Inter-Racial Distrust and the White Muslim

One of my prompts for topic consideration in the White Privilege and The Ummah Carnival was not well received, actually it was the only topic scoffed. I said:

  • Maintaining or discarding White American cultural norms. Fact Observation: Many white people are not trustworthy and they are arrogant—does that change or remain when we become Muslim?
  • I admit my word choice there was not stellar. However, the fact is, brace yourself, there does exist (with statistics and research to back it) a generalization for many people of color to distrust whites.  And vice versa. In the prologue of her book Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education, MacArthur award winner Danielle Allen explains the dynamics of inter-racial distrust and cites a “2002 statistic that says that only 35 percent of Americans think people can be trusted.” And the same statistics cite that “African Americans are even less trusting.” But, what I am really trying to keep the focus on is white Muslim accomplice (residual from jilhaliya), so let’s look at why we may be nontrusting of other Muslims, as well as our own untrustworthy behaviors and how I (and others) see arrogance as related to this issue.

    If you are a white Muslim and you don’t hold very many Muslims of color close to your heart, you don’t talk to many other than at the masjid for a couple hours a week, a month or a year–why do you suppose that is? And if Muslims of color are not beating down your door (other than to marry you) to befriend you–why do you suppose that is?

    The lovefest that many of us converts thought was going to happen after we said shahahda did not happen. Many of our jilhaliya baggage remains, both individually and culturally. Often, even when we insist that we are free of such baggage–yet can easily see it on other people–there is subtle, unconscious stuff happening that we just don’t know about.

    In a cheesy titled article from way back  in pre-Obama 2002, “Why Can’t We Just Get Along? Interpersonal Biases and Interracial Distrust” researchers Dovidio, Gaertner, Kawakami, Kerry, Hudson and Gordon “examine how interpersonal biases can contribute to these different perspectives [of white Americans and Black Americans] and ultimately to interracial distrust that can undermine race relations.” Their studies and experiments kept the focus on whites’ contribution to the problem, “In particular, we propose that there are four aspects of contemporary prejudices held by Whites toward Blacks in the United States that contribute to the divergence of perceptions and interracial distrust in the United States today.” They also acknowledged that these white prejudices extended beyond blacks to other minorities:

    • (a) Contemporary racism among Whites is subtle
    • (b) these racial biases are often unintentional and unconscious
    • (c) these biases influence the perceptions that Whites and Blacks have of these same behaviors or events, and
    • (d) these racial biases have different consequences on the outcomes for Blacks and Whites.

    The researchers explain how the subtleties of Aversive Racism play out, and it completely mirrors what we see in the Ummah. Firstly, racism is now illegal in the US, so no (reasonable) person will admit to it, and also white Americans have adopted egalitarian values and therefore believe that they are not a minutia prejudice:

    egalitarian {adjective} – asserting, resulting from, or characterized by belief in the equality of all people, esp. in political, economic, or social life.

    Sounds like the Muslims right? We say we are all equal (period).

    I am one of those folks who grew-up truly believing that racism no longer existed (except for maybe in the south) because that was what I was told by my white parents, mostly white educators and white dominated media. So when I saw and read about racism within the Ummah, I pointed fingers, but not so much at African Americans, more so at born Muslims. Again, the Orientalist in me unconciously reared her head. Those same folks who taught me racism was extinct, also taught me that the Muslim Middle East is inferior to my West.

    The study asserts that Whites have “feelings of anxiety and uneasiness” about blacks. Elsewhere I have read that whites can be so fearful of being called “racist” they simply won’t engage with blacks or other poc, to the point of not looking them in the eye! The Dovidio & Co article explains that:

    “Because aversive racists consciously endorse egalitarian values and deny their negative feelings about Blacks, they will not discriminate directly and openly in ways that can be attributed to racism. However, because of their negative feelings, they will discriminate, often unintentionally, when their behavior can be justified on the basis of some factor other than race (e.g., questionable qualifications for a position).”

