Compiled by Latoya Peterson and Fatemeh Fakhraie
Rolling Ruminations has hosted a blog carnival on White Privilege and the Muslim Ummah. As regular readers know, it gets kind of heavy around here when we start discussing the intersection of race and religion. True to form, the carnival featured a range of opinions. Our favorites are below.
As a blind white Muslim, I just plain give up in trying to understand how I’m supposed to navigate the complex world of race, disability and religion, because no matter what I do or say, it’s always going to be viewed through the fact that I’m white, and thus everything else is seemingly minimized and seen as an attempt by me to gain some kinda street cred with POC, because “hey I’ve been discriminated just like you”, when that wasn’t even my intention, and I wouldn’t even try to say as much! Because the fact that I had to testify in a court of law to being sexually assaulted, or the fact that I had to give a detailed deposition regarding employment discrimination, or the fact that there are certain websites that are not accessible to me has nothing to do with race, and is a completely different type of discrimination altogether. Yes, I experience white privilege, and I’m sure I do so in ways I don’t realize. However, I don’t think other forms of discrimination should be passed off as nothing, though at the same time, I don’t think that they should be held up as ways that whites “understand” people of color. I’d not go so far as to say that. Because I’ll tell you right now that sighted people will never understand what it’s like to be blind. So as a white person, I can’t tell you what it’s like to be black, or anything else for that matter. All I can tell you is what it’s like to be a blind white Muslim who benefits from white privilege but doesn’t always understand how. And I’m struggling with that. This whole race thing is hard for me to understand, I’m white but I don’t know what that means, only what society tells me it means. I’m supposed to have some kinda privilege, I’m supposed to be on the upper echelons of my society but I don’t feel like it most of the time. Most of the time I feel less than, second best, not as good as. I’m made to feel that I have to work twice as hard, go twice as far, do twice as much. But oh, I’m white, so I’m supposed to have some kind of privilege. And maybe I do, it’s just hard for me to realize what or where that privilege lies.
I’m also not comfortable with what this says about white/Western cultures. In this dichotomy, the West is imagined as culture-free, a place where people can let go of the constraints of their home countries in favour of an ostensibly “pure” Islam that can only be found through a disavowal of centuries of traditions (many of which have likely served to preserve Islamic beliefs and practices in many parts of the world.) Westerners (particularly white ones) who enter Islam are assumed to come in with no baggage at all. While it is true that people who become Muslim after having been raised in non-Muslim cultures don’t necessarily bring religiously-sanctioned forms of oppression into it with them, it’s a little simplistic to assume that their Islam will remain untainted by their cultural background.
In addition, white Western cultures are, of course, assumed to be somehow free of ingrained patriarchal tendencies. Oppression and violence against women are seen as individual aberrations rather than culturally located, despite the prevalence of domestic violence and other forms of sexism that are found across Western societies. Other forms of oppression that are also endemic in these societies (racism, economic oppression, and so on) are also never taken up, and certainly never addressed as culturally-derived systems. Whiteness and Western identities are reinforced as superior and above the problems that are found in cultures deemed foreign, rigid and violent. In reality, religious dogmatism and religious justifications for gender-based discrimination and oppression can be found in every culture on this planet (or at least, the vast majority. Let me know if you find any exceptions.) None of us should be assuming that our background or our geographic location makes us immune to these forces.
At the same time, the white male convert doesn’t leave white privilege behind, because as long as somebody else is still giving it to you, you still got it, whether you like it or not. I’m not talking about women here. It is very very different for them and I’ll leave them to discuss it. But guys? the white muslim male continues to be treated white the vast majority of the time, at least in my experience. If you get funny looks, it’s because you look funny with that hat on your head, not because they think you’re not a white male. And if they’re still not sure you just say hello and that’s the end of that. I don’t want to say you can’t ever be sized up as non-white at first glance – it’s happened to me plenty of times over the years. But it doesn’t happen much, doesn’t mean much and it’s really not worth making much of. Contrast the dirty look you may have gotten that one time with the numerous sikhs who have been hurt or killed over the years for resembling muslims and you see the difference color makes.
When a white Muslim communicates with a Muslim of colour, this may be the first communication they have had with any person of colour, where the white person is not communicating as a member of the numerically dominant group, for while white people may be the majority in Western countries, in Islam, they are very much the minority.
Such demographics may lead the white Muslim to feel at a disadvantage, one they have not been socialised with and this leads to many white converts furiously attacking the born Muslims, usually for their lack of “Good Muslimness”, when the real issue is the white convert’s lack of power, compared to that they enjoy being part of a majority in mainstream society.
(Image Credit: Visage Islam)