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Nadirah Angail

To be black, Muslim and unencumbered

Nadirah Angail

Nadirah Angail

By Nadirah Angail

I’ve been Muslim all my life. Black too. And you know what? It’s been an enjoyable experience. I have put love into the world and felt that love returned by people who do and don’t look and believe like me. Though I developed an early awareness of the injustices against black people and Muslims, I didn’t carry that weight on my person. I remember being very aware of institutionalized racism yet still free, totally unencumbered. To be sure, I didn’t live in a bubble of kumbaya and “I don’t see color.”  I had (have) the fire of X, Tubman, Garvey and Turner running through my veins, but I also felt comfortable and unafraid to be myself, in any setting.  Not sure how that happened, but I needed it.

Now that I have children of my own, I’m hoping to raise them with that same dynamic duo of awareness and freedom. But it’s harder now. Social media thrusts countless HD, surround sound images of blacks and Muslims being mistreated, abused and killed on a daily basis. This isn’t something new (though I do think the presence of a black man in the White House has pushed some white people outside of their sanity), but it hits harder and rings louder. And still I want my kids to be free.

My fear is that they will trade in their soft and plushy childhoods for a hardened and jagged fear that will grow them up too soon and chop down their blooming sense of self-worth. I don’t want my children to be scared that the police will kill them, or that their peers with pick on them, or that their teachers will dislike them … or that their school projects will be mistaken for bombs. I don’t want them to stress over the judgments and glares they may get from random passersby. I don’t want them to carry with them the dark clouds of someone else’s hatred and ignorance, someone else’s assumptions and misinformation. There’s no freedom in that. Children need freedom.

So I sat quiet when my first grader came home talking about the story of Thanksgiving. I’ll drop that truth on her a little later. And I was really vague when answering her questions at the vigil for Our Three Winners. I’ll give her more details later. And I get really selective when she asks about protests and why people are so angry. All answers in due time, but for now they need protection. Especially my daughter, the 6-year-old. She has an old soul and feels things deeply. My son is totally consumed with his toy cars and securing his next meal, but my daughter’s eyes and ears are open. This is a child that gets teary eyed during touching commercials. She has such an open heart and a precocious mind. As much as I like to have real, heart-felt discussions with her (and I do have them), some things I just can’t say. I can’t tell her that her bright eyes and warming smile may not overpower the (perceived) threat of her skin and religion. Not yet. Regardless of what she can or can’t handle, I’m not ready to take that peace from her. I prefer not to rob my children. I need them to be free.

But the time is coming when she’ll be rooted enough for me to pop that bubble. I feel it. I see it in her eyes and hear it in her conversation. Son, too, will reach that point. Then I’ll be able to show them an unveiled world, full of good and bad, without fear for their freedom.

Editor’s Note: Nadirah Angail is a family therapist turned blogger from Kansas City, Mo. In 2006, she began working as a therapist with a wide variety of families and couples who suffered from issues ranging from depression and drug addiction to infidelity and marital discord. In 2009, she had her first child and decided to (temporarily) leave the professional world to focus on motherhood and writing. She has self-published two books and enjoys writing about relationships, family, parenting, and her particular perspective as a Black American Muslim woman. Learn more at nadirahangail.com and strugglinghijabi.tumblr.com or @Nadirah_Angail. The views expressed here are her own.

One in every three black males and one in every six Latino males born today can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their life. Photo credit: photodune.

Malcolm X’s mission left unfinished

One in every three black males and one in every six Latino males born today can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their life. Photo credit: photodune.

One in every three black males and one in every six Latino males born today can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their life. Photo credit: photodune.

By Sajid Khan

I woke up on Sunday, February 21, 2015 to learn that the date marked the 50th anniversary of the murder of Malcolm X. My Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds flooded with pictures and quotes of Malcolm, my friends seeking to honor his life and legacy.

Unfortunately, for many, Malcolm X has devolved into his famous eyeglass frames and into t-shirts, posters and pictures featuring his prolific, notorious quotations like, “We declare our right on this earth … to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”  I sense a communal malaise now that overt racism has generally subsided and notice a naive assumption that Malcolm’s passions and ambitions for African American human and civil rights have been fulfilled.

Perhaps not coincidentally, music artist John Legend, the next day, delivered powerful words on the grand stage of The Oscars and reminded us that Malcolm’s demands of America for African American and minority equality have yet to be answered. Legend, after winning an Oscar with artist Common for their song “Glory,” noted, “Right now the struggle for freedom and justice is real. We live in the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more black men under correctional control today than were under slavery in 1850.”

Today, the United States leads the world with 2.2 million people currently confined in prisons and jails. One in every three black males and one in every six Latino males born today can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their life. Justice Department data shows that 526,000 black men were under the jurisdiction of state or federal correctional authorities in 2013, and an additional 1,114,521 black men were on probation or parole in 2013. These numbers aren’t gas prices or stock market values or interest rates. The numbers are people caged, families broken, communities mangled, generations crippled. The numbers, and the people they represent, are staggering, real and largely ignored.

Malcolm X’s fight against the degradation and dehumanization of minorities, particularly African Americans, in the United States is far from over; the opponent has merely changed form. Explicit segregation and humiliation of minorities has morphed into a muted era of mass incarceration and institutional control of people of color. I see it here in my hometown of San Jose. I find more black men filling courthouse dockets and jail cells than I do as I drive and walk my city streets. Juvenile hall and county jail operate as storage facilities for Latino adolescents. Files of young, minority male clients charged with various felonies litter my office.

