This week I read Kaleema’s latest post with delight. Kaleema’s observations on life as a convert remind me that I’m not crazy and I’m not alone, as some people would have me believe. Kaleema converted to Islam when I was a toddler, yet so much of what she witnessed echoes my brief sojourn into Islam.
The title of Kaleema’s post is“When Racism Becomes Normal”. As I read it I found myself shaking my head in agreement with everything that she wrote. But what struck me was her use of the word ‘racism’. It wasn’t that I felt she used in inappropriately. On the contrary, it was the perfect word. But it wasn’t until I read this blog that I fully realized that’s what the phenomenon actually was. When I heard female converts derided as less than born Muslim women, when people made disgusting comments about non-Muslim(and Western ones specifically)women, it infuriated me. But I didn’t initially identify it as racist. Stupid? Yes. Arrogant? Certainly? Frustrating? Hell yes! But racist? I didn’t make the connection, and I questioned myself for this.
The answer was not long in coming. My problem was that at the time I was still thinking of racism in a very American and politically correct way. Growing up the 1990s, racism was taught to me as something that white people usually inflicted upon people of color. Some would even go further than that, saying that in our American context it was literally impossible for a member of any racial and/or religious minority to be racist towards anyone else! Given this mentality, I didn’t immediately see the way that converts, especially white ones, were treated by some Arab and South Asian Muslims as racist. But racism is exactly what it is, and it’s just as ugly and sickening when ‘people of color’ do it.
I want to explore this topic in detail. It’s not that I lived in some colorblind bubble prior to converting to Islam. No, issues of race and culture were present in my life long before I took my shahadah. Yet when I became Muslim that added a new layer to my identity. My ideas regarding race, kinship, culture and nationality were challenged in many ways, and it wasn’t always comfortable. Instead of doing one huge post(which would be way too long), I’m going to break it up. For the next week I am only going to post about this particular subject.
*Note: I do realize that the subjects of race, culture and religion can easily become contentious. It is not my intent to offend anyone. However I am also not going to sugarcoat my experiences and observations either. As for the comments on these posts-participation is welcome as always, but be forewarned: any racial bashing and/or use of racial slurs is not going to be tolerated. If anyone ‘goes there’, I will happily modify and/or delete their comments as I see fit.