We Object to Performative, Anti-Black Misuses of the Terms “Intersectionality” and “White Feminism” in the Non-Black Muslim Community

by Inas Hyatt and TFF

Non-black Muslims often (mis)appropriate the terms “intersectionality” and “white feminism” to the detriment of black Muslim women. This appropriation ranges from coopting the theory of intersectionality to defend Muslim men who threaten or deflect from Muslim women accusing them of assault, to sidetracking from the migrant slave trade by introducing the subject of western imperialism (or white feminism) in Arab nations.

Most recently, non-black Muslims have appallingly claimed that the Libyan slave trade cannot be criticized without including discussions about western imperialism—a call only black victims positioned in the crossfire are equipped to make—employing the very language of black feminists against black feminists and in order to detract from black issues.

Non-black Muslims who assert that excluding critiques of colonialism against the Libyan slave trade would be “imperialist” or “white feminist” coopt the theory of white feminism in order to excuse anti-black racism in the Muslim community. How are non-black Muslims equipped to deem themselves as free of responsibility in anti-blackness, much less do so using black feminist scholarship?

Black women, who coined the term white feminism and introduced explorations of its patterns, routinely and paradoxically confront accusations from men of color that their fight for women’s rights is sourced from white women.

As @delafro_ aptly tweeted, “The whole ‘black women got feminism from white women’ bullshit is a great way to your ass beat by me. I don’t play that shit. You will not credit white women for black women’s intellectual work. I will make you eat your words.”

Yet somehow, even while borrowing liberally from black feminist theory, non-black Muslims continue to reproduce the very conditions against which black feminist theories contend.

Intersectionality Doesn’t Mean Deflecting from Black Issues to Uphold Your Intersections

When anti-blackness in Arab nations results in the enslavement and sale of migrant workers in Libya, non-black Muslims deflect from anti-blackness in Arab nations to the international events that destabilized Libya. To avoid responsibility, it is popular to cite the overthrow of Gaddafi—a known serial rapist who enslaved girls in macabre rape chambers—as underwriting the migrant slave trade.

“The same Gaddafi who devastatingly contributed to the Ugandan-Tanzanian war, supported Mengistu and literally tried to annex part of Chad is being re-written as a protector of African peoples? Lemme sit this one out for the sake of my blood pressure,” tweets Momtaza Mehri. “Framing recent events in Libya as post-revolution crises is beyond disingenuous. During the revolution itself Africans from Somali migrant workers to Tuareg tribes were being rounded up and accused of being mercenaries.”

The poet continues, “I vividly remember Somali websites interviewing migrant workers who were afraid to leave their homes for fear of being hunted down in newly ‘liberated’ areas. This isn’t news to many of us. Italian government been striking deals with Libyan war criminals in the promise that they will ‘aggressively’ stem the flow of migrants. Turning ships back or kidnapping those on board. They don’t care as long as they don’t reach Italy.”

This reflex to hold imperialism accountable at the expense of centering the issue of Arab anti-blackness is, enragingly enough, poorly attributed by non-black Muslims as falsely in the interest of intersectionality, as theorized by Kimberlé Crenshaw.

In the words of Keji Daodu, “Arab racism and anti blackness was flourishing before any western imperialism. Bringing it up is just deflection.” The same non-black Muslims who were initially purporting that “MuslimLivesMatter” (which in itself fails to acknowledge black Muslims) are once again coopting intersectionality to alleviate themselves of accountability.

Deflecting to western imperialism when discussing the Libyan slave trade is just “[non-black] Muslim lives matter” in different words.

Anti-Blackness Through the Exclusion of Black Women

A few months ago, a video circulated on the Internet of a light-skinned woman praying while donning a bikini on the beach. The woman’s race was ambiguous, but the popular position of Muslim men on the matter was not: the woman was not only wrong and in need of correcting, but she was to be belittled for her perceived “immodesty” with a sexist contempt toward feminine “frivolity”—instead of a credible one toward cultural appropriation.

But in a small group dedicated specifically for women of color, one of our writers, Inas, was suspicious of the nature of the criticisms aimed at the woman by non-black women of color in the group. The woman’s race and ethnicity had never been confirmed. There was no approximation of her racial identity. There was the question of why she was being recorded and mocked. But instead of focusing on cultural appropriation, most of the non-black women were adopting the angle of modesty without considering that the yardstick used for appropriate hijab was anti-black.

It was not enough, of course, that the woman was evidently filmed without her knowledge and the video circulated to deride her. Few pointed out that it could be commendable that she was in a bikini on the beach and in the mindset to pray in a busy and crowded space. Muslim men were slut-shaming the woman rather than bringing to light that if it had been a brown and/or a black woman, her harassment wouldn’t have merely stopped at a viral video—she could have been physically attacked or even killed by onlookers.

The criticism directed at the woman was instead about Islamic respectability politics, which consistently races against the perception of black Muslims to exclude them. It was part of Arabs and Desis feeling as though they “own” Islam as part of their culture. This outlook always extends to employing intersectionality against black women, who are not seen as part of Islamic cultures/community.

Arabs and Desi Muslims need to stop with their we-own-Islam. The attitude is supremely selective of the things that anger Arab and Desi Muslims. And it’s hollow when they never come and support black Muslims.

In response to calls to be inclusive of women falling outside of mainstream, colonialist parameters of modesty were retorts of, “Sure, let’s all pray at the masjid with our tits and vaginas out.” (The woman praying in a bikini, just as a reminder, was at the beach, where onlookers would except to see women in swimsuits.) They didn’t recognize that their language was duplicating sexist ideas of modesty. Asking to critique ideas of modesty in the group were met with accusations of white feminism. How is asking to mind whether critiques were exclusionary of BIWoC white feminism, when white feminism is non-intersectional?

“I need non-Black people to stop using our words unless it is needed,” as Dr. Chandra tweets. “Stop stop stop. It is grating. Like don’t say something is on point. Don’t say yaaaaas. Don’t refer to everything as intersectional. Stop it.  You don’t sound cool. We are not a cool thing you put on.” She continues, responding to an inquiry, “It’s Black women theorized based on Black women’s experiences and so people should be conscientious about not including Black women when they use it.”

The argument that we need to critique ideas of modesty, modesty that was brought about by colonization, is not white feminist. It is appropriation of black feminist terminology to leave out black women from Muslim communities, who are never seen as part of the Muslim community.

Responses to “why can’t we focus on her cultural appropriation rather than slut-shaming her?” were met with a “because she’s a white woman!” from non-black, Arab and Desi people of color—resulting in critiquing whiteness in explicitly anti-black ways.

