How my White family will fight Islamaphobia
by guest blogger Zoë Williams
This post is part of a week-long series highlighting supporters of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), both in their parenting of race-conscious children and their activist work for racial justice. SURJ is a national network of groups and individuals organizing White people for racial justice. For more resources and information check out SURJ’s website.
The first time I remember a teacher formally introducing Islam to me was freshman year of high school. My geography teacher talked about “the Middle East” and played the movie Not Without My Daughter. The film is an incredibly racist and inaccurate depiction of Muslim and Iranian culture that emboldens every Islamaphobic stereotype imaginable. It was presented to my class—a predominantly White working poor and working class community—as an accurate portrayal of Muslim culture.
Months later, it was September 11, 2001. My community felt a giant push to join the military and patriot groups. Racial slurs were folded into everyday conversations. At that time, I frequently felt powerless and incapable of changing this dynamic.
Fifteen years later, I am a parent of two very young children and living ten minutes away from the home I grew up in. Islamaphobia is still on the rise, and I know it isn’t fueled by Donald Trump’s hate filled rhetoric alone. Much of mainstream White America holds views of Islam and Muslim culture shaped by stereotypes, xenophobia, and racism.
My oldest child is two years old, and my family is already trying to discern how we stay on our toes to identify, disrupt, and replace any information that spreads hate. While finding opportunities for our kids to learn more about Muslim, Arab, Persian, and South Asian cultures is important, that’s only half of our job. We also have to ensure that children, specifically our White, non-Muslim children, learn to resist White supremacy and xenophobia, as well as take action in solidarity with communities being targeted.
How do the spaces closest to us enable harassment and violence against our Muslim and Arab neighbors? How are we disrupting it?
We put a sign in our yard that says “We Love Our Muslim Neighbors,” and ordered a “Stop Profiling Muslims” sticker for our car. We have conversations about why it’s important to make these statements in visible ways.
Because Islamaphobia is so insidious, we encounter it every day. Recently we were standing in line in a grocery store and someone in front of us began to make very loud comments about a woman wearing a head scarf.
“I just can’t help but feel nervous when I see folks looking like that, you know?” he said. I could tell the woman heard him, as did most people in the area.
My face turned hot, and I tried to figure out how to handle the situation. I looked down at my kids. My toddler was watching my every move.
“No, I don’t know what you’re saying. I think that’s a very rude and offensive thing to say, and I’m upset that you are speaking hatefully around my family.”
My family has also taken a close look at what our kids are learning about Islam, Muslim culture, and Muslim countries. We’ve been looking for ways to ensure our kids know the overwhelmingly positive contributions Muslim, Arab, Persian, and South Asian communities have made in the world in medicine, education, politics, philosophy, human aid, and more.
We’ve also been looking for books written by Muslim, Arab, Persian, and South Asian authors. Often, books with White authors misrepresent or oversimplify information. We think it’s important to lift up the voices of authors who speak from personal experience. Some of our favorites are Golden Domes & Silver Lanterns A Muslim Book of Colors, Four Feet Two Sandles, My Name Was Hussein Roma Bulgaria, Ramadan Moon, My Mother’s Garden, The Silly Chicken, and Sitti’s Secrets.
We’ve also made a commitment to media literacy conversations. When we see a depiction of the characters from Disney’s Aladdin or a photo in the newspaper, I point out how Muslims and Arabs being depicted compared to White people or Christians. My partner and I have conversations around our kids about who benefits, and why that happens. Someday, we hope our kids join in.
Even though my kids are very young, we’ve also found ways for them to be activists. My kids both come to Denver’s Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapter meetings. We make an effort to support Muslim and Arab owned businesses, such as Denver’s Shish Kabob, whose owner has spoken out about the impacts of Islamaphobia on his community. When a Colorado Congressman voted to support a bill rooted that was deeply harmful to Syrian refugees, my toddler and I made signs and sent pictures of us to him through social media. Our SURJ chapter also made a video expressing solidarity with Muslims and both of my kids were able to participate.
It’s going to take an entire movement to stop the Islamaphobic rhetoric of Donald Trump and Fox News, and that’s why it’s crucial to get involved in organizing however we can. Also, it’s important to remember how much impact we can have every day in our homes and communities to support our entire families in being activists.