>Flickr/AK Rockefeller

Islamophobia and the Empty Promise of White Outreach

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I’m all for reaching out to White people. To act as an ambassador for your people comes as second-nature to immigrants and people of color. I have spent a lifetime answering White people’s questions, from the sincere and endearing to the downright insulting. And I suspect that I will be conducting White outreach for the rest of my days. But there is this dangerous and pervasive belief — glimpses of which I am seeing with renewed intensity in the wake of the Muslim ban and Quebec City mosque shooting — that the bigotry we Muslims face would disappear if only we just worked harder to reach out to White people.

It is a belief premised on the notion that if only we demonstrate how non-threatening we are by shaving our beards, and prove our patriotism by wearing our flag-hijabs, we will stop being subjected to surveillance, torture and violence. That if only we ingratiate ourselves to White people enough by feeding them samosas and baklava, and hold even more interfaith dialogues, our mosques will stop being vandalized and burned down. That if only we establish our social utility by touting our degrees, credentials and years of service, we will be deemed worthy of inclusion and respect.

This belief is enticing, especially now when merely existing as Muslim has become a political act and we can all use a little hope. But it fundamentally misunderstands White supremacy. We must always remember that the problem of White supremacy is a White people problem. It is their shameful legacy that they must grapple with.  

It is a legacy that led an overwhelming majority of White America to vote for Donald Trump. For all the outrage, it is important to remember that President Trump is largely fulfilling the promises he made during the election campaign. Everything President Trump has done since assuming office — renewing the debate on torture, enforcing the Muslim ban and ordering the Great Wall of Hate — has been expressly sanctioned by White America.

It is this same legacy that inspired Alexandre Bissonnette to attack the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City on Sunday night, killing six and wounding 19. Despite popular sentiment attributing the shooting to the so-called Trump effect, it is important to remember that hate and Islamophobia are not exports to Canada. They are bred right here alongside the well-documented plunder of and blatant disdain for Brown bodies that led to this country’s creation.     

Proximity to and intimacy with White people alone will never undermine the logic of racism. I am reminded of the Black maids and housekeepers of the American South — whether slaves or after Emancipation — who raised the children of White people and knew them more closely and intimately than most of us will. And yet, they were routinely subjected to violence all the same. In the absence of broader protections, closeness with White people did not protect them and it will not protect us.

We as Muslims and people of color can only work to expose and highlight the crimes committed to uphold White supremacy. White people themselves must — and hearteningly in many cases, continue to — reckon with the injustices carried out in their name.

As Muslims and people of color, the necessary response to this moment must be more than White outreach. It must be more than appeals to antiquated politics of respectability, assimilation and the good immigrant. The necessary response must be resistance through nothing less than our most authentic selves. We must strive to be Blacker, Browner, more Muslim, more Sikh, more Hindu than the worst nightmares of racists and Islamophobes.

*Image credit: Flickr/AK Rockefeller

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  • About the autor
    Hamza Syed

    The author has a Masters in Global Affairs from the University of Toronto, and has worked on health and security issues in Botswana, Ukraine and Japan. Follow him on Twitter @AHamzaS
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