When non-black Muslims apply the theories that black women have constructed for black communities to non-black Muslim men who perpetuate an “ownership” of Islam, it’s at the exclusion of black culture, and is at its core astoundingly anti-black and an appropriation of black feminism. It silences the arguments of BIWoC in the name of protecting non-black Muslim men.

Non-Black Muslims Appropriate Black Feminism to Uphold Patriarchy

As Zoha Batool Khan stated in the thread regarding the woman praying in her bikini, “You’re trying to palm off your internalized misogyny as a critique of white supremacy. You’re just policing Muslim women. If you had lashed out at this saying white women can get away with this but people of color can’t, because they’re sexualized so much as women of color, I would have still been willing to listen. Your whole argument is based off the assumption that women-of-color would just never do this, a blanket statement that many women of color in this very thread are countering, which is internalized benevolent sexism, the idea that they’re ‘too good’ or ‘too smart’ to fall outside your ideas of correctness and respectability. You’re deliberately stripping fellow women of color of autonomy and reinforcing men of color’s inaccurate interpretations of modesty and ~muslim-ness~ for them onto women of color, under the guise of laughing at a white woman.”

Men of color consistently sacrifice BIWoC when pretending to talk about about “white women” (or, in the case of aforementioned video, women they at least perceive as white). They criticize white women only when the “offending action” also applies to BIWoC, like praying in bikinis or …period art. Men of color seem to never critique white femininity when it’s baking cookies for the police; why would they, when it means they can’t take BIWoC down with white women?

Ever since black feminists coined the term “white feminism” for black communities, non-black people of color have opportunely been using it as a thinly veiled attempt to be misogynistic against women of color, and non-black women of color have been using it explicitly to undo the work of black women every time they mischaracterize it in order to silence theories of BIWoC.

We have no time for this particular brand of bullshit. Applying the theories that black women have constructed for black communities to non-black Muslim men who perpetuate an “ownership” of Islam at the exclusion of black people, is at its core astoundingly anti-black, and an appropriation of black feminism.

Non-Black Muslims Disguise “Divisive” as “Dichotomized”

Non-black Muslim women reproduce a sex/race opposition, one incompatible with the lived experiences of women of color, by mischaracterizing the work of women of color who center experiences of BIWoC rather than men of color as “white feminist”—the very term coined by black feminists to describe this exact dismissal of intersectionality in favor of dichotomized perspectives.

In her groundbreaking article, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex, Kimberlé Crenshaw references the legislative history in a court case that failed to account for the experiences of black women as unique experiences in their own right, describing that the court had “apparently concluded that Congress either did not contemplate that Black women could be discriminated against as ‘Black women’ or did not intend to protect them when such discrimination occurred. The court’s refusal in DeGraffenreid to acknowledge that Black women encounter combined race and sex discrimination implies that the boundaries of sex and race discrimination doctrine are defined respectively by white women’s and Black men’s experiences. Under this view, Black women are protected only to the extent that their experiences coincide with those of either of the two groups.’”

Intersectionality is a theory of oppression. By refusing to acknowledge that non-black Muslim men are in fact not at the intersections of race and sex, non-black Muslim women deliberately choose to misunderstand intersectionality in its entirety. Treating black, indigenous, and/or Muslim women of color as white colonizers or associating them with whiteness implicitly enforces a separation between sex and race. This pattern of association is due to a misappropriation and blatant misunderstanding of intersectionality by non-black people of color to privilege the experiences of men as somehow qualified to discern the experiences of women of color, and at the cost of dismissing the intellectual work black women.

It is especially telling these these sentiments about white feminism arose in response to an article dealing specifically with Muslim men’s lack of knowledge in how to navigate the issue of sexual assault, and one that relied heavily on bell hooks. In the interests of protecting non-black men, the age-old patriarchal arguments that women of color are being divisive were dressed up to be disguised as the application of intersectionality against sex/race dichotomies in response.

Non-black Muslim women who practice anti-blackness rebrand “you’re being divisive” as “you are dichotomizing sex and race” to disguise misogyny as intersectionality. They celebrate the achievements of men of color while characterizing women of color who celebrate achievements of white women as celebrators of white supremacy.

The work of black women cannot be used to give passes to non-black men of color, particularly when this gross misapplication of intersectionality is to the detriment of black women and used instead to further the point that Muslim men of color should be exempt from criticism through a malicious misuse of black feminist theory.

Stop Misusing the Images and Voices of Black Women to the Benefit the Non-Black Muslim Community

Non-black Muslims consistently use black images, voices, and cultures in order to prop themselves up, sometimes under the façade of “allyship.” In an incredulous thread, Mona Haydar tweeted, “The flag of Muhammad, messenger and beloved of The Divine was Black. For the Muslims out there who are engaged in racism, colorism etc—know that YOUR rasūl loved blackness, honored and esteemed it in the faces of those who did not. Even those in his own family.”

It’s bad enough when non-black Muslims tokenize Bilal; concluding that the Prophet had love for black people due to the color of his flag is beyond dehumanizing. But it all falls into character of what non-black Muslims do. As @atribecalledmoe put it, “The only time Muslims know Bilal (RA) is when they need to deflect or derail a conversation directly addressing their country’s anti-blackness/racism. I’m sick of people using his name as a distraction.”

Between these disingenuous gestures to alluding to the black experience (“you can’t take down the master’s house with the master’s tools”) in order liberate non-black Muslims, nothing is done about those actual experiences, from appropriation to slavery. Instead, all our non-black “religious leaders” care about is glorifying the Arab slave trade to differentiate it from chattel slavery. The reality of the Libyan slave market is why they’re self-absorbed, dangerous, and wrong.

“How can you talk about the Libyan slave trade without discussing western imperialism and the invasion of Libya?” non-black Muslims ask, holding black feminists hostage through a misappropriation of Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work.

“Have you heard of intersectionality?” is a popular mantra for Desi and Arab women when they want you to go easy on non-black Muslim men—they do this as though bell hooks hadn’t dedicated entire books to critiquing the prioritization of oppressions that affect men—the very same men who are anti-black in turn. It is, subsequently, an anti-black mantra in this usage, hollow, entitled, and, in its essence, extremely performative.

The purpose of asking anyone if she has heard of intersectionality should be to curb her anti-blackness, not to use intersectionality as a prop to hold up non-black Muslim men and boast the speaker’s poor familiarity with black feminist theory. If you have to point a BIWoC in the direction of intersectionality when she is centering BIWoC, you don’t understand it.

In other words, leave the work of black women TO THE USE OF black women. Black women have worked hard. Non-black, anti-black Muslim communities cannot adopt the struggle of black women as a means to advance non-black, anti-black agendas.

Inas Hyatt is a femme anti-black-muslim activist. A bay native, she loves spending her time enjoying slam poetry and writing a little on the side. She is over anti-blackness in the muslim community and has no time for fake ass wanna be black muslim bros who feel comfortable using the n-word but have a deep fear and hate of black people.

