Deonna Kelli Sayed

Writer. Storyteller. Coffee Drinking Bad Ass.

#Ferguson

It has been on my mind. I know the narratives are more complex than what the media provides. I am troubled by how the current discussion around race is shaped: People of Color are worried about their lives. White people are worried about property.

A lot of white people just don’t get it.

This isn’t an easy topic for me to highlight, mostly because I’ve been so profoundly white over the past several years, engaged in a mostly white world doing white girl things. Whiteness isn’t a sin, yet the stories that have shaped my own history and identity are immigrant narratives, stories of struggle and personal transformation from People of Color. So when I think of the American experience – including my own – I find resonance with non-white narratives regarding being and belonging. I feel this is the kind of experience is what America is designed to offer when functioning at her best; the stories of othered people became embedded in the stories we tell about ourselves.

I cannot claim to know what really happened the night Michael Brown was shot or can I offer insight on the verdict. Yet, I do feel that Darren Wilson’s language of fear, soaked in stereotypes and clichés, makes me wonder why he went into law enforcement in the first place if black men are giants that make him feel small. There are many white people who feel this way towards black men. As Ta-Nehisi Coats wrote: “What clearly cannot be said is the idea of superhuman black men who “bulk up” to run through bullets is not an invention of Darren Wilson, but a staple of American racism.”

I turned to Ta-Nehisi Coats to try to obtain a better grasp of how narratives of race function in America. I want to engage this dialogue for a few reasons.

1.

The social and moral burden of continued institutionalized and systematic racism hurts America socially, culturally, and economically. These epistemologies aren’t focused only on black people.

Senior editor at The Islamic Monthly, Haroon Moghul, posted on social networking sites:

 Racist on Twitter: “We don’t start riots when white people die.” 

That’s because you call them wars, honey.

I can’t say anything else on this statement. The above sums it up.

2.

As as an American-Muslim, I benefit from a long (and often unrecognized history) of African-American contributions to Islam in America. African-Americans offered the first indigenous Muslim identity in this country, and formed some of the earliest institutions. I am now attached to this history through my commitment to my faith, and to ignore the issues of Ferguson is tantamount to forfeiting a part of my own American history.photo

3.

I am the mother of a brown Muslim son who might one day be subject to racial and ethnic profiling and (perhaps) discriminatory hiring practices due to his identity, so I have to pay attention to narratives of race. As Khaled Beydoun wrote in The Islamic Monthly, “Ferguson is our issue because the same structures that ruthlessly enforce anti-Black racism also execute and endorse Islamophobia.”

Most middle-class white people have rarely experienced Otherness nor know what it is like to be followed in a store or profiled in any manner. Or (in my own personal experience) detained at the Canadian border for three hours because I had Palestinians in the car. Or (again, my own personal experience) pulled off a plane in front others passengers and questioned by Homeland Security because of my hijab, the stamps in my passport, and my itinerary. Or (again, personal experience) had the FBI knock on my door, again because of my Islamic identity and international connections.

Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. All lives have to matter. Yet, here is the truth: American racism lies on Black bodies.

4.

We are more than our identity politics and our labels. Maybe this is the real issue behind racism. We all arrive to the discussion with histories, stories, and hopes. The problem is that some feel that our stories matter than others. Some feel the story of a slightly bruised white face holds more currency than the body of a dead black teenager.

 

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