It's not all about race
Many urban school districts, as well as suburban school districts who have seen recent demographic changes in their student populations, have adopted racial equity training and protocols in their district’s professional development. Principally among this is the Beyond Diversity training and the Courageous Conversations protocol and other resources from the work of Glenn Singleton and Pacific Education Group. This work is essential, powerful, and of great benefit to any educator who undertakes it and of great benefit to honoring the identity of students and encouraging a disposition of educators to challenge themselves and their attitudes towards students. Nevertheless, the reality remains that for Muslim students in these districts to be viewed only through a racial lens suffocates and essential part of their identity and causes cultural collision. This is not to say at all that racial equity work is a causal agent of the suffocation of Muslim identity for students by any means. But the point is that more is needed for these students; the racial equity work has had the great benefit of reshaping many minds and attitudes of many educators, which is beneficial. But a noticeable byproduct, especially in places like Minnesota that have high population of Somali and east African Muslim students, is that too often teachers are attempting to educate them solely as “black” students. Teachers today have more readily available resources to draw on for culturally relevant pedagogy of African American students; and the reality is that Somali and east African Muslim students have a mixed resonance at best with this type of teaching and the themes they elicit in the classroom.
I recently spoke to a group of Senior Somali High School students in Minneapolis. These were all students who had come to the country as a young children or been born Minnesota. That is to say they are the children of immigrants who have become acculturated in America. Throughout their high school education they have read books like A Rasin in the Sun, To Kill a Mockingbird, Native Son, and The Autobiography of Malcom X. They were never introduced to a piece of English literature that centers on the experience of Muslims (and while Malcom X became a Sunni Muslim later in his life his a biography centers on black nationalist experience in the civil rights era; the Nation of Islam’s conceptualization of a “Muslim” is a product of the black nationalist social movement in the civil rights era and is far outside the orthodox teaching these students were raised upon in their families - this is a whole other topic to be discussed).
So I asked these seven students to write a response to the prompt: Which part of you identity is more important to you? Being black? or being Muslim? Their responses are below:
Being Muslim is a lot more important to me. I believe my religion beats my race. Even though racism is not over its easier to accept a black person rather than a Muslim. People won’t question you when you’re black, asking why your skin color might be darker than theirs. Being Muslim will arouse questions, suspicion, and those that aren’t used to Muslims will be scared of them. I get up with students and teachers questioning my beliefs and fearing my race, but as I grew up I took pride in my race and religion. I also became more open to the idea of others questioning my beliefs.”
The most important part of my identity is being muslim. I say this because growing up as a muslim and in a muslim community we taught to disregard skin color."
Islam is more important on every aspect because form, the color of my skin or the history that comes with it doesn’t matter as long as I know where my life is headed and also how I’m being guided there. Being black and not having a religion would mean the same thing as being white and being atheist. I don’t concern myself with the color of my skin as long as long as I have guidance.”
To me, being Muslim is the more important part of my identity. I’ve been muslim my whole life and it has kept me humble respectful, and a good human being. The guidelines that Islam sets is what makes me who I am today."
To me, a muslim is the most important part of my identity. This is why because what I believe will get e to the right path. If I think about color that’s going to change everything. Nowadays people like to label each other an that’s the world we line in. I believe that judging a person by their color is the worst mistake to ever commit.”
The most important part of my identity is definitely being Muslim. The reason is because wen I was a child, my parents never taught me to really connect to my skin color. They did however, teach me to be proud and firm upon my personality, mannerism, and identity of being Muslim. Although skin color is something that may be taken into consideration, it was always a secondary factor for me, and those who I largely grew up with. Islam is a religion that breaks the barriers between skin color and ethnicity, so I was never taught to cherish my skin color and my identity thereof very often. I was however, expected to preserve my Somali lineage, culture, and language, so long as it didn’t conflict with my religious beliefs (and little does that happen, since Somalia is virtually 100% Sunni Muslim). Sure, every once in a while when a discriminatory event would occur, the community would often push a notion that racism is prevalent in the United States. However, more often they would come across an event where Islam and muslims were portrayed in a negative light, which would have much more relevance in their eyes. In Somali people’s minds, Black and Somali are two different things. I am witness to that. Somalis care more about what happens and the portrayal/image of the fellow Somali community and the Muslim world as a whole than they do about African American Blacks in the U.S.”
To me being Muslim is more important to me this worldly life is just a test from Allah, everyday is a struggle. The only thing that matters to me the most is how I approach these tests from Allah. The dunya will end sooner than later. Being a Muslim is my first priority.”