Guest Post: Culture, nationalism, and the myth of a monolithic Islam

Does our last guest writer even need an introduction? Metis, wife, mother, academic, and a writer on topics related to religion and feminism, is the badass behind MusFem, where feminism is spoken fluently–and the gridlocks of conventional wisdom is challenged. Under different names, Metis has always been a subversive voice of uncompromising reason and astounding patience. Please welcome Metis and her exploration of religion and national identity–as well as her contention as to whom it truly concerns.

It has taken my neighbour’s six-year-old daughter nearly a year to vaguely understand the difference between religion and nationality. Every time her mother tried to take her to church because ‘good Christian children attend church’ she would promptly declare that she was “American, not Christian!”

Most immigrant or expatriate families who live away from home tend to focus more on their “own traditions” which manifests itself either in the form of people interacting closely with their national community or in the form of strict adherence to religious traditions. It appears to me that in my neighbour’s case the focus of the family has been more on their American identity in a foreign country. This made me realise that Quran never refers to ‘nationality’ as we know it today. There are references to ‘peoples’ (49:13) and ‘tribes’ (7:160) like the ‘Children of Israel’ (10:90) and ‘Pharaoh’s People’ (43:51) and the ‘Quraish’ (106:1), for example, because people were known to exist as tribes with their personal beliefs becoming ‘Jews, and Sabaeans, and Christians’ (5:69). Bible doesn’t refer to nationalities either. Yet, in the modern world there are constant references to Islam as it started in the 7th Century Arabia versus the modern idea of nations and nationalities. Muslims are repeatedly reminded that a thousand and four hundred years later Islam is a sum total of the verse 12 of chapter 8 of the Quran, while the ‘West’ is ‘democratic’, ‘free’, and ‘just.’ Muslims who migrated to the ‘West’ (sometimes two generations ago) have, like any other immigrant/expat community, tried to remain faithful to their traditions – in this case their Muslim traditions. For that they have been blamed for “bringing that desert stuff into our world.” Constant references are made to ‘the West and Islam’ or ‘America and Islam’ as if these are mutually exclusive entities, and Muslims are regularly asked if they can be “British and Muslim”, and taught how to exist as hyphenated identities: American-Muslim. We vaguely understand what is meant by ‘West’ and we are fairly sure about what we mean when we refer to America or Britain or France. But what do we mean by ‘Islam’? What is ‘Islam’?

In 2001, the then President of the US, George Bush said, “The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself.” Thirteen years later, the famous Muslim scholar and writer, Reza Aslan said in reference to ISIS (2:13) that “if a member of ISIS said I’m chopping off the infidels heads because I’m a Muslim and Islam tells me to do so, you’ve got to take his word for it; he’s a Muslim and that’s his interpretation of Islam.” One cannot help but notice the difference between the two men’s understanding of ‘Islam.’ For Bush Islam is a monolithic bloc that is black and white – peaceful Muslims practiced the ‘true Islam’ while the terrorist Muslims hijacked Islam and were “traitors to their own faith.” At least that is what he said. Aslan, on the other hand, acknowledges that everyone has their own interpretation of Islam; in effect, every Muslim’s Islam is their personal understanding of the faith and hence those who are terrorists are also Muslim, not “traitors to their own faith.” Bill Maher infamously condemns all Muslims as following one type of Islam, while Aslan and Jebreal try to argue that there is no one type of Islam.

Apparently there are 73 sects within ‘Islam.’ Whether one believes this number as true or not, it is true that most Muslims identify themselves as belonging to a branch of Islam and even within a particular branch there are diversities in beliefs and practices. There are also ‘cultural Muslims’ (aka secular Muslims) like Jebreal (who told Maher that she is a secular Muslim) or Mandvi who recently acknowledged that “Religion is so much more than the god you pray to. The religion that you associate with, it’s culture, it is family, it is background… culturally, yes, I feel like I will always be culturally Muslim.”

Very recently a radio programme focused on the history of Islam in America the introduction of which made a valuable observation that “Islam has some 1.6 billion followers practicing a wide array of religious traditions and speaking hundreds of different languages. And yet, even as more and more Americans convert to the faith and foreigners emigrate to the U.S. from all over the Islamic world, Muslims are still often caricatured in the American imagination.”

This ugly caricature of the American imagination has to stop but first we must also realise that an ‘American’ does not automatically mean a Maher-version of white, non-Muslim, ill-informed citizen of the US. What is an ‘American imagination’ about Muslims if an American also happens to be Muslim? Inadvertently the programme’s introduction is making the same dangerous mistake of stereotyping, and alienating Muslims from America, which it is accusing ‘Americans’ of doing. An American can be a Muslim. They can be white, brown or black. An American Muslim can be a Sufi or Salafi or Progressive or Quranist or Shiite or even just a cultural Muslim.

To understand if people have, even a vague, universal definition of Islam I asked Muslims and non-Muslims to give me their definition of Islam. Twenty seven people kindly shared their definition – each one different from the other. Interestingly only one Muslim made a reference to the Prophet Muhammad while four non-Muslims referred to him as essential to the Muslim faith. Muslims generally focused on the worship of One God and most further defined their identity for example as ‘Ritualistic spiritual muslim’ (sic) or ‘Spiritual Muslim’ or ‘Sufi Muslim’ and even ‘Quranist.’ Furthermore, while non-Muslims were inclined to offer a text-book definition of Islam highlighting the mechanics like “organized religion”, Prophet, Quran, “rituals” and “rules”, Muslims focused more on their “relationship” with God, as Islam being a “security blanket”, and adopting “a Way of Life.” Clearly Muslims understand Islam personally and individually rather than as a standard definition and they acknowledge that their belief system can be further identified as a particular type of Islam.

Where am I leading with this? I argue that while we all know in our hearts that Islam is not monolithic and that there is no ‘true Islam’, non-Muslims and sometimes even Muslims like to pretend otherwise. This insistence that we have “our own traditions and everything else is wrong” (as if there are standard sets of Muslim traditions) satisfies the ego of Muslims who want to broadcast their version of Islam as the only legitimate version – the true Islam. Recently when Huffington Post Religion posted this article on their Facebook Page on how Shiite Muslims observe Ashura, Sunni Muslims were quick to point out to the world that “This is deceiving”, “This has nothing to do with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad”, “This is not the true Islam; This is very real diversion”, and even that “This is not an Islamic practice it is made up and weird” (sic). Yet, if you ask the small community of Shiite Muslims who observe Ashura through bloodletting, the physical ‘abuse’ is neither deceiving nor weird; it is all about the “universality of the experience”, a universality that is confined to the minority community that celebrates its spirituality in a unique manner. Reiterating what Aslan said, “that’s their interpretation of Islam” and we must take their word for it with tolerance and acceptance of diversity.

