Ramadan Reflections: I <3 the Moon Calendar

Pumpkin with a palm tree and crescent moon carved into it.

This Ramadan is hard. Right smack in the middle of summer, these are the longest fasts of my Muslim life, it’s hot, and the kids are home all day. Well, my kids are always home all day, but I’m sure that’s an extra challenge for most Ramadaners.

I have six children and they are currently kind of a mess. My eldest two want to just stay up all night so as to not miss suhoor and indeed they are very hard to wake for suhoor, so I suck this up. But, they also keep me awake, sometimes, and keep some of my other kids awake, sometimes. So our sleep schedules are all just a mess unlike any other Ramadan I have done. But, I love this about Islam.

See, I thrive on different. I like newness, not in the shiny package kind of way, but in the explorative “seek knowledge” kind of way. I like vastness, not just in the unlimited possibilities kind of way, but also in the internal ways- sleep deprivation can be ugly and trying in this “month of patience”, but it can also poke holes into unused places in the brain that need some stirring. I like flexibility, even though I sometimes lack it, but living the holidays by the moon calendar forces flexibility.
I grew up celebrating regularly scheduled hegemonic US holidays: birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving and all that/those. These holidays always came with the same expectations, same traditions, same fall outs, and so on. Great for many, but after about 20 cycles I let go of these traditions that frankly interrupted my schedule (I was a broke and very busy student), so I quit them. Let me do gifts and appreciations on my own time, I thought.

Then I became Muslim, which some folks claim appeals to “wild western girls” like me “who need structure and rules”. Yep, sure Islam has plenty of rules to live by, but praying by the course of the sun ensures that I am never doing those rigidly required five prayers at exactly the same time for more than three days in a row. Never under estimate the little things, like those one minute changes. Those long stretches between Thuhr, Asr and Mahgrib can provide feelings of freedom during the summers, but the shorter intervals in winter can also be a welcome relief to refocus inward.

My new holidays inch forward through the seasons, slowly bringing me out of the musalla onto the grass and then back inside again years later. The holidays may be similar in function, but that calendar is always going to tweak the form just a little, forcing me to adapt year after year and thereby, insha Allah, grow with a variety of experiences.

I hope this Ramadan will get easier, but either way we are already half way through and then it will be a few more years of seasonally hard Ramadans, then some breezier spring ones, then some cakewalk winter fasts, then my favorite pumpkin treat-filled fall Ramadans, and then insha Allah I will be dead! Or maybe my circumstances will somehow change entirely, and I will be elsewhere on the globe or otherwise within my own body – either way, should I live, it will likely be something new.

Advertisements

Link Love: Is the American School System Damaging Our Kids?

Great article covering much of the science and history of institutionalized schooling and illustrating some of the many (more than two million children!) ways people are accessing alternate forms of education for children.

“Education has become an American institution—of the worst kind.”

Parents send their children to school with the best of intentions, believing that formal education is what kids need to become productive, happy adults. Many parents do have qualms about how well schools are performing, but the conventional wisdom is that these issues can be resolved with more money, better teachers, more challenging curricula, or more rigorous tests. But what if the real problem is school itself?

The unfortunate fact is that one of our most cherished institutions is, by its very nature, failing our children and our society.

Children are required to be in school, where their freedom is greatly restricted, far more than most adults would tolerate in their workplaces. In recent decades, we’ve been compelling them to spend ever more time in this kind of setting, and there’s strong evidence that this is causing psychological damage to many of them. And as scientists have investigated how children naturally learn, they’ve realized that kids do so most deeply and fully, and with greatest enthusiasm, in conditions that are almost opposite to those of school….

….Most people assume that the basic design of today’s schools emerged from scientific evidence about how children learn. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Schools as we know them today are a product of history, not of research.

The rest of the article is here.

Unschooling Muslim-style Among The Stacks

Sitting in the library yesterday I looked up to see my ten year old praying in a corner next to the circulation desk. The library is basically one long rectangle with the big circulation desk at one end, an L-shaped table covered in computers at the other end, rows of long tables with chairs in between, and full bookshelves all along the wall. There is a very small room annexed off this main room which houses reference books and new arrivals, and a lovely garden with cushioned seating off the main room. Little offices and other rooms are tucked away out of sight, but obviously they are there as the building is two-stories plus a basement.

