Outrage About the Lack of Black Muslim Nominees at Awards Gala Shows Hypocrisy Not AllyshipWritten by Chelby Daigle
"I just want a young Black Muslimah to look at my art and not feel alone or die of starvation for representation." – Somali Canadian artist Riya Jama
"When people show you who they are, believe them the first time." – Black American writer Maya Angelou
Recently, some non-Black Muslims have expressed their outrage to me over the fact that there are currently no Black Muslim Canadians nominated for the Muslim Awards of Excellence (MAX Gala) taking place this fall in Toronto.
I was even asked to come up with a list of accomplished Black Muslim Canadians in order to shame MAX organizers.
I found it a bit problematic though because for well over a decade now when I have recommended to these same individuals or to the organizations they are affliated with that they should create such lists in order to organize more effectively with a wider range of Black Muslim subject matter experts instead of their limited circle of friends, I was told that they didn’t need one, or that they were too busy to work on one.
It was never considered a priority.
So now why the urgency for a list in order to bash MAX Gala?
The truth is, as someone who frequently speaks out about anti-Black racism, I couldn’t care less that there are no Black Muslims nominated for MAX Gala this year.
Full disclosure: I made the long list for the MAX Gala Woman of the Year Award but I didn’t make much of an effort on the portfolio I was asked to submit in order to earn a place in the short list because I didn’t WANT to be nominated for this award in the first place.
I am glad that the people who nominated me appreciate my work but let's get real here: I am a socio-economically marginalized Black woman living with a debilitating chronic mental illness that sometimes makes me unable to leave my own house.
Did you really think I wanted to travel all the way to Toronto, spend money I don’t have on appropriate clothes to go to an expensive gala that people I love wouldn’t be able to afford to attend?
So, as I already said I couldn’t care less that no Black Muslims were nominated.
Just like I didn’t care less when last year no Black Muslim women received a Women Who Inspire Award from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW), an national organization that receives public funding for its projects, including some that disproportionately impact Black Muslim communities, but who didn’t seem to be able to think of a single Black Muslim Canadian woman who was inspiring enough that year.
Wow Black Canadian Muslimahs you really dropped the ball in 2016!
No one wrote me to express their outrage about this organization’s oversight and demand a list of amazing Black Muslim Canadian women to send to them.
So why are people upset about MAX Gala this year?
Why is the outrage of non-Black Muslims over the continued exclusion & oversight Black Muslims experience from Muslim organizations so selective?
Or is it just because caring about anti-Black racism is trending this year but wasn't last year?
Why are you not upset that few Black Muslims are invited to speak on panels about countering Islamophobia, navigating the school system, media representation, parenting teens, anything related to women, getting into the legal profession, getting into medical school, entrepreneurship, “radicalization”....
Why are you not upset about the lack of interviews of Black Muslim achievers or coverage of Black Muslim events in Muslim Canadian media?
Why are you not upset about the lack of hiring of Black Muslim staff in Muslim Canadian organizations?
Why are you not upset that there are hardly any Black Muslim Canadians on the boards of Muslim organizations, including those that get public funding and/or are consulted with by public institutions?
Why are you not upset that the majority of interfaith organizing across Canada excludes Black Muslims AND Black Christians?
Why are you not upset that Black Muslims are seldom invited to consultations with all levels of government and major public institutions aimed at addressing concerns like Islamophobia, racism, religious accommodation, and public education?
Why are you not upset that when Muslim organizations do manage to invite Black Muslim subject matter experts, more often than not those amazing Black Muslim subject matter experts were only invited last minute, often not invited to help direct the vision and planning of these events, and possibly invited only to make it look like the organization has more engagement with Black Muslim communities than it really does in order to look good for funders and government officials?
Why are you not upset when it seems that if Black Muslims are included in Muslim organizing it is always just the same handful of people ALL THE TIME! #blackmuslimtokenclique
Full disclosure: I am often one of those Black Muslim tokens, sometimes even the only Black Muslim invited. And all the time I’m like ‘You do know there are more of us, right? I offered to help you build that list, remember?’
To the majority of Black Muslim Canadians who are outside of the clique, I won’t lie, it has its perks.
The downside of course is random Muslim men who shake all the non-Black Muslim women’s hands but insist on fist-pumping me. I always refuse as awkwardly as possible. #makeitawkward
You see, I can’t get upset about MAX Gala because for the past 15 years of being Muslim, I had to cope with anti-Black racism from racialized community members, something that my experiences with White supremacy, and I mean full-on neo-Nazis recruiting in my neighbourhood White supremacy, had not prepared me for.
But alhamduillah (Thank God), the last 15 years has made me an expert on the subject.
Back when I first converted, I thought I should get involved with Muslim organizations.
So I left the comfort and safety of the Westside poor and working class Muslim communities I found Islam in and ventured into the world of the Muslim middle and upper middle class.
I would soon learn that only Muslims of this class really matter and have the authority to represent the Muslim Canadian experience in media and to all levels of government and to all public institutions.
I, naively, thought I would have the right to raise concerns about issues like the lack of inclusion of Black Muslim folks, or working class Muslim folks, or poor Muslim folks, or Muslim folks from different branches of Islam, or just the majority of Muslim folks who are not members of an organization….which is of course the majority of Muslim folks.
I soon learned that Muslim organizing is a lot like high school.
Did the executives of all of your student clubs and the popular kids really represent the diversity of your school and all of the challenges students were facing?
Of course not.
Much like high school, there is bullying and I soon found that when I spoke up about things like the exclusion of Black voices or working class voices or poor voices or how the cost of events-bizarrely even those that received government funding to put on- would exclude many Muslims, I would be swiftly put in my place, told to shut my mouth, and reminded that a poor Black girl like me who was not the daughter or wife of anyone who mattered should be grateful she was even allowed in the room in the first place.