No one has perhaps said it better than Dr. Laury Silvers that “There is no core “Islam,” there is only diverse Muslim identities constructed in a multitude of ways.” So which one particular Muslim identity is the only legitimate one that non-Muslims and Muslims alike can refer to when discussing ‘Islam’, a religion of over a billion diverse people?

That is a billion American dollar question.

Guest Post: Qur’anic Revisionism Revised

I’m brimming with excitement in introducing our fourth guest writer, Jessica. A doctoral candidate in theology who is specializing in the history of Islam’s interactions with other religions, Jessica’s approach to research and history is nothing short of refreshing–and thorough. She routinely debunks commonly held misperceptions, including the idea that history becomes more progressive as it progresses. In this guest post, Jessica explores the working biases that have come into effect when non-Muslims attempt to research the Qur’an and its origin, including the privileging of non-Muslim sources and methods of analysis & criticism.

Hi all!  My name is Jessica, and I’m the author of askanislamicist.  Nahida very sweetly asked me to write a guest post for her.  I’m a researcher in Islamic studies, finishing up a PhD at Oxford.  My research focuses predominantly on the theological interactions between Christianity and Islam in the seventh, eighth and ninth centuries, although blogging has increased my interest in the modern history of the field of Islamic studies and how that impacts our work as researchers.

I’m currently in the (slightly soul-crushing) process of final revisions on my thesis, and have been rereading a lot of material about the Qur’an and modern scholarship on the Qur’an, so when Nahida approached me, I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about how the modern history of the field of Islamic studies can affect the research itself, specifically looking at the example of modern theories on the dating and origins of the Qur’an.

The Muslim tradition holds that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad (peace be upon him) over a period of about twenty years, from circa 610 to his death in 632.  Passages of the Qur’an were transmitted orally for the first few decades; the first attempt at a written version was under the first caliph Abu Bakr (s’lm), but the complete version wasn’t assembled until the caliphate of Uthman (s’lm) around 650.  This version was transmitted during the Islamic expansion to what became the Muslim lands – North Africa, the Middle East, and Mesopotamia.

Western scholarship on the Qur’an took a long time to be anything more than polemical – many works accepted elements of the Muslim account of the work’s composition, but also routinely referred to Muhammad (s’lm) as the Antichrist and a demon, so it’s hard to claim they had much by way of a critical analysis.  It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that Western scholars started to study the text critically.  The earliest Western Quranic scholars were largely Semeticists, people who studied Syriac and Hebrew, as well, such as Theodor Noldeke, who attempted to apply the methodology of Biblical criticism to the Quran, studying sentence structure, word choice, and repeated phrases in an attempt to put the suras in order, assuming that those written at the same time would have a similar topic, tone, and structure.

The theory was flawed both methodologically and philosophically – methodologically because the Qur’an was potentially written over a period of decades to the Hebrew Bible’s[1] centuries, leaving much less time for language evolution, and philosophically because Biblical criticism had been developed to cope with the lack of sources contemporary to the Hebrew Bible, so the internal focus of comparing books of the Bible to other books of the Bible was really the only option.  There are, however, a wide range of sources referencing Islam from the seventh century, and although in the nineteenth century there were few Arabic sources known, there were sources in Greek and Syriac that referenced the rise of Islam, as a Semeticist like Noldeke should have known.  However, Noldeke’s dating, which largely accepted the Muslim account (minus Muhammad’s (s’lm) prophetic office), remained the implicit assumption of Western Quranic scholars for another century.

In the last forty years, however, a number of scholars have offered new datings on the Qu’ran.  These new works, called collectively “the revisionists,” all center on the assumption that the Muslim account cannot be accepted as being biased, because, you know, religion and stuff.  The first, and probably most well-known, revisionist history is Hagarism by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, which theorized that Islam started out as a variant Jewish cult, and that the Qur’an, as it exists today, was not created until what was then the earliest extant manuscript evidence for it, a century later[2].  Crone and Cook argued that there was no reason to accept the Muslim account a priori, as lacking sufficient archeological evidence to support it, and reached instead for Jewish Messianism, of which, while there are certainly examples throughout the Near East, there were very few examples in Arabia in the seventh century.

Since the publication of Hagarism, there have been a number of alternate arguments that similarly start from the assumption that we cannot accept the Muslim account.  John Wansbrough, who is routinely cited for having coined the concept of a “milieu,” a culture context used for dating texts, also published a work arguing for the Qur’an as dating from after the Abbasid revolution in 750, claiming it was a form of state-building by the Abbasids.  Gunter Luling, also writing in the1970s, expanded Noldeke’s work to argue for four strands to the Qur’an, the earliest being the liturgy of non-Trinitarian Christians in Mecca.  And Yehuda Nevo, whose work was published posthumously by colleague Judith Koren, argued for dismissing all textual evidence, as being too easily corruptible, and relying exclusively on inscriptions and archaeological evidence, and again claiming a Jewish root for Islam, based on Islam’s use of Biblical prophets in its inscribed messages.

This range of theses have also infected public knowledge about the Qur’an to various degrees, fueling a belief that the Qur’an is essentially impossible to study.  Resistance to the revisionist movement by Muslims has also fueled a belief that Muslims are somehow against the study of their religion.  However, as some Western scholars, including Gabriel Said Reynolds and Fred Donner, have started to argue, this revisionism is itself as essentially flawed as the quasi-Biblical approach it sought to replace.

Firstly, Qur’anic revisionism is often itself a-historical.  It’s perfectly reasonable to want to compare Islam to its Abrahamic neighbors, as many of the revisionists do, but it should be done in a source-relevant way.  Luling, for example, reaches back to obscure 3rd century Jewish and Christian apocalypses for his narrative imagery, without any account of how these works would have been transmitted to Arabia (or in what language).  Crone and Cook and Nevo and Koren both reference Jewish cults in Arabia, and Luling theorizes Jewish-Christian and non-Trinitarian Christian Arabians, all without reference to the wide range of actual Jewish and Christian sources from the seventh century.  We have letters, sermons, books of heresy, teaching manuals, and books of canon law, all discussing each and every variety and sect of Christian and Jew, all without any reference to these Arabian cults who make these theories work.

Secondly, revision requires privileging non-Muslim sources, even those written thousands of miles away or centuries later.  Nevo and Koren are maybe the funniest example of this – in the introduction to their work The Origins of the Arab Religion, they lay out, in no uncertain terms, that they intend to use exclusively physical sources (inscriptions and archaeological evidence) because texts can be corrupted, and even uncorrupted, are often written centuries later. And then, on the very next page, they start to lay out the context for the rise of Islam in the seventh century using the accounts of Theophanes the Confessor (9th century), the Annales of Eutychius (10th century), and Nikephorus Gregoras (13th century), all without reference to any contemporary sixth or seventh archaeological or epigraphical evidence to support these later sources, or apparently, any sense of irony.

