Note: When I opened my inbox this morning there was an email from my beloved daughter. She had some things to get off of her chest. Sometimes parenting can be hard and you just want to stop – you literally get tired of it, but it doesn’t go away. So I opened and read and it turned out to be quite a mind blowing experience on paper. We spoke this morning and I asked permission to share because this speaks to and about us as a people and as humans as only someone who has experienced it can tell it. So without further ado – CG….(this has been edited to take out names and some personal information).
This past weekend a nerve was struck with me when I was told I have self hatred issues. I was mentioning how you always talk about me getting the “Black Muslim American experience” and she pretty much agreed with everything you said. In all honesty I’ve dealt with race issues my whole life and I was actually really upset when she said this. The whole conversation started when I mentioned that it took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I am Black. She was really confused by this saying what I’ve heard from other Black people before “But you look like a Black girl.” I’m aware that I do because there’s no exact definition for what a Black person looks like since we come in many different shades and colors from all over the world. Sadly, growing up pretty much everyone I ever encountered, including other black people could just never grasp the fact that I was Black. I honestly never had these issues until I got to middle school. I was at dance team tryouts and a girl came up to me and seriously asked “What you is?” I had no idea what she was talking about and replied “A girl.” It was then that I realized while I knew I was Black, my appearance wasn’t necessarily what many African Americans would consider “Black looking”. I was always told “Oh no you have to be mixed!” “Ok so you’re Black……and what else?” and other things like that. Whenever I would put my foot down and honestly told people that I wasn’t mixed I’m just black they would always act like they were disappointed or that I was in denial about who I really was. I’ll never forget when I was standing in the lunch line in 6th grade and this girl came into the cafeteria and shouted “It’s too many Black people in here!” She then saw me and added on “And Mexicans!” To this day some of my BEST friends still ask me what my race is despite knowing very well who my parents are and having known me for many years. I even have a BEST friend who has told me “I don’t like calling you a Black girl, its better saying mixed.” Growing up I became very confused about my identity and honestly I didn’t want to be Black anymore. I felt as though because I could “pass” as so many different ethnicities I should have the right to choose which one I wanted to be. I laugh at it now but perhaps THEN was when I was actually dealing with self hatred issues. I always used to talk about wishing I had a culture; Wishing that I had a country to go back to, music, traditional dress, traditional food, etc. I wanted to belong to something, to some people, that not only looked like me but accepted me for who I am. Being raised within the Nation only further confused my racial identity. What nobody could ever understand was that it was really hard for me to go through not being accepted as Black by most people but then having Black pride and nationalism shoved down my throat at home. It got to the point where I wasn’t only deemed not Black because of my appearance but also because of my “proper behavior”. Therefore, I sadly allowed myself to give into accepting the stereotype of how Black people acted “ghetto, poor, ill mannered, loud, angry, violent, etc” and because I didn’t associate myself with any of those traits I didn’t want to associate myself with being Black. I know better now, but at the time these feelings caused me great inner turmoil and probably what you could consider self hatred. I’m going to fast forward to me taking shahadah and practicing Islam today. In the beginning of me practicing, yes I did still face some racial issues especially when I started wearing my scarf. “What are you?” Instantly turned into “Where are you from?” Instead of defending my race to people now I find myself always defending my country of origin which then leads to me defending my race. It’s the same scenario every time. “So where are you from?” Here. “Then where are your parents from?” Here. “Well then what about your grandparents?” Still here…I’m just a Muslim that happens to Black and American.” End conversation. Once I studied Islam more I learned that Allah(swt) created all of us perfectly and a certain way for a reason. If I walked around being ashamed of who I am and lying about my heritage then I’d be ashamed of the way Allah’s(swt) made me. He gave me this skin, this hair, these eyes, this nose, this shape etc, because that’s what He wants me to have. At this point in my life I honestly don’t feel like I should be defined by my race. I’m perfectly fine with just being a Muslim. God judges me based on my actions and intentions not by how Black I am. As a Muslim I believe that on the Day of Judgment when our lives are presented to us it’s not going to matter for anybody what race they are, what country they come from, what their last name is, your good and bad deeds are what’s being accounted for. ‘O mankind! We have created you from a single male and female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other. The most honorable of you in the sight of Allah are surety the righteous.” [The Holy Qur'an, Chapter 49 (Al-Hujurat) : Verse 13] and The Prophet said: ’Indeed my friends and allies are not the tribe of so and so. Rather, my friends and allies are the pious wherever they may be.’This is not to say that I deny being Black at all. I also mentioned that sometimes I tell people yea I’m Black racially but culturally I sometimes identify with lots of things like Pakistani, Arab etc. Here’s where I’ve learned something new about myself with the help of her. She was quick to say that “No you’re not Pakistani or Arab and you are Black culture.” At first I was taken aback by this because sadly I honestly still held onto the many stereotypes of what “Black culture” really is. Instantly I told her that Black people have no culture. We used to but as slaves we were stripped of it. Fried chicken and Kwanzaa to me are not “Black culture.” I was still looking for holidays and music and tradition etc but I now realize that none of those things are solely what define a “culture” She helped me realize that culture is in fact a broad term and that in MY Black experience, eating Indian/Pakistani food, watching Martin and Tyler Perry movies, listening to Isaac Hayes never can say goodbye, are all parts of my “Black cultural experience”. This is a snippet from an article I read that sums up how I feel right now:
What does it mean to be black?
At first, I believed in the stereotypical norms of being black, becoming painfully aware that they did not reflect my reality in the slightest.
Later, as I let go of society’s collective opinion about what it means to be black, I began to think being black only meant having a solid grasp of history and collective responsibility to the community. While I like that answer the most, it is not entirely true – there are many blacks who are willfully ignorant of their history, or devoid of a sense of collective responsibility. In the eyes of society, that does not make them any less black. So scratch that theory.
Then, I thought being black was an immutable given, as determined by your ethnic background – but that answer falls short on so many different levels.
I would like to say that being black is simply to claim blackness, but that is not quite true either. Does being black refer to specific hardships? Specific actions? Maintaining a certain kind of hairstyle? Being able to freestyle on command? Making sure your Melanin Quotient (MQ) stays in the high 90s?
What makes blackness so hard to define is that it implies there is a specific black experience that can be used as a reference. However, there is no specific black experience – there are many different stories that may overlap and interweave, but no definitive black experience.
No one is issued a “how to be black” handbook at birth – and I am sure if we were, half of us would spend our time rebelling against the guidelines in the book.
So, what is blackness?
I’m not sure there will ever be an answer to that question.
Anyways in conclusion, please stop pressing me about the “Black Muslim American experience” and let me live my Black Muslim American Experience. I’m Black and proud and while I don’t necessarily shout it loud I am willing to let people know lol. As of today I am a proud Muslim Black American young woman who enjoys experiencing other cultures but never denying my own and is just trying to make it through my freshman year of college. I love you, I appreciate you and Papa Reggie and all that you guys do and I love my biological dad and his crazy family for who they are and your crazy family for who they are. For now I’m just going to stick with my “cousins” as you and Papa Reggie like to call them and continue being me.