    Again, I ask you, how many Muslims of color do you hold close to your heart? Have over for dinner? Call to check on regularly? Visit while sick? Give salams to? I don’t want to hear that they don’t do it either, we are looking at us. We are supposed to make excuses for others, but making excuses for ourselves is one of the subtle ways aversive racism works:

     “[Whites’] behavior can be justified on the basis of some factor other than race.”

    When I questioned the cut-off point with which to make excuses for my white sisters, I took a little flak for my observation:

    “I did notice a pattern amongst a few of my white sisters to say they would do stuff and then “flake.” But really the untrustworthiness runs much deeper than just hypocritical flaking . . . the way I see it as related is that white folks just don’t call each other out for it. They ‘forgive’ each other, but are less ‘forgiving’ of people of color. Generalizations based on my observations, that’s all I got.”

    So it may be absolutely unrelated that I have been repeatedly flaked on and had unconsummated invitations extended to me by white sisters, and perhaps nearly everybody does this — repeatedly? And Allhualim what was the intention with each individual instance, but let’s remember why flakiness can be so detrimental:

    Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0112:

    It is reported on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (may peace and blessings be upon him) said: Three are the signs of a hypocrite: when he spoke he told a lie, when he made a promise he acted treacherously against it, when he was trusted he betrayed.

    I threw my “flakiness hypothesis” out there after reading Jamerican’s observations on White Privilege and Office Culture:

    “True story: At my previous job, I was told during a performance evaluation that my response to requests is often negative. When I asked for an example my supervisor mentioned a time when she asked me to attend a function that was on the other side of town. My husband at the time and I only had one car which he generally used because his job was further away than mine. (My supervisor knew this). Anyhow, when she asked me to attend the function I told her that I would not be able to because I did not have transportation. Apparently, I was supposed to lie and tell her that I would see if I could arrange a ride. Since I didn’t do that my response was considered to be negative. (After some time I noticed that my White co-workers, no matter what they were asked, no matter how difficult, or unrealistic the task was, would smile and say yes or would say they’d try- even if they knew they couldn’t.)”

    Jamerican, who is a Jamaican American Muslimah, was perceived as negative when she was being honest. White co-workers were given the benefit of the doubt–repeatedly. This behavior may be elusive and even unconscious to whites, but it is clearly seen by those who actively confront racism, “And this is one of the ways in which I believe privilege functions. White people give other white people the benefit of the doubt, maybe even when it’s not deserved.”

    In one of their experiments to test the hypothesis of aversive racism, our researchers (Dovidio & Co.) found that when “test” job candidates with weak qualifications were reviewed by white “test” employers, the white candidates’ skills were seen as stronger than they really were where as the black candidates skills were seen as weaker. Equal skills, yet the preference was for white.  The researchers describe these results as “Whites may give White candidates the ‘benefit  of the doubt,’ a benefit that is not extended to outgroup members.” This is one of the subtle ways that aversive racism exists, we extend the benefit of the doubt more liberally to our own. Making excuses for a sister is encouraged, but what about that sincere naseeha and wanting for your sisters what you want for yourself? Is hypocrisy and/or injustice what we want for each other?

    And do you extend excuses to your siblings of color, or are you extending the wrong kind of excuses to yourself: “However, because of [whites] negative feelings, they will discriminate, often unintentionally, when their behavior can be justified on the basis of some factor other than race (e.g., questionable qualifications for a position)*”(Dovidio).

    *My emphasis. So what kind of factors prevent you from extending yourself to Muslims of color? Do you label them rude? Backwards or uncivilized? Uneducated? Belonging to such and such Muslim affiliation and therefore unworthy of Muslim adab (manners)? Or worse, do you have suspicions about an individual based on stereotypes:

    Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 73, Number 90:

    Narrated Abu Huraira:

    The Prophet said, “Beware of suspicion, for suspicion is the worst of false tales; and do not look for the others’ faults and do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not desert (cut your relation with) one another, and do not hate one another; and O Allah’s worshipers! Be brothers (as Allah has ordered you!”)