Thirdly, it’s internally inconsistent.  Luling says use narrative for internal dating.  Nevo and Koren say no texts, never, and then immediately break this rule because you can’t write a history using only inscriptions: no one inscribes a stone with everything that’s happened that year, let alone that decade or century.  This is particularly clear when we’re talking about the religion of pre-Islamic Arabians – were they Jewish?  Jewish Messianists?  Jewish Christians?  Or were there no variant cults at all, as suggested by Gerald Hawting?  Methodology, at its core, is supposed to aid in the study of a field or subject, by suggesting new ways of looking at things or new ways to interpret data in order to create a coherent narrative, but the revisionist theses are all wildly diverse, contradictory between each other, and based on so many assumptions that we can’t do much with them except either accept or reject them wholesale.

And finally, it suggests a universal conspiracy of silence for which we have no evidence.  No matter when you want to date the writing of the Qur’an, if it’s outside of the period of the early community, then at some point, not only did everyone writing about it agree to pretend it was written then, but they also implicitly agreed to never mention that it was changed.  In a caliphate that stretched from Spain to Afghanistan, and had several major sects vying for rule, that kind of conspiracy of silence would be impressive.  But that’s not even considering the non-Muslim sources.  By the early eighth century, we have John of Damascus writing a book of heresies and including a refutation of Islam, John of Ephesus writing canons explicitly telling Christians how to deal with Muslims, and anonymous apocalypses and apologies cropping up in Greek, Syriac, and Coptic, all explaining how evil and awful Islam is.  Surely if the Muslims had just started circulating a holy book a few years earlier AND were running around claiming it was a hundred years old, someone would have said something.  Someone would have written something in a language the Muslims couldn’t understand.  No conspiracy is that effective.  And yet there is no evidence for this at all.  Christian authors claim Muhammad (s’lm) is a demon, and that Muslims are really worshipping Aphrodite or a star when they say, “Allah al-Akhbar” (God is Great), but no contemporary is saying, “Hey, these guys want us to believe their holy book is a hundred years old!  Remember when they were just a bunch of Jewish-Christian-Messianists?”

So why do these works keep coming?  Well, part of it is definitely that our field has gotten a lot more attention recently, and controversy sells.  No one is going to get invited on CNN or written up in the New York Times for discussing manuscript transmission.  But Crone and Wansbrough predate much of the modern Islamophobia-driven media focus by several decades.

I think at its most basic, it’s the problem that it’s much easier to recognize other people’s biases than your own.  It’s certainly the case that Muslims’ religious devotion can and has led to some strange analyses about the Qur’an and other topics (and if I have to read one more tenth century Arabic debate about when God created the throne upon which he sits, it’ll be too soon).  All of these scholars started from their own resistance to those beliefs, and their rejection of them, but failed to apply the same rules of logical analyses to their own assumptions.


[1] Hebrew Bible = Old Testament, for those unfamiliar with the phrase.

[2] Since Hagarism‘s publication in the 1970s, manuscripts with Qur’anic passages have been found that date to the Uthmanic period, and, it’s probably worth noting, Crone has largely rescinded her support of her earlier thesis.

Guest Post: Polarized Realities: Living a Theo-secular Purgatory in the Workplace

Zeina Shaaban is a graphic designer with interests in English and creative writing. Her approach to Islam is graced with wisdom, serenity, knowledge, and understanding. Those of you who have read this website for quite some time might be familiar with her; you’ve met Zeina before, and, as she has been a friend very close to my heart for nearly four years, it pleases me to introduce her to this space again, this time as a guest writer. Deeply invested in women’s security and freedom, Zeina has actively campaigned for legal consequences for abusive and controlling men, so that women can continue to live full, fulfilling lives that rival the liberation enjoyed by their male counterparts. Her exegesis of Islamic texts is caring, compassionate, sensitive, and highly detailed. In the tradition of the Prophet and early scholars, Zeina incorporates the contextual realities of century and society into her interpretations, and, most notably, an awareness of the spectrum of linguistic possibilities, to bring to life an Islam that is both sensible and sensitive.

For all her resilience of character, please welcome Zeina Shaaban.

There is a certain drive to modernity in Lebanon that is heavily associated with secularism. Or should I say, anti-theism. This is manifest in a way where all things religious are looked down on or automatically associated with backwardness and closed-mindedness. Of course, this also means that the religious frown down upon this modernity for that very same association. And the rest of us who don’t belong to either polars, get sucked into the purgatory of their in-between.

Sexism in the workplace is pretty much commonplace everywhere. But, at the very least, you would think that in an Arab country like Lebanon, worrying about things like wearing the headscarf wouldn’t be an issue. And you wouldn’t be farther from the truth.

I mean, sure, I get it. Sectarianism has really done its job screwing this country up and leaving us where we are today. I get this wanting to completely dissociate from it, and all things related: religion. And in attempts to move forward, you want to move past all of this rubble. That’s great, really. The problem comes in with the ostentatious know-it-all attitude, and in the shoving this worldview down people’s throat. “We don’t believe in it, so you’re not allowed to believe in it either/not allowed to display any sign that you believe in it.”

A young woman who was traveling to Canada saw the stark difference in university classes. When in Canada, she was not only allowed, but respected for asking for a small time-window to pray, in Lebanon, you are not even allowed out of class for Friday prayers. Because prayer is stupid, and doesn’t belong here, so we won’t tolerate it nor will we allow you to cultivate it.

Taking this conversation into the workplace: A flabbergasting amount of companies in Lebanon have completely forbidden all religious symbols. This basically means necklaces with a cross, and the veil, among other examples. It is interesting to note how the symbols they are restricting are conveniently symbols donned by women usually. And this becomes just another way of controlling women and what they can and can not wear/do.

I have often daydreamed about interviews where the interviewer would ask about my veil and I would look at him, shocked, “Veiled? I’m not veiled!” and would tell him that I’m wearing this scarf for beauty/fashion purposes. Or an interviewer asking me whether I would take the veil off, and I would say yes. Then come into work with a hat on that serves the same purpose but does not fall under their category of “religious symbol.” I would wonder if they would create a new “no hats” rule just for me. There is something very horrible about the fact that I even have to consider scenarios like this in the first place. Something very flawed in that women are being forced to hide how they choose to represent themselves.

