Marginalized people need to support each other


One of the effects of internalized racism is that marginalized people sometimes avoid the marginalized members of their own communities. “If I avoid my people and their subordination, maybe the dominant cultural powers will raise me up, and will become the Chosen One – the single token minority person who achieves success.” I say Chosen One because we’re afraid that the hegemon selects only some of our people as representatives: the idea is that marginalized communities – supposedly as monoliths – require only a small number of Representatives. They are all alike. They all look alike. They could all stand in place of each other, right? These communities are assumed to be not complex enough to require diverse representation: this is the root of the problem.

This is to be seen in many areas – how minority people patronize businesses, what their cultural consumption practices are, what they read, and – in the case of academics, scholars, and activists – whom they cite.

I have observed with sorrow and disappointment that even Muslim American scholars have a tendency to cite and support their claims relying primarily on White, non-Muslim scholars and cultural workers. Even in egregious cases, where their work intersects with the work of fellow-Muslims and non-Whites, they sometimes take great pains to avoid reliance on these community members. I will call such people DTPs (Dissers of Their People). There is apparently a feeling among DTPs that to cite and acknowledge their people somehow reduces them, and somehow deprives them of credibility. The manifestation of such internalized racism and internalized Islamophobia is often a source of sadness for me, and I have been wrestling with it for some years now. I want my Muslim American DTP colleagues (especially those who are critical scholars) to realize that by avoiding and dissing their fellow Muslim American colleagues they damage the cause of community uplift to which they claim to subscribe.

Such is the terror of being called “ghettoized” or “balkanized”, such is the desire to be embraced as the almost-White de-raced liberal subject, that minority persons frequently – without even realizing it – avoid standing too close to their people.

In the individualistic climate of tokenistic diversity and this economic recession, by elbowing aside their Muslim colleagues, DTPs may indeed nab that one award, that one job, that one speaking engagement, that one grant available to a Muslim. But when they are being elbowed aside by other minoritized persons, it’s going to hurt.

As with unions, ultimately, we all benefit from standing together and not selling each other out for a piece of the pie. We all benefit from demanding a different pie. A bigger pie that everyone can share.