    Allen explains the necessity of opening lines of trust to break the cycle of inter-racial distrust:

    “Trustworthiness generates trust. Our life is much better when we can and do trust our fellow citizens. If both parties are working to prove themselves trustworthy and to test the trustworthiness of others, then it starts to generate a culture where greater levels of trust are possible.”

    Since this is getting epic, I will have to come back to “those arrogant white people,” inshallah. But I hope you come away from this recognizing that if you do carry some of those jilhaliya behaviors, such as wrongfully extending unearned excuses one way but not extending fair excuses another, you will see how that makes you untrustworthy.



    23 thoughts on “Inter-Racial Distrust and the White Muslim

    1. Salaams Brook:

      Concerning the whole WP issue, I am learning and keeping an open mind.

      I admit I was a bit taken back by the perception of some POC that white people are not trustworthy. So, I asked my husband. He said that for starters, white people broke just about every promise and treaty that they made to POC.

      1. Walaikum Salam Sissy,
        Thank you for the prompt, I wasn’t going to get all academical with it, but I’m glad I did. I learned a lot. I also love to discover that my instinct has a bonafide name!

    2. I have trust issues with the majority of Arabs I know. When they promise me something, I have learned to NEVER expect it until it actually materializes. As Abu Sinan once observed of Arabs:


      “… a culture of “kalam fadi” (empty words) is another one. People will promise you the world, give all sorts of “Insha’Allahs” and “Bismillahs” and none of it will mean anything.

      “Jamile Kadaba”-they will talk to you nice, promise you the world and say what they think you want to hear, but at the end of the day they will do nothing and then blame it on God. If God had willed it they would have done it right?


      Most white people I personally know don’t engage in the above.

      Of course, not all Arabs and Whites fit into a neat stereotype but it is an interesting observation.

      1. This reminds me of the very over played out maxim in my family, “It’s the thought that counts.” As in I said I would do something for you, and then I didn’t, but you should appreciate that I even considered it. Alhumdiallah, I am judged for my actions–including the words that I put forth.

    3. Well pretty much all of my friends are people of color. This was true before I was Muslim, too. I think it was just serendipity or demopgraphics cuz I grew up in a very mixed neighborhood where most people are of color, if I had been in a different place, being white, it probably wouldn’t have been that way.

      I think many Muslim white women are pretty much surrounded by POC most of the time. Am I wrong? I can’t speak for males cuz once again in “real life” I don’t know of more than a couple. Anyways…not that being surrounded by POC makes us any more understanding of white privilege or lessens it. I still see these patterns you mentioned elsewhere of whites trying to dominate (even in a group of POC) or unwilling to ever be wrong about their world view though they are surrounded by POC who are telling them that the view is wrong.

      That said…

      I have indeed heard that white people are hollow and untrustworthy. “White man speak with forked tongue,” right? I didn’t know why readers were so shocked to hear this. This lack of understanding and mistrust comes from us whites as a group truly letting Others down both historically and today, but also from what you pinpoint: just not knowing each other, being so wary and afraid of each other.

      And yes I have heard that supposedly Arabs use “kalam faadhi” and white people over here where I live in the Gulf say to Arab and South Asian Muslims “Do you mean you are really going to do it, is it really going to happen…or is it Inshallah going to happen?” They abuse the beautiful concept of ‘Inshallah’ to put Muslims down for supposedly not following on thru on things. They feel that only white people/Westerners follow thru on things. Once again, I think this only comes from misunderstandings.

      Well, I have seen another take on this: I have a friend who does catering, and if she can’t do a job for a friend, she will not say NO. She will say, I am really busy, let me call you in a few days and let you know. The other friend is supposed to “get it,” that this means “NO.” Because she (the caterer) feels it would be rude or too direct to give a negative response, in her culture it would be. So it “saves face” to let the other person down with an “I’m not sure, I’ll let you know.” Now, if you are from her culture, you will understand that this means “NO.” But if you are from a different culture in which things are often said in a more direct way, you might not get it. You will call her later and wonder why she didn’t just say NO in the first place. It is all about perception. Her words weren’t “faadhi,” they were trying to save face for you and her.