I snickered a bit when I saw him praying there in the corner as he is who we, the family, call “The Oblivious Child.” Now, my little blog entry here could easily be spun into some pro-hijrah propaganda, but truth is- I’ve never seen anyone else pray in this small library in a huge city in a Muslim-majority country. I know there are other Muslims praying in there, there is always a little congestion around the one bathroom during prayer times and the tile floor often reveals the tell-tale puddle of the aftermath of several wudu-makings. When I pray at this library, I borrow a prayer rug from the security guards or the librarian and take myself out to a side of the garden where I am less likely to be distracted by hushed (and not so hushed) conversations and the sensing of people coming and going behind my prostrating-self. My thirteen year old follows my lead and heads over to the same corner when I hand him off the rug. But my ten year old is the only person I have ever seen openly, unabashedly praying in front of dozens of people in the library.

Of course I’m happy for him that he isn’t shy about who he is and what he needs to do, as he shouldn’t be—neither here nor back in the US. But the thing is- I can’t include this as one of the “Blessings of Living in A Muslim Country,” because, like I said, I’m not seeing this as normal behaviour ‘round here. His lack of conforming to social norms has much more to do with him being home-educated than with him being a Muslim, living in a Muslim majority country. I’m pretty sure he would have done the same thing back home in a US library, even though I know few people who do such things. Myself and friends have “hidden” ourselves away praying in the “stacks” at the university library and one student librarian told me about a woman actually be harassed by a lead librarian while the woman was praying in the ‘berry.  Normally when I pray in public places, I try to tuck myself away a bit, mostly due to not liking “to be butt-up in the air” in public, but really I seldom saw anyone praying in public back home and not so much here either. Though theoretically it should be perfectly acceptable for us to pray in the Land of The Free and in the Land of The Muslims, that’s just not the reality for all, everywhere.

As we continue on this home-educating journey, one of the many things I try to objectively-as-possible observe is this interesting thing of when and where my kids conform and don’t conform. I fully admit to having to actively resist forcing trivial norms on them, like telling them to change their clothes or change their childlike legit, yet socially-unacceptable behaviors. I pray they are given the strength and wisdom to remain steadfast to the right things.

The Hijrah Dialogues: Part Three

Part Three: Brooke Benoit talks with Dr. Jamillah Karim, professor of religious studies at the all female Spelman College, “anthropologist at heart” and author, about her mini hijrah to Malaysia and how becoming an immigrant and Other will help Karim in her life’s work within the ummah.

What brought you, your husband and your two young sons to Malaysia, and is it the only Muslim-majority country you have visited?
Malaysia is the first Muslim-majority country that I lived in and visited. I traveled to Malaysia the first time in 1997 as part of a forty-member Muslim youth delegation, invited by the Malaysian government to see an example of Islam thriving in a modern society and to then apply our discoveries in our home communities. At that time, our group was impressed with the way in which the Malaysian government sought to apply traditional Islamic thought and law in ways that accommodate modern values.  As ethnic and religious minorities in the United States, we found it especially compelling that Malaysia emphasized Islam as the majority religion at the same time that it embraced its religious and ethnic diversity.  We also found the treatment of women in Malaysian society favorable. Women in traditional Muslim attire appeared to fully participate in the public sphere.  

After that visit, I traveled to Cairo for an eight-week Islamic Civilization course, to Mecca and Medina for the hajj, to Fez as part a ten-day interfaith pilgrimage, and to Istanbul for my honeymoon. In 2010 my family lived in Malaysia for a year while my husband to attended the International Center for the Education of Islamic Finance (INCEIF). My husband has an MBA in finance from Georgia Tech, but he has always been interested in Islamic Finance and exploring how this alternative system could be applied in the American context.

 I appreciated and embraced the display of diverse religious communities.

Was there anything markedly different about how Islam is presented in Malaysia compared to the other Muslim-majority countries you visited?

 

It had been over a decade since my first visit to Malaysia and with my travels and acquired academic background in the studies of Islamic cultures I did have insight of the unique features of Malaysian Muslim socity. Many of the features of this society that stood out back then reemerged during my recent residence in the country. Certainly, what makes Malaysia unique compared to all of the other Muslim-majority countries that I visited is its substantial non-Muslim population. Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and other religious groups make up forty percent of the population. I appreciated and embraced the display of diverse religious communities. This appreciation is influenced, I am sure, by my American ideals of religious inclusion, but not even in America do you see minority religious holidays recognized with such high public profile in the way that you see them celebrated in Malaysia. I kept my eye toward the Chinese and Indian Malaysian experience in the country, as opposed to that of the Muslim Malays, which was definitely influenced by the fact that I lived in an upper-class expatriate area where a substantial number of Chinese Malaysians lived or owned businesses.  My eyes were opened as I listened to non-Muslims describe their feelings about social policies that favor Muslim Malays and the recent proposals made by political groups to create laws that impose religious standards or preferences.