We must rise to the occasion and honor Malcolm’s life and death by doing more than posting statuses about him and quotations of his speeches. His legacy demands that we counter and dismantle the forces of mass incarceration. We must focus on early childhood education and support of at-risk families and mothers, programs that have proven to reduce engagement with the criminal justice system. Our duty includes reforming our juvenile justice system to encourage use of school and community based interventions, including various forms of therapy, rather than confinement, to help prevent juvenile delinquents from becoming adult offenders. Commemorating Malcolm’s efforts means fighting in our courthouses against disparate police contacts with minorities and challenging overzealous and wrongful criminal prosecutions. Celebrating Malcolm’s battle for empowerment of minorities necessitates us to rebuild our criminal sentencing schemes to ensure that drug addiction alone doesn’t result in incarceration and instead triggers treatment and therapy and that low-level, non-violent offenders will have the opportunity to redeem themselves, recover from their criminal missteps and avoid being defined by their worst moments and lapses in judgment.

Malcolm X died struggling to overcome systematic inequities in our country. John Legend cautioned us that these injustices still prevail in the form of a machine of mass incarceration. It’s time for us to get to work and finish what Malcolm started, by any means necessary.

Editor’s Note: Sajid A. Khan is a Public Defender in San Jose, CA. He has a BA in Political Science from UC Berkeley and a law degree from UC Hastings. When not advocating for justice, Sajid enjoys playing basketball, football and baseball, and is a huge fan of Cal football and A’s baseball. He lives in San Jose, Ca with his wife and son. The views expressed here are his own.

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Op-Ed by Rev. Michail Curro

Executive Director, Interfaith Center for Racial Justice

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.

In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late…

We still have a choice today; Nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Curro2011MLK2 (1)In the stunning revelation that US forces had killed Osama bin laden, we are all called to reflect on what this means and re-emphasize the necessity to lift up the importance of nonviolence as taught and practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (and Mahatma Gandhi before him).

President Obama emphasized in his death announcement that, “we need to remember that we are one country with an unquenchable faith in each other and our future.”

It would great if we could put an end to cynicism about government, see rancor in politics disappear, have Islamaphobia replaced by trust, and feel genuinely optimistic.  Thankfully, through my work with the Interfaith Center for Racial Justice (ICRJ), I haven’t lost hope and believe unity and working for the common good is achievable, but only if we use nonviolence.

Each year our Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration of Macomb County draws over 1,200 people—gathering draws every sector of our county and demonstrating unity and common purpose.  For one evening, this most diverse grouping of community leaders commemorate Dr. King and re-commit to working for a better tomorrow for all.  It is a night where all seems possible to build unity and strengthen community while lessening bigotry, intolerance and racism.  President Obama’s vision and King’s dream—both so eloquently articulated—seem shared and attainable during this celebration. 

Still the challenge after each MLK Celebration (and today in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death) is to remain united, focused, and hopeful.  We attempt to do this by calling on community leaders to keep MLK’s teachings at the heart of all they (and we) do.  And not just King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, but more importantly his teachings about and use of nonviolence to initiate social change and to create the “beloved community” we desire.

Our efforts here may never be more important, particularly in witnessing the spontaneous celebrations that followed the news of bin Laden’s death, the quick call that justice has been served, and the loud public clamoring to see photos of bin Laden with a bullet hole through his head.

I am reminded that Mahatma Gandhi once said of retribution:  “An eye for an eye and soon the whole world will be blind.”  Or as Dr. King explained, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already void of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Like every American, every Muslim, and most everyone around the world, I am delighted that Osama bin Laden was finally captured.  It is a great accomplishment.  Bin Laden and his followers symbolized terrorism and violent death.  But I cannot celebrate his death or think that his death alone is equal justice for all the death, loss, pain, and expense his actions, and those of al-Qaida, have caused.  I caution us from expressing such hate and vengeance for our enemies.  And I ask that we learn more about and practice nonviolence—the tool that has brought about the most change historically (Gandhi, Civil Rights) and we are witnessing in Egypt today.

Central to the ICRJ’s programming (and to nonviolence) is overcoming fear, particularly fear of others and the recognition that we cannot lift ourselves up by putting others down.

Our “Listen, Learn, & Live” (LLL) programs aim to build bridges of understanding among people of different cultures and faith traditions.  Currently we are in the middle of our ninth module on Islam and Muslims.  And earlier this week we began a module on Christianity at a mosque.

LLL’s purpose, however, isn’t just to deepen intellectual understanding but to help build trust among different people that fosters relationships and ultimately unity in working together for social justice.

We offer a variety of programs annually, including two June LLL modules:  an experience with the Black Church and on the Chaldean community.  And later this year we will look for community support and involvement in our LLL Summer Camp for Teenagers, fall interfaith breakfast seminar, interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration, and upcoming 2012 Silver Anniversary MLK Celebration.

At this time of great social change worldwide, our community can either choose to follow the downward spiral of vengeful distrust of others, or continue the important legacy of nonviolence that brings about real and lasting justice and peace for us, for our children, and our children’s children.

(For more information please call (586) 463-3675, visit www.icrj.org, or email curroicrj@sbcglobal.net.) 

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