This is not reserved to the secular companies. As I said, Lebanon is very sectarian, and its political parties represent the sects of the country. Then, you have major corporations who will support a certain political party as a call-out to their sect. This means there are big companies in Lebanon that associate with the Sunni political leader(s) and the Shiite political leader(s) (this also means that they probably have shares/have invested in the corporation in exchange for this support.) I am only focusing on the Muslim sects because I am discussing the issue of the veil, but the above also applies to Christian political leaders as well. However, even in those companies where they are supposedly by the Muslims and for the Muslims, the veil is still not allowed. (Note: This is a generalization and is certainly not true in all cases, there are even companies that ONLY hire veiled women, and here the issue is the same, only reversed.) Banks, TV shows, you name it, all those bigshot places where men and women are the company representatives, the veil is not even up for discussion.

This, and we did not even go into the default disadvantage we’re at for simply having two X chromosomes. The major I studied has a ratio of 5:1 women to men in classes on average. You would think that this means women would only naturally be more dominant/present in the workforce. However, what I’ve noticed is that: Sure, almost all the designers, the employees, are women. But almost all the creative directors, the CEOs, are men. Men who probably don’t even realize their privilege of not having to push against an almost unbreakable glass ceiling to get to where they are, and presumptuously attribute it to their own mastery.

In other majors, where there is a more balanced ratio, or in a ratio where the men rank out higher, companies will almost always prefer the men. Their rationale supposedly has nothing to do with sexism, too. It’s simply the more convenient choice.

Hiring a woman means she might get married one day/get pregnant if she is married, and leave the job to take care of her children, so she is not worth a long-term investment.
Hiring a woman means she can’t go to Saudi Arabia alone because they forbid traveling without a mahram (a male relative or husband).
Hiring a woman means her husband/father will not let her stay late at work and so she won’t be able to carry the unthinkable load we want to put on our employees
Hiring a woman means her husband/father won’t allow her to travel, and so she won’t be able to carry out some projects through till the end
Hiring a woman means you have to worry about her getting raped when she goes to construction scenes/is a liability
Hiring a woman means you have to tolerate one regular day a month when she might not come into work because she is in too much pain
Hiring a woman means you will be subject to her regular mood swings, and cat fights with other women, because women are more emotional and not as professional as men

Most of these points are riddled with sexist thoughts and assumptions. And it’s because men themselves perpetuate those thoughts that they expect it of the men in the women’s lives also. As a man, he expects his wife and daughter to be stay-at-home moms, or do a job that doesn’t disrupt her “household duties”; he will not allow her to travel or stay late at work, and most certainly won’t allow her onto construction sites and the like. As a result, he will most certainly assume that not only is it the correct way to go about things, but that ALL men of the country will treat their wife/daughter the same way.

So they will hire women, but they will hire just enough to make them look like an equal-opportunity employer, then move on to giving all the spots to men, because it’s more convenient.

This is why in an interview, before I am asked to show my work or share my experience, I am asked (after the interviewer noted that I am a newly wed) whether I have a curfew or should be at home a certain time (read: what is the latest that your husband allows you to stay out?). I can hardly contain my disdained surprise in my response: “Who the hell do you think I married?” The reason this is so problematic is because it can be two-fold: The interviewer can either be of the religious/conservative party and asks this question because he actually perpetuates it and believes in it, and my response to him is “Your standards do not apply to me,” – or he can be of the anti-theist party, and the question carries an undertone of cynicism. He carries with him the assumption that all (backward) veiled ladies would only marry (backward) religious men who do not allow them to work after sundown. Considering the pretentious tone with which the question was asked, I would say it’s the latter.

So my being a veiled married woman ends up putting me at a triple disadvantage in the workforce, before the employer even opens up my portfolio. I am sure that this purgatory where the religious and the modern do not clash in arms has a whole community of people, who, like me, are fed up with not pleasing either side of the spectrum and not belonging anywhere. And this community should have its own companies and its own vision for how they perceive the future.

This is a community I would like to foster.

Guest Post: Muslim Women and the Politics of Authority. Or: How to Determine a Woman’s Right to Speak on Islam

I’m pleased to introduce the author behind Orbala, Pashto for firefly, who, despite being a PhD student of Islamic Studies with emphasis in gender, sexuality, and Islamic law, is still overlooked as qualified to discuss Islamic jurisprudence, undoubtedly due to many of the factors explored in this post. Deeply inquisitive and refreshingly demanding, Orbala has undertaken the task of answering insistent, insightful, and probing questions; most notable of these is her search for the addressed feminine in the Qur’an, a question glossed over by male scholarship through the citation of singular (exceptional) verses. Orbala’s pressing interrogations of the tightly-structured, institutionalized understandings of the Qur’an and of Islam are, however,  a direct challenge to this dismissive and intellectually lazy system of answering women’s concerns. Orbala is highly critical of cultural restrictions & oppression, including those within communities of color against each other. Her favorite creature in the world is currently her little niece, Kashmala.

Please join me in welcoming our second guest writer, Orbala, and her sharp perceptivity into patriarchal discrepancies.

Most Muslims determine whether or not a Muslim has a right to speak authoritatively on Islam or provide new interpretations of certain Islamic precepts by merely a simple list of criteria, although it varies significantly for women and men. For men, it’s a little more complicated than for women, since a man’s credentials are not always questioned even if he does not wear a traditional “Muslim” garb (think Zakir Naik). A woman’s credentials, however, are always challenged if her clothing preferences do not conform to traditional, patriarchal Muslim expectations of modesty and hijab. As an example, if a woman’s hair is not covered, nothing she says is given any value; the content of her lecture, when she’s giving a lecture, is entirely ignored, and emphasis is instead placed on her choice not to cover her head. Since she is obviously not a good Muslimah, she obviously has no right to speak on Islam—so the logic goes.

But the logic tends to transcend a little beyond clothing when the woman speaker is wearing a hijab, or is not defending her choice of not wearing the hijab: then we look, instead, at her ideology. Does she believe that Islam as it is currently practiced and understood by most Muslims is flawed? Does she believe in ijtihad? Does she believe that gender roles and rights should not be continued on gender and/or sex? Does she believe in the re-interpretations of certain Islamic principles (i.e., ijtihad), particularly in regards to gender more broadly and women more specifically? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then she is misguided, is not a good Muslim, and has no authority and right to speak on Islam. Never mind that she might not be interested in teaching other Muslims how to be good Muslims. Few female scholars of Islam trained academically are interested in overtaking the task of teaching Muslims how to be better Muslims, by which I mean emphasizing the spiritual importance of ritual behavior; if it is to mean educating Muslims about the larger concepts that Islam espouses, such as human rights, social justice, and gender equality, then, yes, they are deeply committed to the act of guiding Muslims.