 

Living in Malaysia I gained a better sense of the ethnic and religious tensions and realized how the substantial minority presence actually contributes to Malaysia’s reputation as a progressive Muslim-majority. The diverse voices, even within the Muslim population, continue to push the society to think about and embrace ways to identify as a Muslim society in which religious minorities feel fully recognized and integrated in the society.

Do you feel that you practiced your deen any differently while living in Malaysia? How has living there improved your deen, if at all?

I loved the way in which decorations for Eid were put up well before the holiday and the way in which Eid was cherished as a time to spend with family. It reminded me of the Christmas holiday season here in the US. In the convert community in which I grew up, I saw Eid practiced as a community affair, but now with my generation having children and our Muslim families expanding, Eid is increasingly becoming more family-based, being experienced as a time for extended family to come together as well as community activities. Otherwise, I wouldn’t say that living in Malaysia made a great difference in the practice of my deen. Islam as practiced in the United States is so rich and accessible that I never imagined traveling abroad as a critical component to increasing my personal faith, except for the pilgrimage to Mecca, of course.

On your blog you have said that as a stay at home mom in Malaysia you had the unique opportunity to connect with women from all over the world and this would be the #1 thing you would miss when leaving Malaysia. This was a little surprising to me, after all we both come from The Melting Pot where diversity is loudly touted, so what was the difference that made these connections possible in what, I would think, is a less diverse country than the US?

In the states I live in a black neighborhood in a majority-black city, I work at a black college for women, and I attend a black mosque. Depending on where you reside in the United States, there may not be opportunities to connect with people from all over the world. In my book I highlight the ways in which many of us are tied to ethnic locations in the United States while occasionally we have the chance or we deliberately make an effort to cross ethnic boundaries. Living in a diverse expat area in Kuala Lumpur, I had neighbors from all over the world. I wasn’t the only one making this observation. I remember an expatriate from Australia talking about how wonderful it was to meet people from everywhere.

Before going to Malaysia you were very candidly told that you would experience racism in more “direct” ways than in the US. Why wasn’t racism a deterrent for going abroad and how was the racism different than what you experience in the US?

It wasn’t a deterrent because we wouldn’t let the scare of racism prevent us from missing a once in a lifetime opportunity. Perhaps too it is because we haven’t experienced racism directly like our parents and grandparents did to really be scared. When my husband mentioned to his aunt that people said we might face racism, she responded that we don’t even know what racism is as our ancestors had experienced it in the last century.

Racism in Malaysia was different in that it was direct, but not just towards black people. Malaysia is a very race and ethnic conscious country and it is understood that people are preferred in different situations based on their race. In the United States, if you call an apartment complex to inquire about leasing, no one’s going to ask you directly or immediately about your ethnic or racial background. Perhaps they will take cues from the way you speak or discriminate after seeing you, but they wouldn’t directly ask you if you are black or immigrant on the telephone as I experienced in Malaysia.

In your book, American Muslim Women: Negotiating Race, Class and Gender within the Ummah, you explain some of the dynamics which keep the ummah in the United States from being more unified, especially among immigrant and African American Muslims. How has living as an immigrant in Malaysia evolved your perspectives of these dynamics?

I thought about this question a lot. I am now more understanding of the dilemma that immigrants face as they try to make it in a new country.  How is it even possible to integrate into the new society without ascribing to some of the long-standing race and class dynamics? I still agree with the tone of my book as it celebrates those immigrants who’ve tried to resist wholesale assimilation into these racial patterns, but I’m more sympathetic to those who haven’t.

How long have you been back in the states and are you experiencing any of the repatriation discomforts? What, if anything, are you missing about Malaysia and do you have any plans to live abroad in another Muslim-majority country?

I have been back in the United States over two months and I’m experiencing hardly any discomfort. I’m very happy to be with my family and community. Of course I think back fondly on my time in Malaysia. I miss the friends that I made, especially those in the expat Muslim community. I’m missing the Malay family that took us in last Ramadan. I’m missing the food, sweet and savory and halal. I’m missing all the vacationing and tourist stuff we did in Malaysia.