      So ideas about directness and what people can do to lose face vary from culture to culture…it DOES create misunderstandings when people interact cross-culturally. And when you have been raised with an ingrained mistrust of the Other culture, you are bound to fall into the trap of re-confirming negative stereotypes. It is easy to do, and even me being aware of WP and cross-cultural interaction and being an expat and pretty much being surrounded by different cultures all my life…I STILL fall back on negative stereotypes sometimes. But we gotta tell ourselves that this is bad (cuz it is bad) and stop doing it. It is obviously very damaging.

      Anywayz, I really liked this post with all of the research and citations and I loves how you linked the ahadith to your points…very interesting info.

    4. Salaams Luckyfatima:

      Alhamdulillah, you have hit on something very useful for me, and Insha Allah others – that the kalam faadhi can actually be misunderstood and cause cultural misunderstandings. JAK for that!

      On another note, I work in women’s prison in America as a Muslim c-h-a-p-l-a-i-n. 99% of the Muslimahs are POC. Huge trust issues exist with me and the AA sisters. When I expressed my concern and frustration about this to my colleague and brother, Dawud Adeeb, he came right out and said to me, “Well, sister – do you think some of it has to do with your complextion” lol! A light bulb went off for me. See, I was expecting the sisters to see me first as a Muslimah, and second as a white person. Then there’s the issue of me as a white person in a position of authority. So, lots of dynamics. Boy, did I learn from that one. It took well over a year of me having to “prove” myself as trustworthy. Now they know that I say what I mean and mean what I say. Prison is not a place for BS.

      Here’s a situation that happened with me in the prison. I have two Arab sister friends who both went to Hajj, Alhamdulillah. Last Ramadan, I asked these sisters to come to the prison and talk with our sisters about Ramadan and Hajj – to pump up the iman of our sisters. Some of our sisters are doing life sentences and will probably never go to Hajj unless Allah (swt) changes their conditions. Both Arab sisters said they would do it, and acted delighted to be asked and all that. To make a long story short, I then set things in motion for security clearance. Stupidly, I even told the inmates and my Christian supervisor that we were having guests. They were so excited. And so was I. When it came time for the Arab sisters to complete the security paperwork, it was like oh, “Insha Allah” or “I have to ask my husband” etc. It was clear that they didn’t want to come in. I was so ashamed in front of my supervisor and the inmates. Plus, it made me look like I was untrustworthy. Not that I care much about my own perception, but I do care when I am made out to look like I am not a person of integrity. This is big with me.

      I was so pissed (sorry). To tell the truth, I told both Arab sisters off. I didn’t mince words. They were very upset with me. Well, too bad. I let them know how much it Islamically sucked for them to do what they did. I see the incarcerated sisters. I know their jihad. They don’t need Muslims from the outside adding to it. I love my incarcerated sisters. I defend them like a mother bear where possible. Nobody hurts them without going through me.

      Okay, the Arab sisters were trying to be nice, save face, etc. But look at the damage it caused. The same goes for things I have asked the Arab and Desi community for to donate for the women. The Christians store Bibles in the closet because they have so many of them. Christian books, pamphlets, etc. Nothing for the Muslims. You don’t know what I have to go through to get Muslims to donate Qurans. And hijabs – practically impossible. And monetary donations at Eid time (when millions of dollars are going overseas/”home”) so that indigent inmates can participate in the prison Eid feast (yes, they have to pay).

      It’s just all too much, sisters. Say dua for us behind the walls. We all suffer the same in there, no matter what color. Whether staff or inmates.

      Ah look – I have written a post, lol.

    5. Great post and discussion. I see now what you were getting at with that original prompt and it is a very solid point indeed. I’ll try to add a comment tomorrow – it’s way past my bedtime here.

    6. I hope I wasn’t the only one who understood that comment to be true. The arrogance I see on a daily basis amongst white westerners in foriegn lands. It is unbelievable the levels of it. As for untrustworthy, I can see this on many levels as well. Maybe it is my surroundings??

