack of guidance claim Islam. That is the difference between harmless prejudice and hostile destructive discrimination. We can’t help but to like our kind. How can you be a Muslim and not understand when you are destroying another human being or think that because that soul you suck off lives in dark skin, that Allah does not see?

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  12. As-Salamu `alaikum,

    An obvious oversight this article has fallen into that the initial article fell into as well is that racism is racism. I’ve seen African-American muslims commit more or less the same racially motivated slights–and worse–against Arabs. I’ve also witnessed the presumed aggressor of all things racist (the white man, of course) being the recipient of the same evil words and deeds this article assumes the white race guilty of. Similarly, the exclusion of white muslims, convert and otherwise from a discussion that concerns them as much as anyone else is indicative of the limited understanding of racism in the first place.

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    • As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum Abu Abdillah,

      There’s a difference between racism and bigotry. As there are Black Americans who are Muslims and show bigotry towards Arabs, it’s not something deeply institutionalized, nor does it have practical bearing in the community. The same does not hold true regarding Arab anti-Black racism.

      Racism involves a power dynamic, brother. Power relates to who defines Islam and authority for our community including who leads national organizations. A Black person, who is Muslim in vast majority of cases that says something bigoted about Arabs, for instance, is not calling into question the legitimacy of someone’s standing in the Muslim community nor threatening their identity. When the inverse is done, it literally has to the point of running people out of the deen.

      So racism and bigotry is not proportional though both are un-Islamic. The latter in no way equals the former regarding social consequence and how it plays out in the Muslim community. You’re comparing the two within the context of this conversation seems diversionary to be frank.

      White Muslims in the community face a different challenge of being fetishized in many cases in immigrant communities and being seen as “The Man” in many majority Black congregations. That’s a whole other topic.

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      • As-Salamu `alaikum,

        I appreciate your response, Dawud, and am, of course, aware of the distinction between racism and bigotry. However, the point I made was hardly diversionary, but instead based upon years of observation of this specify in various communities here as well as in the Middle East. The racism of some Arabs toward some African-Americans is, without a doubt, a serious detriment to our community, it is only one aspect of a dynamic, if not volatile, reality.

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        • As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum Dawud, Abu Abdillah,

          Respectfully, I have to echo Dawud’s point that racism and bigotry should not be compared or conflated because the latter is not institutionalized/structural, nor are the consequences nearly as severe.

          I also agree with Dawud that comparing the two – particularly comparing Arab anti-Black racism to prejudiced comments by Black Americans to Arabs – is diversionary; in other words, it deflects and derails the conversation from Arab anti-Black racism (which is the original topic at hand), and which you admit is a serious, pervasive reality in our community.

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          • Wa ‘alaikum al-Salam wa Rahmatullah,

            Thanks for your response Diala. I’m not sure if I would have taken the time to respond to an anonymous commenter on a blog.

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  13. I intend to publish the last sermon of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) and to distribute it in my immediate neighborhood. First of all it is a work for sawab/thawab (reward for good work from Allah). Second it would educate the people about the last sermon of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him). Third it would help in curtailing racisim due to the specific instructions as below!

    “An arab does not have superiority over a non-Arab, nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; white have no superiority over black, nor does a black have any superiority over white; except by piety and good action.”

    I think only love and friendship can reduce evil. if someone is racist why not give him/her a gift of the last sermon of the Holy Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) with the words against racism highlighted. We are all muslims. We belong to same faith. if someone is racist let us teach him/her the true message of Islam with love and kindness. May Allah guide all the sisters and brothers along the right path, Ameen!

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  14. Salaam Sis.

    Thank you for writing this excellent and deeply insightful essay. As the responses to it In the comment section indicate, it is not only timely but much needed.

    I am convinced that when Islam is taken as a radical transformative way of life, we do have the ability to overcome our short comings, no matter how systemic certain ill-habits, like racism, sexism may be. To me, that is the power of tawhid…we are all one humanity before one God.

    Everything else is shirk.

    Keep up the good work and may Allah bless you in your efforts.

    Your sister in Allah, amina wadud

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    • Salaam Sis.,

      Thank *you* for your deeply insightful Tweets on the issues in the previous post. And for your call for and emphasis on the importance of both discourse and action.

      Inshallah the work of everyone who is involved in the effort that Brother Dawud Walid began will bring about concerted movements to confront and dismantle this in our communities.

      Your sister in Allah, Diala

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  15. Careful use of terms is in order here. I think the accusation should be levied more against Muslim Arabs and other Muslims. Not all Arabs are Muslims. The racism you speak of hardly exists outside of the slums or inner cities. It is not evident in the larger cities, in our daily interaction with Black Americans in our professional job environments. But and while I recognize the disease of racism does afflict the majority of business owners who venture into Black areas, other ethnic communities can easily be found guilty of same. Koreans, and specially Indian liquor store owners are taking advantage of the economic failure of inner cities and the corresponding social and political ills. Arab Christians on the other hand tend to establish their business in either Arab/Middle Eastern sections of towns or in ‘mainstream’ business locations. While I have no tolerance for discriminatory practices or racism-based attitudes towards people of different color or faith. The writers need not fall in generalizations that will obscure any possible solution. I don’t have time to elaborate here but here is my summation of the dilemma at hand: What we are witnessing here is economic racism rather than color based racism. And the price some of these merchants pay is often their own lives.

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    • It’s not simply economic based or classism. It is systemic relating to tribalism and racism even more so.

      I know several brothers, including myself, who were interested in marrying Arab sisters in which the men were turned away for no good reason. They reason was Black and/or not being from their nationality, not lack of education or money. One brother I know is a medical doctor for goodness sake. Some of us have been called 3abed in these situations. You’d be hard pressed to find a Black American Muslim who doesn’t know someone that this has happen to, if not it happening to them personally.