No, I don’t have any plans to live abroad. I’ve always been exceptionally hopeful and excited about the great things American Muslims are destined to do here at home. I’m grateful to be among the first generations of Muslims in America. I look forward to making a contribution and continuing the legacy of establishing an American Muslim home and community for my children.

~~~

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue of SISTERS Magazine (the magazine for fabulous Muslim women).

The NPR Three-Minute Fiction That Will Never Be

Today is the final day to submit to NPR’s short story or three-minute fiction contest, which is a brilliant prompt and fun little challenge. This year’s contest is especially exciting with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie judging and ultimately reading the winning story. So I confidently began writing my piece keeping her sophisticated accent in mind. Because you know, I play to win. But then. I read the fine print and saw that none of my neighbors are eligible to enter the contest.

4. ELIGIBILITY. The Contest is open only to individual legal residents of the fifty United States who are age 18 and over.

That rather bummed me out. As some commenters on the NPR site bemoaned, it’s not cool that NPR is enjoyed all over the world, however, based solely on the intersection of latitude and longitude under which one’s mum was squatting (or hopefully not forced into a hospital bed) when one appeared on this planet determines whether one could or couldn’t enter the contest. Unfortunate to say the least. (I’m still writing for Adichie’s voice, you hear that right?) Adding insult to injury to my denied neighbors, as a US citizen who is privileged enough to have chosen to live abroad, I am still eligible for the contest even though I live here instead of there. Funny still, Adichie is an immigrant to the US, albeit a legal one. Decisions, decisions. The prompt was really irresistible for me, so I went forward with the writing but agitatedly blew off the other minor details knowing that I would not submit. Though I do adore neologisms. Le sigh. Here’s the text of my Three Minute Fiction and insha Allah I will make a podcast of it next week or so. I don’t sound anywhere near as great as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, but might as well finish the project, eh.

~~~

She

During desperately stolen moments, at the end of her tether, Maryam weighed her options, considered her possibilities, hedged her losses and meticulously chose a road believing that she would be its sole traveler. Based on her amateur gauge, Maryam estimated that said path would surely facilitate an arrival at her manifest destiny. She dug out her relic of a basket, gathered her eggs, tied up her camel, cast her net, dotted her “I”s, crossed her “T”s, and then suddenly, but not surprisingly, her son or actually maybe it was her husband or her father or maybe even it was that treacherous woman at Stendahl’s, well, whoever it was, he said, in a long drawn-out whine, that really he was much too old to still be using, he cried “Nooooooo! I want a popsicle.” Or maybe it was a pony or a Porsche that he wanted. Either way, under the grievous weight of the voracious decibels, without any reluctance, she spontaneously buckled, martyring herself by omitting a sheepish, barely audible, “Okay.” And without further hesitation, she threw all her carefully calculated caution into the waste bin.

I’m Racist: How Not Very Far and Slowly I Come

“There can be and usually is, some degree of pain involved in giving up old ways of thinking and knowing and learning new approaches.” ~bell hooks, Teaching to Transgess

I am working with an old essay (circa 2/2008) and am MORTIFIED by some of my thinking in here:

“WAHMs have been around since the dawn of woman. The indigenous woman who traded her goods and wares or the farmer’s wife who traded her homemade foods certainly didn’t think of themselves as industrious WAHMs, but they were. Modern WAHMs have a much wider range of possible work to choose from and a matched range of successes.”

I can count at least three things that are very, very wrong here. If you don’t see anything wrong with it, let’s talk more later, k?

To be a Black. Convert Muslim. Female. –LINK LOVE

from Jamerican Muslimah’s Veranda:

I wish I could tell you about the beauty. I wish I could tell you that I took shahadah after being fascinated with Islam and seeing the goodness of Muslims. I wish I could tell you how I found a family, a community and a new place to exist. I really wish I could. And I wish that because I am quite aware of the fact that Muslims don’t want to hear my kind of story. It’s too painful and too much truth for one person to digest. The reality is my convert experience has been a rocky one. It has been, at times, fraught with doubt and confusion as to why I chose to be a part of this community and around these particular people. Once the initial convert zeal wore off, I found myself in a miserable circumstance.

Read more here.

