No Purple People Here

I now know what “wheat colored” is! Yes, it was pretty exciting for me to make the connection. People here really do come in a full spectrum of shades just like back home, but here they are almost all entirely Moroccan. Though I know this, it is still hard for my brain to accept it. My brain questions what I am seeing on the furthest ends of the spectrum. For instance, when people would tell me “we have people like you here” I didn’t believe them. Being fair is very popular here, so I thought tis was some kind of wishful thinking, astagfirAllah, I was so wrong. We recently visited a mostly Berber city and sure nuff, I saw people like me who are Moroccan. And now that I am a hijabi sometimes people talk to me in Berber.

 

 A few years back I believe I mistakenly thought that the darkest of Moroccans were Sub-Saharan Africans. Now my brain tends to identify well-dressed dark-skinned Moroccans as British! At least I find my subconscious amusing, but that is some serious Orientalist thinking there. Then we have lighter skinned peoples who would be considered Black in the states based on the one drop rule. But what are they here? I’m not so sure, but I know that back home we (the white peoples) don’t talk much about these things. So my pastry lady (yes, I go to the bakery that much that I have a pastry lady and she shares a name with one of my sons!)–so I was thinking about how back home my pastry lady would be called “black” even if she was Chicana or Moroccan. But she is so not black. She is wheat! Which I have peripherally heard before but sure didn’t know what that was!

***

Since I have become fairly addicted to race (and I am so not alone), I have been thinking about Surah 49: Al-Hujratt (The Private or Inner Apartments)

YUSUFALI: 49.13

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).

I know that when I originally read this, my feeling about it was that it meant to embrace diversity as a way to discover new things. This would mean a way to improve cultures and technologies, such as borrowing good innovations from other tribes/cultures. When I hear people say “well, that’s the way we do it” as an excuse for doing something really stupid (not different, but stupid) , not only do I want to stab myself in my eardrum, but I also think of this surah.

I would imagine that it is not uncommon for new Muslims to struggle with the literalness of the Quran. Though I wasn’t raised Christian, I had a vague understanding that the Bible wasn’t meant to be taken literally, which I now understand that for some people it is literal. I believe this affected how I originally read the Quran and even hadith.

But what about the literal meaning? Tafsir Ibn Kathir:

(that you may know one another.) refers to one’s saying, “So-and-so the son of so-and-so, from the tribe of so-and-so.” Sufyan Ath-Thawri said, “The Himyar (who resided in Yemen) dealt with each other according to their provinces, while the Arabs in the Hijaz (Western Arabia) dealt with each other according to their tribes.

Oh no. No. We (white Americans) do not do that. We are so uncomfortable talking about race that we generally do not use it for identification purposes unless we are quite uncouth. White people generally won’t say “Black Khadeja” unless perhaps they are in a private space, meaning amongst only other Whites. We wouldn’t say that to a Black person for sure. We might say “Italian so and so” if they are an exchange student or some kind of visitor by which their nationality has some special meaning. You know what I mean? But as a White woman I am far more likely to say “Khadeja Ummadam” or “Khadeja who drives the Beemer.”

I’ve noticed immigrant Muslim friends are far less shy to use nationalities or race/color to identify people. And admittedly this kind of makes me cringe. Probably I even thought it was really uncouth on their part. But that is where we are at as White Americans discussing race. Most of us really don’t want to at all.

 

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9 thoughts on “No Purple People Here

  1. Asalaamu alaikum,
    I am petrified to offend anyone using the “wrong” terminology. I also think I am not up to date on the “Correct” terminology so I try to avoid it– I don’t know the differences between hispanic or latino or any differences between Asians from China, Japan, or Korea. I mean no ill intentions and would be interested in their culture/country/heritage, but not knowing enough makes me stay silent. Plus in the US there are so many labels, mixed race and heritages, which would you have a stranger label you?

    It is strange to see the colors of Moroccans. I was surprised to see my that my husband’s cousins were Black, and they looked just like my Muslim brothers and sisters back in Boston. I kept thinking they were African American, and it felt like we had a connection, even language–though it was just my mind tripping.

    1. Walaikum Asalam Aischa,

      It’s funny you mention being petrified to offend because there is another fb convo going on now about how white people won’t just ask poc stuff. Specifically they are talking about food and how it would not be offensive to ask “how do you eat this” but white people won’t do that. And this excuse is often used, “well those people are so easily offended, I don’t even want to deal with them.” To clarify, I don’t think you are doing that–but people do.

      I think this is about humbling ourselves. You know white people are the authorities across most fields–that is how things are currently established–and we have been indoctrinated to believe that. So if you read through some of the anti-racist blog comments you will see it over and over–white people being arrogant, assuming they know something they don’t know jack about, not being able to accept people’s reality and a general just not willing to humble ourselves–shutting up and re-educating ourselves or asking sincere (non-antagonist) questions about these things which we know nada about.

      When I pick up on what label a person perfers, I try to remember and follow it. Personally, I don’t like to be called anything with “cock” in it, so if you must–please call me white 😀

      I think I know what you mean about the connection to black Moroccans! This time, being here now, I just feel deeply connected to them all.

    1. Walaikum Salam Sis,
      Definately not. The study I linked found that about 10% of the college students were able to use race as an identifier (rather than avoiding talking about it). And you would think that college students would be a little more exposed to diversity and you know they are the educated lot and all so you would think they would be MORE able to handle these kind of things, but my recent experience with white college students was that they were very freaked out about discussng race–so Ima unscientifically, but based on experience and this study, say that my generalizations (and others who experience similar) apply to more than 90% of white people.

      I have never been able to get that open bloggr comment thing to work, so I can’t leave comments on your blog now…I have to figure that out insha Allah.

  2. Salaamu alaikum,
    Seriously? People afraid to ask about food!!!! I am not scared of that. I think food is a good way to broach a cultural/racial conversation. Food is a safe topic? I know I might come off as a total dweeb being so curious. However, when it comes to wanting to know what language a person is speaking, out of curiousity, or where their gorgeous complexion comes from, I guess that is too personal, unless you know them. There must be a difference when people are familiar with each other vs total strangers. Even just visually familiar with a race/culture may make you more comfortable to ask/interect or at least not stare and glare. I should find that FB convo.

  3. Walaikum Asalam,

    I know, I know. Sounds silly but it resonates with me because I’ve done it–or, uh not done it?

    About 15 years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I went to a tiny sushi place and when the chef, who was also the server, brought me my order I asked him for a fork. Only chop sticks were on the table. He snorted and walked away. He never came back with a fork! So eventually I ate with my fingers.

    Last eid I took the kids to an all you can eat Japanese buffet. They were all into the chopsticks and asking me how to use them. I don’t know. And I did not ask the servers who were especially kind to my children, who let’s call-um-unhindered.

    We are an unschooling family, so we tend to be a little more explorative in public that many social mores stand for. But I still did not consider to ask them how to use the chopsticks! And waitresses are pretty safe ya know–not like asking the people at the next table.

    So for me, this example works 😦

  4. salam alaikoum sister, just wondering how you are doing and if you got my mail. i think so often of you and hope you settled in well!!!
    may Allah bless you and the whole family.

    1. Walaikum Asalam–We were just eating your almonds and saying I need to email you! Salams from my family (they all saw you now!) and I will email soon, insha Allah.

  5. Salams Brooke,

    I just discovered your blog and really like it. I’d love to get in touch. Do you have an email address I can contact you on?

    Peace
    Rahma

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