      This is clear un-Islamic and not something isolated. I don’t think that you realize the extent of the problem at hand, but we’re telling you.

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      • As-salamu Alaykum,
        There is also discrimination between Arabs themselves when it comes to marriage. In Jordan, for example, about half the population is Palestinian. Jordanians and Palestinians go to school together, work together, and live side-by-side. Palestinians are not exactly new in the country. When it comes to marriage, however, many families (on both sides) will not allow it. There are many exceptions, however, which is something positive, because I believe that marriage is the main way that such problems can be solved. When people allow their children to marry into different groups, they are doing something very good for society because the children of these marriages will understand that racism or tribalism is rooted in ignorance. I have pointed out many times that if these same Jordanians and Palestinians were in America, Americans would simply consider them “Arabs” (and Muslims) and not care about the finer nuances of which tribe or village they came from. They might be discriminated against in America even if they come from a very prestigious tribe or family. No one is going to care about that. I think when you get to such a point, where you yourself are discriminated against for some reason, it makes you start thinking about the issue more deeply.

        If you are a parent and want your children to be open-minded, you cannot just talk about the issue, although talking is important. You must take the initiative to have friends of your own who are from different cultures and races. You should visit them in their homes and have these friends visit you. You should have your children play together. As they get older, you should expose your children to different cultural experiences. They should read the literature of oppressed peoples and understand their own history (whatever it is). You should not tolerate racial slurs and obviously should not make any yourself. These are all things you can do on a practical level…because it is much easier to change the attitudes of the next generation than it is to reprogram an older one.

        Regarding the phenomenon of Arab-run liquor stores, this probably needs a post (or a book) of its own. Having known many people in this business, I would say that such people are generally very, very ignorant of Islam and its teachings. Many are very uneducated and are even illiterate. Many are greedy as well, so you are dealing with a very bad combination of characteristics to start with. I am mainly talking about the owners, especially the first-generation ones who immigrated from other countries. Their employees may be there for a variety of reasons. In many cases, they were raised into the business by their parents, or they have newly immigrated to America and have not found other work. Some masjids send dawah teams to these stores, which is good, but I think it needs to go a bit further than that. When these teams go to such stores, they should go with a list of other jobs they can do…a list of employers that will be willing to hire them. Maybe the masjid could pay for them to attend college as well. Otherwise, you may have appealed to a person’s sense of guilt and religious duty, but you have not offered them practical alternatives. If you go a bit deeply into why people work at such stores, you will find that many are trapped and controlled by the owners. In some cases, it is purely psychological, but in other cases it is more than that. The point is, though, that there are people working in such stores who do not want to be there. These people need to be shown a way out. Others have made their choices in life and will continue to destroy their lives and the lives of others (including their own families) by remaining in such a disgusting business. But maybe it would be a good idea for communities to start thinking about ways to get rid of such businesses…perhaps by buying them and having the former owners sign a contract promising not to start another store. These stores could then be transformed into regular grocery stores or something else that is halal, which would then provide more employment for Muslims as well.

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  16. Assalamu alaikum sister Dalia,

    Mash’Allah great article and I hope and pray that both you and Brother Youssef can work together to bring more insightful and necessary articles such as the ones you both have already written about re: racism in Muslim communities. I just wanted to say that I also agree with your assertion that racism is more than just people spewing racist slurs at each other. It’s also extremely institutionalized and I was disappointed to learn about how some Arab Muslims perpetuate such institutionalized racism through the opening of liquor stores in predominantly black neighborhoods (I’m from the East Coast and so I’m not that familiar with how Muslim communities are like in places like Chicago and Detroit). And I also liked how you mention the role American white supremacy places in maintaining a racist hierarchy of “acceptable/unacceptable” groups below the predominant white majority. Besides light-skinned Arabs being given white privilege status due to their skin color, you also have Asian Muslims (both South and Southeast) clamoring to live up to the “model minority myth” that is usually bestowed upon Asians in general. I believe that immigrants in general (especially those of the first-generation) are made to believe in the idea that the American Dream is achievable by anyone who’s “hard-working” and that also plays a factor in these Muslims discriminating against African-American/Latino Muslims. I have a question though about the distinction between racism and bigotry. I’ve been onto other social justice anti-racist sites and usually whenever such a distinction is made, people get very upset and start to derail the conversation by giving examples of how “privileged” people are discriminated against too. So is it still feasible to continue making this distinction, because the average person who may have never studied about Critical Race Theory might take offense at the notion that their experiences with discrimination are not examples of racism? Hope I’ve made myself clear, and if not, I apologize!

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  17. I think the first article posed a question and also challenged us to look for a solution. You did that here. Amazing article sis. Loved it.

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  18. AA – Thank you all so much for this discussion on a primal issue that affects us all (whether we understand it or not). In the above dialogue, I would fall on the side of an institutionalized racism underpinning and masking a lot of what we consider individual preferences…cultural gaps and failures in the society at large, drifting down to effect the personal response. (Btw, we should all know that dividing and devaluing a people is a necessary step of the oppressor, and there is overwhelming proof that African Americans have a **great** history.) This is a fight against ignorance, and we need to address these issues if we truly want a richer, stronger and happier present/future. There are efforts underway. In the quick, branded societies of today, we need a hard “re-brand” away from these temporal caricatures of convenience and towards fostering real connections that move us forward, together. We will all benefit for the good, as Muslims, as Americans, and as humanity. God is great(er) – we probably haven’t seen anything yet.

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