Leaning in and speaking out – by Hanadi Chehabeddine

In the wake of the killing of George Flyod and the civil unrest that followed, communities of color around the country are feeling more empowered to speak out on issues of racism that make their everyday life harder and even painful. These bitter experiences are not limited to the dominant culture but also take place within communities of colors themselves.

Speaking within the Muslim community, voices echoing sentiments of injustice started rising on the maltreatment of black Muslims under the patronage of Arab leadership. Among the stories that have been circulating offensive social media posts among Arab employers, lack of participants representation among mosque dwellers and incidents of verbal offense among school board members towards black students or their parents.

Being an Arab myself, I felt the urge to lean into that discomfort and start tackling prejudice within my community by acknowledging the harm that these experiences inflict on my own brothers and sisters. 

Arabs admit it among themselves but rarely admit it in public. Prejudice against People Of Color exists and I am not proud saying that it does. “Slave” or “Abed” is not a color. Racist jokes are not funny and circulating them is just as guilty as creating them. It’s important to understand that these words and actions create an experience of great pain, deep insult, feeling of distress and sometimes even trauma for POC.

We cannot demand others to treat us fairly, as Muslims, and turn a blind eye to our own community mal-practices. This has happened far too often in our mosques, our schools and businesses across the US.

Admitting the wrongdoing is a good start, committing to action is an essential follow-up, and working towards a better and more inclusive environment where everyone is valued for who they are and never judged by their skin color, social class, age, ethnicity, or disability.

“O people, your Lord is one and your father Adam is one. There is no favor of an Arab over a foreigner, nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin, nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness. Have I not delivered the message?” Said the messenger of God, Mohammad, peace and blessing be upon him.

It’s time we listen to the people that have been affected by the insulting actions and words and give space for healing by hearing out the expression of hurt and anger.

Tips and best practices:

1- Assess your workplace environment before biases turn into conflicts.

2- Diversity and Inclusion work is not a myth. It is driven by data, translated into policies, and has a powerful business case that you may not be aware of. This work is overdue in our community.

3- Invest in your people and the way they feel coming to work/mosque/school every day.

4- Admit your mistakes, take responsibility, and commit to actions.

5- Find it in your heart to give people second chances and help them grow in their race-journey.

We can move forward by learning from our mistakes, keeping people accountable, keeping a civil discussion to move together towards a better and more inclusive place for everyone.

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