Silly Black me, I’m just so uppity*!
Becoming the Editor in Chief of Muslim Link has been my most uppity* act to date.
And now, some of the same people who bullied me or dismissed the urgency with which I pressed the need to have more diversity of representation in Muslim organizations are telling me to be outraged because MAX Gala doesn’t have any Black people nominated for a relatively exclusive award ceremony in Toronto that is only in its second year and that at least doesn't involve a lot of public money?
Are you for real?
Didn't your mamma teach you to clean up your own mess first before shouting about someone else’s?
Nominating a Black Muslim Canadian for an award is easy; being a real ally to Black Muslims and all Black folks in Canada 24/7 requires a lot more effort.
I don’t care if Black Muslim Canadians get awards from Muslim organizations or not.
I care that governments and institutions are consulting and funding organizations claiming to work in the interest of all Muslims that don’t think that including Black Muslim voices matter at all or in concrete ways beyond tokenism.
If you are so upset about MAX Gala, why don’t you take a good hard look at the Muslim organizations you are involved with and commit to making them more equitable, accessible, and inclusive of the full diversity of Muslims in Canada?
I am not grateful that you finally noticed that anti-Black racism is real in our community.
What do you want me to give you the “Best Muslim To Realize Anti-Black Racism Exists” Award?
And no, the fact that you have some Black friends doesn’t get you off the hook.
Please, I don’t want to hear about all of your Black friends.
What do you want me to give you the “Best Muslim Who Actually Has Some Black Friends” Award?
I have non-Black Muslim friends I have to call out on the anti-Black racist nonsense they don’t even realize is anti-Black racist nonsense. Friends tell friends when they are doing anti-Black racist messedupedness. Yes, that’s a word!
If your Black friends haven’t called you out already on your shenanigans, then maybe they really aren’t your friends. #sadface
I really hope that the requirement for Black Muslims to be recognized by non-Black Muslims is not that we have to be your friends!
I can’t be friends with every Muslim in Canada! There are over a million of us!
I want allies, not friends.
Real allyship is not something you do to get credit for.
It is not something you do to be seen doing.
It is not something you tell me you did expecting me to be grateful to you.
It is not something you did on my behalf that actually benefited you far more than it benefited me.
It is not something you do to show everyone how WOKE you are.
My real allies have been there for me when it actually was a disadvantage for them.
That's allyship. That’s solidarity.
The true non-Black Muslim allies I have found over the last 15 years have seldom identified as being all about social justice or being an “activist.”
They just want to do the right thing.
They are just ordinary Muslims who want to achieve a goal with the best people available “by any means necessary”.
I work with someone who respects and recognizes my talent while also accepting that because of my sometimes debilitating mental illness I may have to work in unconventional ways.
The fact that I didn’t have a university degree was never even taken into consideration; it was just about the quality of my work.
He took a big risk on me.
We have made this work for 5 years now, alhamduillah.
His allyship has helped me become Muslim Link’s Editor in Chief, and one of the few leaders of a Muslim organization in this country who is actually a Black woman.
And he has never made me feel that I owed him for this.
He always reminds me that I earned this.
And he is probably going to ask me to remove this entire part of the article because he is just that humble so screenshot this version now!
Real allyship is about humility and compassion and knowing that we need each other so going out of your way to have my back isn’t doing ME a favour, it is doing US a favour.
And there are even more Black Muslim Canadians who don’t have limitations like mine and so are soaring to amazing heights, breaking all sorts of glass ceilings along the way.
Of course, there are the spoken word poets; Black Muslim Canadians got that on lock.
We have our doctors, lawyers and engineers too. Yes, we REALLY do.
We also have people who have struggled with criminalization, mental illness, and addiction who have become role models, public educators, and entrepreneurs. We are a stronger community for them.
But we also have many people who we lost along the way, who we keep losing, who we mourn, who we will always love, and who you will never make us ashamed of loving, whose lives you don’t get to erase from the Muslim Canadian narrative because their deaths don’t raise the Muslim Canadian “brand”.
And we have so many journalists!
The woman in the photo accompanying this article is Eman Idil Bare.
She’s an award-winning investigative journalist.
She currently works with CBC.
Oh and she also writes for Teen Vogue.
Oh and she is also the fashion editor for Muslim Girl, one of the most popular North American Muslim websites.
Oh and she is an ethical fashion designer who has had her pieces in a number of shows.
Oh but you didn’t read my article about her.
Oh you meant to but you were too busy getting really angry about Islamophobia in Canadian media and the lack of Muslim journalists working in the industry to shift the narrative.
Here’s the thing…Eman Idil Bare doesn’t care if you don’t recognize her as a great Muslimah Canadian role model
No, she doesn’t care one bit.
If you don’t want to nominate her for awards, she’s fine with that too. She’s already got awards.
As I clearly pointed out, she is busy doing a bunch of awesome work with people who value her.
Black Muslims will continue to smash Islamophobia, classism, sexism, break through glass ceilings, and topple the myriad of obstacles systemic anti-Black racism in Canada puts in our path.
We are leading the way.
You are welcome to come along for the ride.
But we are the ones driving.
Thank you Eman Idil Bare, Sakinna Gairey, Idil Mussa, Riya Jama, and Sidrah Ahmad for the many ways you helped me with this piece.
In loving memory of Tayyibah Taylor, so grateful I met you; that conversation gave me the courage to lead and strive to be a better ally to Muslims who were not just like me.
*Uppity is a term that racists in the American South used to describe Black people who didn't know their place in society. That place of course being at the bottom.
This article was produced exclusively for Muslim Link and should not be copied without prior permission from the site. For permission, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.