For Brooke’s Carnival of White Privilege and The Ummah:
This is just a collection of my reflections. A lot of it is just observations or thoughts I had from watching myself or people around me, and also from reading some other carnival posts or their respective comments and reflecting a bit. A lot of it comes from just taking basic anti-racism rhetoric about white privilege and adding a white Muslim convert twist to it. So here you have it.
1. White Western Muslims are highly valued in Muslim communities. Yep, I know we face flack, too. We do talk about that a lot, don’t we? I am not talking about the downside here though. I am talking simply about white privilege and the Ummah. We are valued above converts of color, for sure. And although our presence may be of trivial value in the big picture of our personal Muslim communities, we are often selected to be the faces of these communities in the public sphere. In other words, highly public representatives of our community, motivational speakers, organization leaders and so forth are often white, while our communities are mostly of color. We are valued because of White Supremacist structures that say White is Right, so if a White Person chooses Islam as Right, it validates Islam. It means Islam is Right. I know Islam can stand on its own with no validation. But The Ummah has been under stress from The West for a long time, making Muslims weak and in need of self-validation sometimes. And this is a world in which everything Powerful and everything deemed as modern and good is driven by white people. Where is the best science, medicine, technology, popular culture like movies, music, fashion, trends, etc. coming from? It is from Whiteness due to a white supremacist global hegemony that has persisted since white colonialism in and on top of nations of people of color, including in Muslim lands. That is why we are trophy converts. When we are taken as trophy converts, our mere presence confirms White Supremacy by legitimizing Islam with White Approval for native Muslims, especially during times when Islam is under suspicion or attack.
2. We bring all of the previous benefits of whiteness that we have accumulated before Islam with us on our journey as Muslims. This point here is paramount to how we still benefit from white privilege though we may be very cut off from mainstream white societies. Even if we grew up dirt poor, ate free lunch at school, dad was in prison, mom was an alcoholic, dropped out of high school, dealt drugs…whatever our back story is…whiteness benefits us whites beyond class because of the White Supremacist system. Because of white privilege, we have doors opened for us that might never open for people of color who share our economic class. If we are upper middle class or elite, those cumulative benefits do not disappear when we become Muslim because they made us who we are today. That is part of what having white privilege means. It is what the Knap Sack is about…the fact that our World as We Know It was designed by and for white people, even poor ones. And those designed benefits are a boost propping us up even when we enter the Other category as Muslims. Even as we face prejudice as Muslims from broader non-Muslim and white society, a big sack of white privilege follows us into the Muslim community when we take our Shahadahs. While we face the social downsides of being white converts, of which there are many, we are still boosted by white privilege in other ways.
3. The way individual white Western Muslims interact with The Exotic Other Muslim majority cultures (South Asian, Arab, African, South East Asian, whatever the Other may be) often reeks of white privilege. Sometimes it is so bad, it seems like we are colonial madams and sirs on some safari. White Muslims are frequently in spaces where we are exposed to ‘foreign’ and ‘exotic’ cultures. Our white privilege permeates the way we interact with native Muslims. We get to know these cultures, analyze them, marry into them, pick up cultural habits from our native co-religionists. Still, we so often don’t fully respect these cultures. We refuse to accept that Other people naturally differ from us simply because they are different. We feel that they differ from us because they and their ways are inferior. Often in narratives of the frustrations of dealing with “natives,” be they Sisters at the mosque, in-laws, or other community members, we whites cannot accept that people do things differently from us. The way They raise children is inferior to Our Way. They way They treat punctuality is inferior. They don’t value literacy as much as us. The Other women are manipulative. The Other men tell lies. They are disorganized. They lack critical thinking skills. Whites subconsciously bring in attitudes that White is Right and that Our Way is the Right Way. We have a very hard time accepting that people from other countries and cultures function just fine with the way They do things, different from Us as They may be. We overlook that there may be other factors at work in a situation than manipulation and lies. We are always so ready to criticize the Other. What we don’t see in our criticisms is that we position Their Way against Our (White) Way. With the White Way being the dominant Way in the global scheme of things, we perpetuate white supremacy. Our way of raising children (which is supported by Our globally dominant books and Our websites and Our family ways) is better than Theirs. Here is a thought: Our way works for Us, it is better for Us and Their Way works for Them. Let it be. And it is natural that if we are white and live in the spaces of communities of color, we will have people of color criticize our ways (say of something we do with our children…like I have been chastised by neighbors or in-laws for encouraging my toddler to feed herself when They hand feed children the same age as my toddler. I know very well that these personal criticisms sting!). But it is okay for us to keep our culture without putting down the culture of the Other. Isn’t that what true tolerance is about? It is important to resist getting stuck in the rut of constantly criticizing the Other because our white culture is dominant and privileged above their non-white cultures. In the end, we have the upper hand in that game because in the big picture White is Right.
4. We whites have tendencies to blame all of people’s faults on their culture and race, not on individuals, despite the fact that we claim to be colorblind and to see everyone as unique individuals. It is more like this: We see Ourselves and other whites as unique individuals, but we see native Muslims as part of Their cultures and blame any contentions we have with them on cultural deficits. This is a very deep issue with white privilege. It is something I struggle with myself as I live among people of color surrounded by people of several foreign cultures. But I have seen white Muslims descend into very racist thinking when coming into cultural conflict, even referring to all of the women in their husband of color’s culture as “manipulative bitches” and so forth. If that isn’t racist, then I don’t know what is.