Homeschoolers Can Be Depressed

Or stressed out, or angry, or whatever else that isn’t so pretty and shiny. Life has taken on a more-than-usual hectic pace for me this month. There are a few projects I need to do with friends right now and, you know, as well as being a culinary maverick, international rollerblader, and so on and so on, I’m just too busy to write everything I want to–so let me briefly say something that is really important–Homeschoolers get depressed and stuff, but they don’t talk about it and they don’t do photo blogs about it and they suffer miserably and long and lonely. You know how sometimes we read/hear a message but we aren’t ready for it and then later the piece fits? I have surrounded myself with homschooling philosophies, dreams and homeschooling folks since I was a kid and first heard about this wonderful possibility. I have seen documentaries, talk shows, video blogs, have read books and articles and blogs and websites, have joined yahoo groups and international groups and attended conferences and so on and so on…and once, ONE TIME, in a completely off topic remark ONE MOM said that it took her five years to realize that she couldn’t homeschool the way she wanted to because she was depressed for that long.

Now, I don’t remember if she went on drugs or started running (runners are drug addicts too, ya know *Cheshire cat smile*) or got a dog or a divorce or what she did–but she said it! She admitted that she was depressed. And I don’t remember if that was before or after the final semester of a couple of pregnancies ago in which I spent my entire days laying on the couch–because I was DEPRESSED–but it was only just  recently that I FINALLY HEARD THAT MESSAGE and realized that I couldn’t do it how I wanted to and the wall was too high to get over and the lake was too wide to get around and the jungle was too thick to cut through. I was DEPRESSED.  They make great drugs for that and we’ll talk more about that later, insha Allah. And of course I couldn’t talk to anyone about it because a non-homeschooler would be too-quick to tell me to “just put the kids in school” and the Fatima Light and Bright* Muslimahs would swallow hard on their own denial and…

…And anyone who considers commenting that they don’t need “Self-help literature, therapy, counseling, drugs, etc” because you “have God, The Sunnah, The Quran, patience, etc,” —Come here so I can punch you in the lip and see how patient you are–what tools you’ve got to deal with life’s smacks. 😀

*Coined by Aaminah, I think.