One of the glaring problems with basing a person’s credentials to speak on Islam by whether they advocate everything that past traditionally trained scholars of Islam have concluded is that it leaves no space for new interpretations, interpretations and understandings of Islam that can speak to us and our time, address our needs and questions. Ultimately, if everything the scholars have said before us is to be taken at face value without any question or criticism (and criticism needs to be stopped being associated with disrespect), then why do we have the Qur’an still? Why do we need to read and understand the Qur’an at all when it’s already been explained for us? Why do we seek knowledge if it is expected merely to affirm what the majority of our scholars has said before us?

Then there is the case of Muslim converts. White convert males, let’s face it, have it far easier than black, Latina, or other non-white converts—and non-white women converts face far more challenges. On the one hand, we Muslims fetishize converts and reverts because they have presumably spent ample time to study Islam and appreciate it enough to choose as their religion; on the other hand, if their beliefs and practices do not lead them to conventional notions of Muslimness, they are doing it all wrong, and it is our responsibility to guide them, which is often towards an Arab or a Desi form of Islam. We treat the case of specifically (and only) white converts as a validation of Islam: It often feels like a relief that a western white individual has willingly embraced Islam because now we have proof that Islam is the correct religion; after all, our collective obsession with whiteness is a disease inherent to many Muslim communities (and, yes, non-Muslims, but let’s focus here). Non-white converts do not receive the same treatment and are barely recognized, despite the growing number of Latina/o converts to Islam, among others.

Since (white) converts are not racialized—because white people are obviously the default creation of God—they have to prove their Muslimness through their clothing style in order to “look” Muslim. Hence many white male converts’ need to wear traditional Arab garbs (think Hamza Yusuf). I’m not going to elaborate on white male convert privilege since plenty has already been written on the subject—see, for example, Performing Belief and Reviving Islam: Prominent (White Male) Converts in Muslim Revival Conventions, by Mahdi Tourage; Racialized Muslim Bodies and White Revert Privilege; The Problem with White Converts. But the point regarding converts is raised in order to point to the importance of clothing and identity among Muslims and our habit of linking belief and practice specifically through “Muslim” clothing.

Still, this article wasn’t initially intended as a discussion on race, conversion, and authority—it was intended as a discussion solely on the simplified, narrow, flawed standards by which we measure a Muslim woman’s ability to speak on Islam. When I tell a Muslim that I am a student of Islamic Studies, they should not react by looking me up and down, often condescendingly, which happens especially if the questioner is a scarf-wearing female, and arrogantly comment, “But … But why in the U.S.? Do you know Arabic? Are your teachers Muslims? I hope they’re teaching you authentic Islam! Be careful because they might be taking you away from Islam and you don’t see it. There’s a hadith that says that there will come a time when those most ignorant of Islam will be teaching us Islam posing as scholars.” My response is usually to smile and say, “Yeah, there’s a hadith out there for everything, innit, bruh.” Because judging, and not unfairly, by the this line of questions, they’re not interested in discussing the various methods of training with me, the complicated notion of authenticity, or what “Islamic Studies” means to most Muslims and what its different role and purpose in secular and religious institutions. For those interested in my pursuit of Islamic Studies in the west, here’s an explanation.  

The community’s unfair criteria of authority matter because the work that feminist and reformist activist Muslims are engaged in are, for the most part, for the community, not necessarily for themselves as individuals. Some of us may not personally face many of the issues we deal with, but we are sincerely committed to urging the community to rethinking its understanding of Islam if Islam is used as an excuse for some of our unjust beliefs and practices; they include homophobia, domestic abuse, denying Muslim women the right to marry non-Muslims, disavowing the claim that women can lead gender-mixed prayers, and so on. What needs to be emphasized is that there is nothing Islamic, nothing divine about patriarchy; it is not the natural worldview, but it has been normalized. It was the worldview of the past, albeit patriarchy is still the dominant force in today’s world—but it is actively being challenged and confronted in favor of a more egalitarian world. The problem we’re facing regarding patriarchy and misogyny is that we foolishly believe that all things gender equality, including feminism, are western inventions, and since “western” and “Islamic” are obviously mutually exclusive, we can have either one or the other—and our level of faith and piety is measured by whether we choose “Islamic” or “western.”  

Yet, few Muslims today will agree with the classical, medieval, and pre-modern claim that God favors men because (or that) men are superior to women. But this was the dominant belief in terms of gender hierarchy according to Islamic scholarship (see, as an example, Ayesha Chaudhry’s book Domestic Violence and the Islamic Tradition (Oxford Islamic Legal Studies) for more details; Khaled Abou El Fadl’s Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women is also worth reading on the subject of “authority”). Similarly, I cannot imagine any Muslim disagreeing with the fact that justice is a virtue in Islam to the extent that, as the Qur’an tells us, we must stand up for justice even if it means turning against ourselves, our parents, or our kin (Qur’an 4:135). But the Qur’an does not define the meaning of justice or how to command justice in a given situation. This is left to Muslims to decide for themselves because, like any other great Text, the Qur’an recognizes the subjective meanings of concepts like justice. As such, when killing an individual for leaving a religion they were born into is universally considered unethical and immoral, it is an injustice for Muslims to maintain this thought and practice. (Note: While there are absolutely no Qur’anic grounds for the punishment for apostasy in the first place, the Shari’a unfortunately does consider apostasy a capital crime.) Just as well, no Muslim would agree that slavery is Islamic or that Islam would support it in our time. But exactly how do we imagine this came to be the case when Islam never outright forbade slavery and when the Qur’an instead talks of female wars of prisoners for men as “those whom your right hand possess” and there’s no limit on how many they can have, in addition to their four wives? Exactly how did we come to the belief that men are in fact not intellectually, mentally, or even physically superior to women after all, contrary to what humans, including Muslims, formerly believed? The answer entails an acknowledgment of the significant changes in universal standards of equality and justice over the last few decades, let alone over the centuries.

Our answer to difficult questions of “the beating verse” in the Qur’an (4:34), killing non-Muslims in times of war, women’s testimony purportedly being half that of a man, women’s inheritance share being half that of a man is usually: “Context!” We tell non-Muslims that there’s a context to this verse and that, to this guideline and that, but when it comes to other issues, such as that of women’s leading prayer or gender segregation, we completely ignore that there is context there as well—assuming, wrongly, that Islam does forbid women from leading men or gender-mixed communities in prayers. And that context is the patriarchal, often misogynistic, mindset of our scholars who established the Shari’a and hence basically Islam, who interpreted the Qur’an for us, defined Islam for us. They may have meant well, and most of them may have been sincere in their intentions, but that doesn’t remove the negative and unjust consequences of their interpretations of the Qur’an that have been harmful to women (and homosexuals in other cases). When will it finally become more popular for us to say, “If we can condemn slavery because it’s considered wrong in today’s world, we must also re-think many of our other practices and beliefs that we insist are Islamic, such as forbidding women the right to marry non-Muslim men when such a right, such an option is available to men.” I’m hopeful, and I’ve faith in us.