5. We are still white and we still have white privilege after our Shahadah. This should be obvious, but many white Muslims seem to be delusional about this. Despite the fact that we become Other and separate from our mainstream white Western society, and that we can face severe discrimination, even threat of physical attack for being Muslims. We are STILL white. Even though when we wear hijab people do not “read us” as white, and mistake us for people of color. Strangers do treat us as people of color. Meaning non-Muslim strangers sometimes treat us badly. But with people who know us, being white is still a major factor in our interactions with others, just as it is for all whites, because of white privilege. As I say above, this impacts the way we interact with non-white native Muslims and converts of color. So we may become pariahs in larger white society. But we have our white speshul status among Muslims. It doesn’t matter if people of color say to you “You don’t act white,” “I never think of you as white,” “You are an honorary Arab,” “You are practically a Pakistani,” “You sound just like a Nigerian,” or whatever. We are still white.
6. White Muslims are just as bad as non-Muslim whites in both denying that we are white and down playing white privilege. We use the same tactics. All of my friends, my husband, and my children are people of color. I am Irish/Jewish/Italian so I faced prejudice before Islam, so I have less white privilege. I grew up poor in America so I am not really white. (This one is really bad because it aligns American people of color with poverty, and you can just guess which people the white Americans who say this have in mind when they create this alignment) There is no such thing as “white,” I hate labels, I don’t see race. It is The Muslims who make the Muslim community so racist. Immigrant Muslims are so racist, We are colorblind, and They are the racists. We basically fall back on the same lame excuses and deflections of white privilege that mainstream non-Muslim whites do when these discussions arise. Word for word.
7. Yes, I know a lot of native Muslims, either in Muslim countries or immigrant Muslims, are very openly racist. They are not politically correct. Whatever group it is, they think they are better than other groups and they often make comments about other groups as if their opinions were fact. They are shocked and think you are crazy if you point out their racism because they view their racist opinions as fact. “But such and such group IS miserly!” “But they really ARE dirty!” and so forth. Their home countries did not have a civil rights movement or a political correctness movement that altered the way that people talked publically about race, and it shows very often in the comments they make. In the American context, they also tend to filter, concentrate and repeat racist ideas that are part of American racism, such as dislike and fear of black Americans, thinking of Latinos as low class, etc. (and non-Americans get these stereotypes of Americans of color from the globally dominant American pop-culture) This is terrible, too, and very worth addressing. We as white Muslims enter these communities and become privy to these kinds of racist discussions. Well, it leads back to basic anti-racist principles: People of color do say racist things and are indeed prejudiced. But systematic, institutional, power bearing structured racism is White like Us. Though the native Muslim racism does have implications in immigrant mosques, and abroad very deeply in Muslim majority countries, the most powerful face of racism is still white. So it is simply more dangerous for whites to be racist. Not to mention that whatever racist hierarchies persist in the Muslim countries, or within immigrant communities whites are still on the top of the heap. When whites are in these spaces of people of color and hear the open racism spewed about, while in polite white Western society racism is very present but not so direct, whites tend to feel smug and superior to these Muslims because whites think “We are not the racists, They are so very racist.” I will reiterate that our communities in the Ummah have a lot of work to do on racism in general. But white Westerners are not better than them just because we generally use more politically correct language. And any white readers know that in the privacy of white spaces, anti-Jewish, anti-black, anti-Chinese, etc. racist stuff has been said overtly in front of us before at some point in our lives, too. So maybe whites are politically correct in polite company more than some immigrant Muslims of color, but privately white people can often sound the same as if there were no such thing as political correctness invented as a concept. Another observation is that I have seen white Muslim converts intermarried with men of color who pick up an repeat some of the same prejudices that they get from their adopted communities. Where I live there is a hierarchy in which Arabs are above South Asians, and some white women married to Arabs feel superior to white women married to South Asians, for example. Or a white woman married to a Lebanese starts to dislike Egyptians because she hears Lebanese people talking crap about Egyptians. I have seen this. This is really sad because it means that despite being raised to be politically correct in polite society, we seem to pick up these racist habits without even recognizing it.
8. We can fall back on being white in times when being a visible Muslim is a threat. We can take off our hijabs and just go back to being white. I know a lot of Sisters who do this when they go home from a Muslim country to visit their families. It is too much of a struggle to face the world being “read” as a person of color, so we take the easy way out and remove our hijabs in our home countries. Now, a person of color can remove her hijab, too and she won’t be hated as a visible practicing Muslim anymore. But she will still face all of the other discrimination that is directed at whatever community of color to which she belongs. When we whites take off our hijabs, we blend right back into whiteness and get our knap sacks back on fully loaded as if their weight had never been slightly lessened by being a visible Muslim. That is a huge privilege. And I KNOW that most of us would not do that because of what hijab means to us and our faith…but since it theoretically could happen, the whole issue is laced with white privilege. That is irksome to Muslims of color who are conscious of issues of white privilege.