Surviving Birth

I wrote this as a submission for the “Dear Sister” Anthology, and though it wasn’t accepted it was still an excellent prompt and writing process for me. I look forward to reading the finished work–insha Allah–and encourage folks to check out Lisa’s site for information about the release as well as resources for healing and writing.

~~~Surviving Birth~~~

Like a cliché from a box office smash, during my first pregnancy I dragged the husband along to a child birthing class. If anything, I insisted, it would be good for him, though really I didn’t have much idea about how the whole laboring thing was going to work for me. By the end of the evening, the birthing instructor leaned against a table in front of the group with a plush toy pelvis resting in her hands. In a semi-circle around her sat eight couples, in various states of repose on firm cushions brought, as instructed, from our homes. We had just finished watching the Brazilian Birthing video in which a seemingly endless number of women labor semi-squatting, leaning on a bar not unlike the one I used to do cherry drops from in grade school. One after another the women approach the bar, lean into it, and birth their baby either into their own hands or the soft pile of blankets on the floor. I was exhausted. And mildly nauseous, and a little hungry and yet still having a ping of indigestion. This was my first pregnancy and I was keenly sensitive to ever minute change occurring in and on my body. I had heat rash in December and another weird rash on my eyelids which made them look dusted with pink shadow. Not a cute look for me. Pregnancy was all consuming; it was all I felt and all I thought about.

The instructor had just asked the group “What do you expect of your labor?” While waiting for my turn to respond I was desperately trying to find something to expect. I hadn’t thought as far ahead as labor. While some of the couples had a great deal to say, all I could hear in my head was “I expect to live” and finally, when my turn came, that is what I said. I expect to live. After an epic pause of silence in which I was studied from head to toe by a room full of strangers, the instructor asked me to elaborate. All I could explain was, “With all the medical technology and stuff, I expect to live.” My husband has my loyal love for even less eloquently grunting out in his turn, “Well, uh, yeah. That.”

What I didn’t expect was to puke. I started puking with the first notable signs of labor–which was simply stronger contractions than the little ones which I had been having for days—and I continued vomiting for hours. My water broke, or later I would find out “partially broke,” but when and how much I wasn’t sure because I was so preoccupied with puking. I had been told to try to eat before coming in to deliver, so I dutifully had my favorite take-out and regretfully puked that right back up. I puked in the car and at the intake and for hours in the labor room and finally after so very long my midwife went against the implicit instructions on my birth plan and told me that she could give me something for the nausea but it would have to be intravenous.

In-between the laboring and the birthing classes, I finally admitted to myself that I would have to go through the actual labor process. There just wouldn’t be an easy way to avoid that. And so I began voraciously reading everything I could find about labor. For the last two months of my pregnancy I read fast and constantly. I spent my evenings online, my days sneaking peeks at books I bought from the big box next to work, and on the train after each prenatal appointment I would read everything that my midwives gave me to take home. I read somewhere that it was a good thing to make a birth plan ahead of time as I would be distracted during the labor process. Care providers could refer to the plan rather than disturb me or force me to make a decision hastily. So I did that and I wrote in it that I didn’t want drugs and not to offer me any incase I should buckle. Perhaps I would have reconsidered my rigid stance had I known that anti-nausea meds may be needed, but in my self-led crash course on What to Expect in Labor I hadn’t read about puking.

In all the reading I did for my labor preparation, I never read anything specific to how being a sex-abuse survivor could affect my labor. In hindsight that makes perfect sense. I was freaked about laboring, but I couldn’t tell you why—because I was freaked out. But now, a dozen years and a few more kids later, I can tell you what was freaking me about anticipating labor. I knew there was going to be a lot of pain and that it would be centered around my vagina. I knew that there was a looming date fast coming up in which things were going to happen to my body that I felt I had no control over. I was particularly worried about the ambiguous “pushing thing” that was about to happen and I foresaw it in my mind as a scene with a room full of blue and white coated people screaming at me to “Push! Push! Push!” Yeah, that could be enough to freak out someone who has previously experienced some form of sexual assault or abuse.

In the years since that labor, my many care providers have given me a whole lot of information related to pregnancy. I’ve been given handouts about the effects of coffee and cat poop on pregnant women and fetuses. I’ve been give information about how to prepare my perennial tissue and my vaginal muscles. I’ve been given fact sheets about the dangers of tuna fish, soft cheeses and vaccinations. But I have never given a handout that told me, “If you are a sex abuse survivor, it is likely that your prior experience may affect you during labor.”

That shouldn’t be such an implausible thing. I remember being given Xerox copies of stuff that really didn’t interest or concern me and being told, “Oh, you can just pass it on to a pregnant friend.” As much as I think that is a little obnoxious, I also think that maybe some of that stuff was important for me to read and my midwives were optimistic that I might get to it later. How about if they did that for survivors? Considering that up to one out of three women have been sexually abused at some point in their lives, and the probability of a pregnant women having been abused is one out of four, so then it shouldn’t be such a big deal to include in our little bundle packs some information about how sexual abuse can affect the emotional and physical state of a laboring woman. Puking in labor is thought to have a high correlation to sex abuse survivors. By the time I was ready to have my second baby I had learned that with the help of my friend Google. And I am so thankful that I did have a birth plan as I have also learned that for some survivors the labor process can be so distracting or disturbing that they concede all decisions to their care providers, who may not make the best choices for the laboring woman. I also learned about “crowning” and feeling for my baby’s head before I began to push.

