Last Friday I went to my first ever ICNA convention in Baltimore, Maryland. I wasn’t sure what I was going to see when I got there but I had an idea. A week before, ICNA had put out an image on Facebook that said the following “Islam empowers women with honor and dignity.#ICNA2017 “ It included an image of all the prominent women who were speaking at the convention.
Not a single black woman on the flyer. Not one. Nahela Moralez was the only Latina women on the flyer. Besides her, every other woman was either Arab, south Asian or white presenting. All of the women were fair skinned. I posted the photo on my personal Facebook page with the caption “So no one notices anything wrong with this picture” It took less than ten minutes for people to notice what I had. Yet somehow the conference organizers saw nothing.
The photo was my first indication that I wasn’t going to be happy with ICNA. When making my list of programs I noticed the first session of the Saturday session was called “America’s Original Sins: Racism and Social Inequality”. It featured Ismael Essa, Nihad Awad, Dr. Hatem Bazian, and Dr. Altaf Husain. Not one of these speakers is Black or Black identifying. Not one person is Latinx. Not a single one. How is it possible? Look at what you are talking about. The program goes on further to say what each speaker will address: “ An Angry America: How Did We Get to This Point?” The Future of Civic Engagement” “Standing Rock, Mexican Wall, Muslim ban, #FlintWater and Beyond”. These are the topics; but there are no black people and no latinx people involved. I am confounded as to how anyone could look at that list of topics and not think that a Black Muslim needed to be up there. How can you talk about the impact of the wall with Mexico and the other rhetoric Trump has used when referring to Latinx people without a single Latinx person? How can you talk about civic engagement, flint, racism without a single Black voice? How? It was by the grace of the Most High that I did not make it to that session. I had the intention to go and ask all of these questions in person. But I believe in the divine’s intervention. I believe that I was too close to my emotions at the time. A week later and it still makes me angry. Frustrated really. This conference was held in one of the most historically black cities in our nation. Yet Black people; we again were obviously missing.
I try not to be one of those people who gets mad and does nothing with their anger and frustration. I thought of ways I could be productive and bring attention to the absence of Blackness at this convention. One thing I did to promote Blackness while I was at the conference was tweet with the hashtag #BlackICNA. I used to show Black vendors and comment on the lack of blackness at the convention. I took pictures of vendors, and organizations that were either owned by Black people or served the Black community. I wanted to high light that we as Black Muslims were here and deserve recognition.
The second thing I did was by accident. I ended up at the session titled “ Muslims in the Media” and Linda Sarsour was speaking. At the moment I arrived she was talking about non black Muslims racism against black peoples. She was calling them out for their distrust of black people but their want to use black labor when they need help. Her words were so necessary for me. I was glad that someone was finally using their voice to say all of the things that I was feeling. Seeing as we were not on the stage, at least someone who called themselves an ally was using their platform to bring attention. Afterwards I spoke with her about the absence of Black women and men at the conference. While nothing of course could be done, I appreciated her speaking to me and acknowledging that void. It needed to be said and continue to be said.
You might ask why not also a #LatinxICNA. I am happy to say that there was much more of a Latinx presence at the convention. There were at least four sessions specifically geared to talking about the Latino wave and experience within Islam and the Muslim communities here in the US. However the absolute silence from which the black community and black representation was suffering from was deafening. In light of our location and the size of the black community.
I left the convention less thrilled with my community. It’s hard having to be Muslim in the majority spaces of Christian America. In a better world, the very least I could expect is that in my own community, my “Muslimness” and my Blackness would be embraced. That when I am around people who call me Sister, they would really see me as their sister. That the color of my skin would be loved as much as the depth of my character. But this convention just reaffirmed that there is so much work that needs to be done. This community, needs to hold up a mirror and face the ugly truth. Because I’m not really your sister, if my Blackness is ever a problem.