June was a long and frustrating month for me. Between hearing of a little black girl whose braids were cut off by a teacher , an Ohio school banning natural hairstyles for black children, the Paula Deen fiasco and the George Zimmerman trial I was SPENT. When the Supreme Court killed the Voting Rights Act last week I was done. I knew my psyche was becoming frayed and I was losing my balance. I desperately wanted to get away from the United States. If I had enough PTO accrued and money in the bank I’d book two round trip tickets to Dar es Salaam, grab my daughter and spend the entire summer with my former in laws. Even with Tanzania’s power shedding and the gridlocked traffic I’d encounter on Bagamoyo Road while driving to my in-laws home, I’d be happy as a clam to be outside of the United States! Alas such a getaway is not an option, so I told myself I should take a mental getaway instead. For the month of July-which is also my birthday month-I would tune out. I would avoid discussions about politics, race, gender and/or religion. I would turn off the side of me that loves to debate. Yesterday I asked my co-workers-who regularly seek my insight on various topics-to please abstain from doing so for the rest of the month. No more staring at people in shock and dropping mad f-bombs in my mind as I listened to them. I promised myself that I wouldn’t get baited into any debates and resolved to make July a month of rainbows, glitter and unicorns.
I failed. MISERABLY.
It started with a discussion about Colorism last night. As anyone who read my blog posts in June knows I’m very passionate about the subject. I came across a link about it in one of my FB groups . I ended up leaving a comment about the perils of pretending that Colorism is simply an issue that harms Black women alone and is only about the dating preferences of Black men. I pointed out the fact that just as there are statistical disparities between White and Black Anericans, there are disparities between light and dark-skinned Black Americans, particularly in the criminal justice system. Well a few light-skinned sisters did not appreciate my comments and immediately went on the defensive. I was accused of questioning their blackness and disregarding their pain. My reminder that I had not said- or even implied- such thing did little to assuage the situation. It brought to mind my discussions with White Americans regarding anti-Black racism and privilege, and how they usually devolved in a similar fashion due to defensiveness and an inability to separate personal experiences from the larger patterns we see in society. Having gone through this so many times before, I knew it was fruitless and bowed out. I then called MK, the most brilliant brotha I’ve met in my life. I relayed the discussion to him and asked him to devote his formidable intellect to writing an essay on the topic of privilege. He listened, laughed when I pleaded with him to address the topic and agreed to it. Satisfied, I went to bed.
This morning I found myself in another debate in another group. I started reading a thread regarding a protest by feminists at a masjid in Sweden. For awhile I was content to be a spectator, but as I read more of the comments I became increasingly agitated. In the United States it is very difficult to have a productive discussion regarding Islam. The loudest voices in the debate tend to be extreme. We treat all Muslims as ignorant, misogynistic terrorists hellbent on destroying the “secular West”, or we pretend that Islam is perfect, always progressive and simply being lied on by Islamaphobes.
The truth-as always-is much more complicated than that, but we Americans have trouble seeing nuance. When a non-Muslim woman start defending hijab in the same one-sided fashion as Muslim evangelists, my past life as a Sunni convert came back to me. I thought of how I too once defended hijab as a source of “dignity” and a rejection of the “Western” sexual objectification of women. I strolled down memory lane, all too aware of how my life as a woman within the Ummah was far from the rose-colored dream that the dawahgandists sold-and that I foolishly bought. The pain and frustration of it all rushing back to me, my fingers begin to fly across my keyboard, typing a strongly worded missive challenging the assumption that hijab was always a ‘liberating’ and made of a woman’s own volition. After posting and reading my comment the gravity of what happened hit me. I’d come full circle. For three years ago I would have been defending Islam and hijab zealously, criticizing my own Western culture while minimizing or excusing the flaws of another.
My more secular minded friends watched my transformation from progressive thinker to apologist for Conservative Islam and patriarchy with a mixture of worry, concern and shock. I had tense, acrimonious debates with two in particular on a regular basis. I ended up inboxing one of them today-as she was participating in the discussion as well-and shared my exasperation with her. I then joked and told her that NOW I fully understood her frustration with me in 2010. She laughed with me, and I realized how fortunate I was. Our friendship had been pushed to the edge that year due to my new convert zeal, but after I apostatized we were able to mend it and pick up where we left off. In the three years that have elapsed since I left Islam and organized religion altogether I’ve learned to avoid extremes and come back to a more balanced, moderate place in my life. It feels incredibly satisfying to be there.