Between that first and second baby, I read about sex abuse and how it can effect laboring from first-person survivor narratives, in midwife and medical journals, and on message boards. At a less frenzied pace, I have continued to add to my knowledge of pregnancy and labor as I continue to have kids. I am now one of those people who can breezily say about my last birth that “it was really fabulous.” Even though the nausea medicine that worked for labors #2 and #3 only helped a little, still, each birth has gotten easier and better for me both emotionally and physically. While I continue waiting for that handout—for me or a friend—I have learned so much from other survivors and about the birth process that nearly nothing about it seems ambiguous or frightening to me, not the pain, not the loss of control, and not the reminders to push when I already know when and how to do so. I have survived five births and two miscarriages.

Keeping You In A Stereotype: I’m Still Racist and more!

One of the very first things I did when I moved to Casablanca was buy a street map. The in-laws, kindly, suggested that I not actually read it in the street, because–you know–it would make me look more like a tourist and thereby make me more susceptible to unwanted attention. So last week when I saw a young couple reading a map together on a corner, I took notice of them and their touristy ways. Then I wondered if maybe they were Moroccan (yes, I’m a bit of a lookie-lou) and thought that he could probably pass, but even though there are people here of all shades, she just looked too European and then they were out of sight and out of mind.

Just a few streets down–wow– I saw another couple and a map! I’ve never seen people reading maps on the street before and now two in a row! But this time, the first thing that “innocently” popped into my mind was “prostitute.” Sit with that a second.

~ ~ ~

There are various rumors and urban legends about prostitution here in Morocco. There are rural areas that are reputed to be known for having many prostitutes. There are rumors about wealthy Arabs touring the country for solely for the purpose of soliciting. Then there is the rumor about sub-Saharan women (read Black) coming to Morocco to prostitute.

The couple on the corner was a Black woman–probably not Moroccan because she had extensions and Moroccan women don’t generally have them–and the man was a chubby white guy who was a little older than her. It is very likely that this was another European or maybe American or whatever couple–maybe not even a bonafide couple–but what obviously left an impression in my head was the rumor–and stereotype–that Black women come here to prostitute themselves.

I can already hear the skeptics, supporting me and my racist thinking. Whether or not the rumor is true is not the point and comments should not address that aspect, because that is derailing. I can also hear my/your inner racist demanding “Well, so what?” It’s not like I said anything or did anything. But I could have had I been in a position to interact with them. It could have been something as uncontrollable as a questioning look to a more “knowing” dirty look, shake of the head, click of the tongue, snide comment and so on. I feel it’s safe to say that if this couple goes about as a couple at all, it is likely that someone has acted on either that specific stereotype or some related trope.

I’m sure that I have acted on a stereotype or racist idea before. One isn’t immediately coming to mind, but being in Morocco I know that I have had quite a few Orientalist thoughts pop to the front of my brain and I must have acted on them somehow. Perhaps I am more inclined to act on them when they remain subconscious, but I am not sure and that is why I keep trying to recognize my isms when I notice them–so that I can correct myself.

Lately, a frequent ism I see popping up in my mind is my ableism. I’m not very well versed in ableism at all and have only just recently begun to notice my own ableism. It usually pops up regarding mental health. For instance, this weekend I was reading about this medical condition that may be a physical condition, but is often thought to be a mental disorder. I read a statement from a woman who says that it is a physical condition and she sufferers from it. Now, I am completely unsure about whether this condition is “real” or not, but because this woman is a famous singer from the sixties my brain did this super fast strawman/Rochard thing that looked like–“singer from sixties/must be burnt out stoner/therefore crazy.” This isn’t the first time I have noticed myself dismiss someone or their opinion based on a bias towards mental illness/disability.

Logically I know this is ridiculous, but since I have “caught” myself thinking this way I must–on some level–either believe or (hopefully) do some sort of auto-regurgitation of the ism ideas which I have been indoctrinated with–both the idea that Black women are “hotter” and more sexually promiscuous (again, I get that is all very conflated and wrong–that is the stereotype) and that people with a mental disorder/illness are not as accountable as say–me. Sheesh. That’s some ugly stuff.  As difficult as it is for me to write about these things, I am really thankful that I am beginning to “see” them more clearly.

Anyway, for now, let’s consider why it is so important to recognize these little racist (and other ist) thoughts that surface through from my/our unconsciousness.

 

Although they may appear like insignificant slights, or banal and trivial in nature, studies reveal that racial microaggressions [racial transgressions] have powerful detrimental consequences to people of color. They have been found to: (a) assail the mental health of recipients, (b) create a hostile and invalidating work or campus climate, (c) perpetuate stereotype threat, (d) create physical health problems, (e) saturate the broader society with cues that signal devaluation of social group identities, (f) lower work productivity and problem solving abilities, and (g) be partially responsible for creating inequities in education, employment and health care.

Acting on stereotypes in anyway hurts people in many ways. And again, we can’t change our behavior unless we identify it, so please don’t tell me that I’m not racist. Go identify some of your own isms. Further reading:

A brief history of how white people created and maintain the Over-Sexualized Black Woman trope aka Jezebel,The Jezebel Stereotype at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

Historically, White women, as a category, were portrayed as models of self-respect, self-control, and modesty – even sexual purity, but Black women were often portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory.

An explanation of how well-meaning white folks (and others) unknowingly commit racial transgressions all.the.time.  Racial Microagressions in Everyday Life

In our 8-year research at Teachers College, Columbia University, we have found that these racial microaggressions may on the surface, appear like a compliment or seem quite innocent and harmless, but nevertheless, they contain what we call demeaning meta-communications or hidden messages.