Guest Post: Ending Systemic Discrimination Starts with Individual Acts

Sarah Elizabeth Pahman, a masters level social worker licensed & certified in advanced practice social work, is experienced in trauma counseling and advocacy for survivors of sexual violence, sexual abuse, trafficking, and interpersonal violence. She is interested in trauma-informed care and has passions in empowerment & social justice within our communities. Based in Chicago, Sarah loves writing, working out, and Pablo Neruda.

Please welcome our first guest writer, Sarah Elizabeth, who is exhilaratingly discerning, fiercely loyal, and rooted in being.

The first time I noticed my privilege as a white person was in high school. I was in the 10th grade and I was quite the unmanageable, unruly child due to a myriad of circumstances in my home and in my environment. I had little guidance as a teenager and was very much on my own from about the age of 15 on. I found comfort and acceptance in the communities of color that made up the tapestry of my friendships and the people who I genuinely loved. I started recognizing I was different from my friends on several occasions, but the ones that stick out for me are the ones where I was a witness to the racism my friends experienced.

I remember walking through a grocery store parking lot when I was 16 and an old white man yelling “you should have never been born!” out of his car window at myself and my motley crew of friends with a similar life to mine: those of us on our own. Was the old man yelling this to us because everyone else in the group was black and Mexican, or was he yelling at me – the white girl in a crowd of young men of color? Back then we laughed, threw up our middle finger at the guy and joked about it for the rest of the evening. It is only as an adult I recognize the poignancy. And yet, throughout my high school experience I knew white people saw me differently as a white person who hung out with people of color.

There was the time a white male teacher approached me in the hallway and with venom dripping from his lips stated “your parents must be so ashamed of you” in reference to the fact that my boyfriend was black and my best friend was Mexican and my loyalty lived in the brown skinned shades of friendships I held tightly to me as I survived my life through the love I held for the same people this teacher so abusively proclaimed as shameful.


Riding on the bus next to my black girlfriend and watching as the two white girls standing in front of her grabbed their purses and zipped them up while staring at the only black woman on the bus and talking about being scared on campus because people “who didn’t belong there” were protesting in the streets.

I remember driving in a predominately black neighborhood in my city to visit friends and being pulled over by police and asked “do your parents know where you are?” I remember being pulled over as the only white person in a car full of black people and asked if my car could be searched. I remember being called a wigger. A white n*****. I remember being told I was “going through a phase” and would “eventually grow out of it” because of who I surrounded myself with. Because I did not uphold the value of sticking to my own race, and I did not sit at the white table, or the black table, in the racially segregated high school cafeteria… I rotated my days and because of this I was an outcast.


And I internalized the shame and blame and venom that poisoned my young soul into believing I was different and I was unacceptable because white people are not supposed to have THAT MANY friends of color, else we get called wannabes, wiggers, betrayals to our race and squanderers of our inherited privilege.

I knew I had privilege as a white person because whenever my black friends needed to do something important, like go to the bank, or court – they would step back and let me do the speaking. Mind you, we were kids, 17, 18 years old – and I could see the effects racism and classism had on my black friends because at those tender ages they already clearly understood white people talk differently to each other than they do to people of color. I clearly understood as well, it became a game for me – I would show off how “white” and “proper” I could be in order to get the answers and privileges we were seeking.

And so what I could so easily call a game, turn on and off at my discretion, and not have to think about when alone in public with only my white skin as my first impression on people – what I could so easily choose to partake in or decide to shun based solely on my decision of what race I would hang out with – was my inherited privileges as a white person. And so the games of a 17 year old become the lessons of adulthood, the lessons of recognition that my friends of color had barriers to overcome simply walking into a store, the bank, the courthouse, the classroom, or cafeteria, the boardroom or the office or the interview or or or – where white middle and upper middle class values and norms and worldviews and cultural standards predominate and outcast those who don’t play by these rigidly defined rules, who don’t look and act a certain way – who dissent and reject imperialism as it stands before us.

Embracing each other is a revolutionary act. Embracing each other is an act of dissent.

Recognizing on an intellectual level exactly what white privilege was did not happen until I entered college. It was when I read “white privilege: unpacking the invisible knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh and found myself nodding my head over and over again that I began to recognize the experiences I had as a youth was a systemic experience for people of color and not something unique. My “acting white and proper” as a youth was my own developmental understanding of what white privilege meant, albeit ignorant – I felt it. When I presented to other whites as a stereotypical white, middle class female in the way I talked, dressed, and behaved I was rewarded for it. When I surrounded myself with people of color white people were sure to make sure I understood I was a betrayal. I also think class status has a profound effect on how we view each other, and think we must keep intersectionality in mind when discussing privilege.

As an adult I am first and foremost thankful I was able to attend college because this was where my mind was opened to the systemic issues of race and class discrimination and white privilege. This is not a subject taught or talked about in the basic educational system that most people go through. Having the childhood experiences I had was what helped me connect the dots, and not view what was being discussed as a theory, which I fear many white youth consider diversity classes to be due to their own limited exposure to these issues. If one grows up in a small town surrounded only by other white people and only receives exposure to these issues through college diversity classes (which is always the class most complained about), it can be perceived as an attack on whites, it can cause white guilt, and extreme defensiveness.

What this country needs is to address white privilege and white guilt and defensiveness constructively through compassionate and assertive advocacy within not only diversity trainings, but also within the everyday dynamics of the classroom, work culture and broader everyday environment. Making race and class and gender issues a part of the discussions and meetings and using ourselves as the catalyst for change by addressing these topics openly is how we uphold the ethics and values that we as a nation claim to hold dear. In agencies and corporations dominated heavily by whites, making sure the issues of privilege, guilt, race and class are not ignored is the task at hand, approaching ourselves with the assumption we are racist, at the very least. Recognizing that racism and structural discrimination against people of color can only change when whites acknowledge their own isms within, and address it on a daily basis – is the only way systems built on whiteness and maintained by white denial can ever crumble. Recognizing that affirmative action has not done nearly enough, that white people still have predominantly white friends, that we segregate ourselves both personally and professionally, that we still can’t talk to each other across racial/class/religious/gender differences because the group in power still hasn’t learned how to in a productive manner….

Because The Group In Power Still Hasn’t Learned How To In A Productive Manner.

And this benefits the group in power over and over again because silence is akin to shame, and shame creates dysfunction across entire generations, it keeps the isms within us swept under the rug and hidden away, conveniently denied. The modern isms that permeate liberal circles, white activists, and male feminists.

Our activism, our feminism, our liberal values and proclamations, our friends and loved ones of color…. None of these things shield us from participating in the very things we claim to be fighting against.