      I do agree however that Arabs are very quick to say things they don’t mean too. “Inshallah” as bad as it is I tell people “Don’t say that” because here it equates to ‘I have no intentions of doing it or it being done on time” And to use Allah in some way as an excuse for their failure to act angers me.

      Also the fakeness of it all.. they might say invite you over for tea.. but don’t really expect you to say yes. Or smile in your face all the while want to strangle you because you annoy them.

      Maybe I’m just a person who wears their emotions on their sleeve and say what I mean and mean what I say. Perhaps to a point where I don’t know when to shut up 🙂 but I can’t be perfect all the time.

      As to opening my world to POC.. can I answer that when I don’t want to lock my kids out of the house?? too close to bed time to respond in a nice way 🙂

    7. I would also hope White people can move past the idea that having friends of color (the Black friend argument) automatically means that they are not racist. And one step further than that is just because you are married to someone of color doesn’t mean that you have departed from racist values instilled by your family, the media and society. There is still this ignorance (feigned or real) on part of White people about the racism and daily indignity that POC must endure on a regular basis.

      What upsets me even more is when Muslims try to pretend that color, race and ethnicity are not issues in the ummah. When African-Americans bring it up we are accused of being racist. (Circular argument anyone?) It also unnerves me when White Muslim converts (many of whom never confronted their privilege prior to Islam) also behave as if race, ethnicity and color are not issues in the ummah. It’s as if suddenly, we no longer live in society and everything is perfect.

      1. Jamerican: “And one step further than that is just because you are married to someone of color doesn’t mean that you have departed from racist values instilled by your family, the media and society.”

        I’ll speak cause I’m this person. I noted on my blog that my father is a racist but after having married a black man doesn’t mean I didn’t have to recognize and shed many of the things taught to me, be it directly (father) or indirectly (society and media). It takes some soul searching on part of the individual to really get a grip on what is within us despite what we may want it to be. And I’ve met some racist indviduals although they are married to a POC which baffles my mind totally.

        As for what a POC has to deal with on a daily basis, even as a mother of brown children trying my hardest to instill self love, respect of all others, and openess there is no way I could ever teach my children what it will be like as a POC no matter what side of the world they happen to be in. I can only be there for them when they do have to deal with it.

        Personally I think we are more blessed in that their extended family makes up so many shades. I don’t think, at least I hope they don’t, have to struggle with identity issues as interacial children do in the US that I know of. Although on this part of the world there are other issues as to being mixed nationality wise.

        I’m a bit baffled at the thought of the suggestion there is no racism in our global ummah. I have to wonder if people are that clueless.

    8. As Salaamu alaykum,

      I am really grateful for this carnival and for the discussions it has fostered. This post, Masha’Allah is very well laid out and articulated.

      A few years ago a friend who is Desi told me that she refuses to keep the company of White Muslims because she can no longer tolerate how well they are treated ( at the expense of others around them) or the glimmer that comes into people’s eyes at mosques or gatherings when they enter. I was both surprised and comforted by her statement because it made realize that the problem really was as big as i imagined and that i wasn’t just being an “angry Black woman.”

      I have only been able to make close White Muslim friends while living outside of the US . I will have to think harder to figure out why this is. But I will admit that I find myself “writing off ” White Muslims as hard-hearted and condescending before getting to know them and purposefully keep them at bay even if they make attempts to befriend me. It is as if I dont want to deal with “whiteness” and all of the historical baggage of American racism during my free time.

      We Blacks know a lot about White privilege, just like the middle kid knows exactly the ways in which their parents favor the oldest and youngest child. It would be really interesting to have Black Muslims write about white privilege within Islam and how it has effected their lives. Just a thought.

      I am writing this all to say that we all have a long way to go, but this is a good start. May Allah Subhanahu give us Success in becoming servants whose inner and outer states are pleasing to Him. Ameen.

