I am a Black American. I am middle-class. I am from a Christian family. I am an aspiring activist-writer. I am a bisexual, liberal feminist who is adamantly against all forms of oppression. I am also a former Islamophobe.
In 2003, when the so-called “War on Terror” began, I was 11 years old. That year was big for me; I started my period and went to public school for the first time after being home-schooled by my overbearing, religious mother for 6 years. I also was explicitly told for the first time that Islam, and all those who practice it, are evil and deserve to be harmed. I was told that hijabs and all other head coverings related to Islam were symbols of the oppression of Muslim women, and that if any Muslim man in America were to have it his way, all of us good, Christian women would be forced into the same garments. I learned that Allah hates Christians, and specifically hates America because we are the nation with the highest number of pure Christians who live to serve God (who is most definitely distinct from, and actually exists unlike Allah). Muslims serve Allah because they too hate America, and their sole mission in life was to do Allah’s will, and infiltrate and destroy America and it’s good Christians. The War on Terror had to be fought in God’s name, by Americans, to reclaim the world from the clutches of Satan and his allies.
I sat in church week after week as my pastor and other ministers preached this message. My mother, a faithful servant of the church, happily espoused and supported these values, and regurgitated them into digestible pieces for my young mind to eat up. I ate them happily because, after all, I was a good Christian and wanted to do everything in my power to live in accordance with the will of God. After digestion, though, came regurgitation. Long after the War on Terror faded from the news headlines (despite the fact that it continues to be fought today), and even as I began to doubt my Christian faith in my late teens, I still knew that Muslims and their religion were objectively evil. For me, it was as simple as stating that gravity existed, and I would state these “objective” points to anyone who tried to engage me in conversation about the topic. “Anyone” included Muslims themselves.
I went to a small, liberal arts college that was incredibly diverse. Muslims, and individuals from groups that lived alongside Muslims made up a sizable percentage of the student demographic. As I stated, I reached a point where I was questioning many things about myself, and about capital “T” Truth, so I started going to a spirituality group that served as an educational point of contact for individual from different faith backgrounds. At these meetings, I clashed frequently with Muslims. I embarrassed myself by telling girls in hijabs that they just didn’t understand that they were being oppressed, and my telling men and women alike that their god was a false and evil construction. I was, of course, met with anger and fierce rebuffs. “What are you even talking about?!,” was a common retort when my comments began to sound like someone placed a recording of an Alex Jones rant into the voice box of a 20-year-old black woman. “You don’t know anything about Islam or Muslims! Go educate yourself!,” was another one. I eventually began to think that they were right; maybe I did need to be better educated. Unfortunately, at that point I thought that I was entitled to have my “education” take the form of being enlightened by a calm, enthusiastic panel of Muslims who could clear up some things while I sat there and misinterpreted, belittled, and offended their entire existence. Luckily, someone instead eventually told me the words I needed to hear; “It’s not my job to help you. You can read; if you want to know more about Islam, go look it up for yourself!” And so I did. And I learned how horrifically wrong I had been the entire time. Embarrassingly, cringingly wrong.
A cloak of shame wrapped itself around me, and I couldn’t take it off. I walked around campus with my cloak of shame, crying for myself, waiting for someone to tell me that I was “still a great person.” Long story short, my search for the Truth showed me that hardly anyone is actually a great person, so I got over myself, ripped off my cloak of shame, and tried to make-up for the damage I had done. I began to over-correct by always siding with hijab-advocates and dismissing any internal struggles in Islamic communities as “just what they do.” However, as I continued my education, I realized that this too was harmful. More insight showed me that some women love their head and body coverings, while others are wrongfully killed trying to escape them. I learned that while many terror groups are formed out of pain, confusion, and anger against capitalist tyranny, these groups also retaliate against Muslim sects that won’t bend to their authority via bombings, rapes, kidnappings and a number of unacceptable human rights violations. Today I maintain that while no stance or struggle can be objectively good or bad, those that have the end goal of harming or subjugating others are more bad than good, and I have chosen to spend my life fighting such stances and the people who take them. Moreover, I am adamant that is not only a nicety for me to advocate for the humane treatment and creation of safe spaces for Muslims and other marginalized groups in America, it is my duty.
To all individuals, I am writing to tell you that no matter who you are, you are most likely in a position of advantage over individuals of specific groups. This means that you have the opportunity to either oppress them or advocate for them. For example, as a Black woman, I am oppressed by White people and men, but as a member of the largest ethnic minority, and as a middle-class Christian (via family), I can contribute to the oppression of minority groups who lack as much representation, the poor, and those who are not a part of the dominant Christian faith. To those who wish to call themselves allies to the groups that they could otherwise oppress, I have several things to tell you. First, you and only you are responsible for your education concerning the groups you wish to ally yourself with. No one is responsible to subjecting themselves to be shamed, offended, or in any way put down by you. Beyond this, they have every right to be visibly and loudly angry and annoyed with you and your ignorance. It is your duty to bear the weight of this anger, openly apologize for your transgressions and aim to never commit them again. You aren’t doing anyone a favor by not being a bigot. It is also your duty to stand up and speak out every single time you hear or see oppression. Every time you silence an oppressed individual or hang back when their rights are violated, you not only cause more damage to them, you miss an opportunity to truly become the ally you claim you want to be. Only by taking on the shame I so much deserved could I have inspected it and used it to better myself. To this day, I still am imperfect; I always will be. A real ally is not the one who fully assimilates into the groups they defend and advocate for, but the one who is constantly learning and striving to be better so that they may better serve those who know that they deserve true equality.