Black Lives Matter is forcing important conversations about race. But what we won’t voice, is that we too, the non-black Muslim community, have absorbed anti-black attitudes.
By
Zahra Al-Hilaly

9 Jul 2020 - 7:23 AM  UPDATED 9 Jul 2020 - 11:35 PM

I grew up in a community that held a high value for skin-lightening products as opposed to embracing darker skin.

At a young age, you don’t notice the underlying messages hidden in a friend purchasing a foundation that is a shade lighter than her skin, or being told by the parents within your community to not stand in the sun for too long “because you’ll get dark,” but the actuality is that we grew up in a community with strong anti-black attitudes.

As a young girl, my privilege as a non-black Arab Muslim had clouded my vision that racism was truthfully embedded at the core of our respective communities. Why were our mosques always segregated? Why did every young girl want to be white? And, why was anti-black discourse habitually used? Whilst we remain consistent in accusing western culture of these adverse values that have destructively excavated the perimeters of racism, we cannot deflect some of the racism within our own communities. 

Black Lives Matter is forcing important conversations about race. But what we won’t voice, is that we too, the non-black Muslim community, have absorbed anti-black attitudes.

There is no excuse for shielding the “white fragility” of our friends and family. We must do better.

It was only a few years ago that I had criticised my already fair Iraqi-Palestinian Arab skin, wishing that I was paler to fit Eurocentric standards of beauty. However, it was also the pervasive values of colourism within the non-black Muslim community that had influenced these views.

The most reprehensible of all, however, is the anti-black language that is normalised within the vernacular of our friends and family. I will regularly hear the Arabic word “abd” (slave) used to describe black people in everyday conversations, with the word “aswad” (black) reserved to describe objects only. But why do we stay silent? There will never be an excusable answer for this racial jargon in our language. Similarly, there is no excuse for shielding the “white fragility” of our friends and family. We must do better.

Whilst there are an abundance of matters that have influenced anti-black attitudes, the Muslim community will, too often, find solace in bonding over the barricades of racism that we collectively endure. However, whilst I have had my hijab pulled off and have received the occasional “terrorist” comment, I know as an Arab Muslim I still have privileges over Indigenous and African-Australian communities. I will not be racially profiled by the police, or more unjustifiably, killed in custody because of the colour of my skin. The denial of these disparities is only a reinforcement of the existence of anti-blackness within our community. Our collective experiences of surveillance, discrimination and memories of dispossession in our homelands, should make us more empathetic to the higher gravity of these experiences black people face in Australia. 

 We grew up in a community with strong anti-black attitudes.

We can no longer deflect accountability for hostile anti-black attitudes that are collectively affecting the lives of our black brothers and sisters. The concept of privilege has overlapping layers, and it is vital to discern the inequalities that black Muslims receive as opposed to non-black Muslims. White Muslims are often praised and feted, but black Muslims do not receive the same reception, leadership roles or attention in the Muslim community. In fact, sometimes they battle negative stereotypes and microagressions from non-black Muslim migrant communites, communities that are supposed to be safe.

In the words of the Holy Quran (4:135): "Be persistently firm in justice, even if it be against yourself, or your parents." Whilst these conversations may be uncomfortable to have, nothing will ever be comparable to the unjust deaths of our black brothers and sisters, not only George Floyd in the US, but in Australia too - Ms Dhu, Tanya Day, Cameron Doomadgee, to name a few. 

Zahra Al-Hilaly is 20-year-old Murdoch university journalism student from Perth. You can follow Zahra on Twitter @ZahrasZone.

This article is part of SBS Voices emerging Muslim women writers’ series. If you have a pitch, please contact sarah.malik@sbs.com.au.

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