    9. Safiyya-Why can’t I figure out why you spelled out c-h-a-p-l-a-i-n? Do they attract special trolls? The treatment of African-American and other PoC Muslims in prison or “entangled” in the American legal system, by other Muslims (be they white, Arab, etc.) is also racist. Perhaps the other Muslims fail to understand how race plays outs out within the legal system, but I see them being far more willing to extend those excuses to other Muslims “entangled” in the system.
      and also the concern for Anwar al-Awlaki yet the mockery of AA brothers “entangled” by the same system.
      Locally, I have seen the attitude of “what did he/she DO?” when help is asked for.
      I’m really sorry to hear that about the books. I wonder if would get in on this? I have suggested it, maybe if others do as well?

    10. Jamerican –
      From what I’m reading about anti-racism, whites (many, many, most of ’em) just won’t take any discussion from poc regarding racism. I’m a embarassed by the kudos I am getting here, because I see Muslims of color frequently discussing race issues, but they are attacked for it–where as I am being applauded. I am linking to YOUR site, YOUR ideas and those of other PoC, but it seems to come a little better from me 😦
      On your site and others, I see the “Muslim blocking move” not only of “these problems don’t exist because we are all Muslims now”–but also attacking AA Muslims for indentifying with the problems of the kuffar–like if you call AAs “my people”–you see here I am talking about my white people and have yet to be attacked for it.
      Thanks sis, really.

    11. Walaikum Asalam Sumayya-
      Thanks for adding to the conversation. I think that Black Muslims having not jumped into this conversation shows a serious amount of restraint, masha Allah–if you read through some of the comments here and elsewhere you can see a small portion representing the many/most white Muslims who just are not up to speed with race dynamics/privilege and I respect that Black and PoC Muslims don’t need the aggravation we may cause with our ignorance.
      Love and Peace

    12. Salaams Brooke:

      I spelled it that way to avoid the search engines.

      A Half Date drive I could REALLY use would be for hijabs. Email me privately and we can come up with something Insha Allah.

    13. I agree that having friends of color or being married to a person of color doesn’t automatically make a white person not racist.

      I think that ALL people, including POC, have some racist tendencies in them.

    14. make close White Muslim friends while living outside of the US

      Because outside the US it is so much easier to recognize all the things Americans have in common regardless of race/subculture/skincolor, while in the US the differences are way more apparent?

    15. Safiyya: But please don’t generalize to all Arabs (how many Arab countries are there, and aren’t their cultures so different from each other anyway?) because of your experience or handful of experience with a few. One of the points of this post (as I take it) is that we as whites are more forgiving towards other whites…if a white person gave you a problem like that, you would NEVER say “Oh, it is because she is white.” Why is it okay to say “Oh, it is because she is Arab, it is in her culture to let people down.” Perhaps if those sisters were white, you would have made other excuses for them. It isn’t that Arabs or whites or blacks or desis ARE actually flakey…it is that when it comes to dealing with the Other, we are not as forgiving of flakiness and we are less apt to make excuses, and we may be more likely to let the Other down because of barriers caused by racism and in the case of whites cuz of white privilege.

      I know it is hard to think about these things…and as I say them to you I know that as I said before, I also find myself doing the same thing sometimes. But that’s why we are having this discussion…so I can catch myself next time I do the same, and Inshallah be a better more sincere friend and Sister in Islam.

    16. luckyfatima- I think part of it is culture.. the whole Inshallah thing.. and it gets to me because they do use Allah as an excuse that it doesn’t get done.

      on a personal level.. all people have the ability to not follow up on things, to fall through, to not keep to their word ect.

      on a business level it is much different on this part of the world and it is difficult to deny that. If businesses did the same things in the US as they do here they would go under.

      As for the incenserity I mentioned I do chalk that up to a cultural difference. A way of being polite on one end, and the other is not to expose things be it publicly or within the family.

    17. I believe that about 6 years ago the media quoted then prime minister of Malaysia stating that the reason most people of color in the world dislike or are suspicious of white people was that though the white man’s strength was being curious, his arrogance was his down fall. Anyhow what I get from that is even though it was ok for the white-euro-peoples to explore so many other cultures as that is common for peoples to do, it came with a penalty which was oppression. There is not a people or a land that they did not through their arrogance effect negatively.

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