Against Islamophobia (A Black Christian* Response)

Silence will not protect…
There are times of laughter and frivolity. There are times of tears and melancholy. But these are not those times, or not those times only. These times demand that we stand up for what is good and right and just. The times, our times, are indeed urgent. We cannot sit idly by as brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles — kith and kin alike — are beholden to all forms of violence. Not in our names. There is no one way to be, perform nor live out Christianity. There are conservative, moderate and liberal Christianities, there are apocalyptic eschatologies and agnostic ideologies. Christianity varies, has texture and weight, has difference internal to its logic.

We speak desiring a modality of Christianity to be heard that is restive, that is resistant, to Islamophobia as against our ethical and moral worldview. Though we identify as Christian (*or have deep roots in Christian traditions), which informs the ways we exist, which informs our pursuit of justice, we will not allow Islamophobia to be perpetuated in the name of Christians, particularly Black Christians and those of us with deep roots from within — even if we have left — this tradition. Targets of Islamophobia are kith and kin alike. But even if they were not, what is good and right and just is to demand that Islamophobia, fear mongering that targets Muslims and Islam, cease with certain swiftness.

What is Islamophobia?
Islamophobia is fear, hatred and prejudice as the precursor to the proliferation of violence against people that identify as — or are perceived to be — Muslim, and against the religion of Islam itself. Islamophobia precipitates violence and violation based not in truth nor justice but in a politics of difference, in a politics that assumes difference is likewise deficiency. Islamophobia allows for Islam and for people that are, or are perceived to be, Muslim to be stereotyped as inherently violent, as inherently anti-woman (we do not say anti-feminist, since many promoting fear of Islam and its adherents are also against feminisms in their many varieties), as inherently against technological, philosophical and moral progress. Islam and Muslims are figured, through the political economic imagination, as a thwarting to the flourishing of Western civil society. Islamophobia includes a range of attitudes and behaviors that target Islam and those believed to be Muslim as in need of remediation. It is important to note that through the public discourse, Islam and those perceived to be Muslims are racialized as different, as deficient. That is, Islamophobia cannot but share in the general Western tendency to identity difference-as-deficit, and such deficit as deficiency is always part of the project of racial logic.

Islamophobia targets those that are are, or are perceived to be Muslim, and women are very often the victims of such violence because of the religious practices of covering, because of the apparentness of religious conviction worn on the flesh. In a world that targets flesh based on real or perceived race, on ethnic and religious background, it is important to stand against Islamophobia as it shares in a general targeting of difference worn on and as the flesh. As such, standing against Islamophobia is a feminist, Black feminist, womanist and Black queer theoretical and material practice, it is a feminist, Black feminist, womanist and Black queer ethical charge of which those committed to justice must take up.  

Why do we care?
This summer, Muslims lead a campaign to raise money for Black churches that experienced arson at the hands of racist ideology and white supremacist thinking, they demonstrated a commitment to justice that modeled for us what it means to live out one’s conviction and practice of justice in the flesh, as a way of life. The raising of money for Black churches was not necessarily about shared theologies and worship practices but about constituting a way of life that honors the personhood of all, that honors all without regard to theologies and worship practices. Such living out is a model and must be returned. One cannot be content with the current political moment. Calls from Christian university presidents, from politicians, and from “ordinary Americans” have allowed us to listen into the ways Islam and Muslims are becoming the scapegoat for a range of political behaviors that produce violence globally. It is time, it seems, to really live out the ethics of the Christian Testament’s “Good Samaritan,” it is time to step up and support those that are being targeted by the pernicious evils of the political economy, an uncontrolled white heterosexist capitalist patriarchy run amok that has as its grounding violence against difference.

We do not have to wonder how violence, of Nazism or Middle Passage as examples, occurs. We look at Donald Trump and we laugh and think it’s all a joke while his words are used as fuel for violence. People listening and responding favorably to such messages of violence do so because they are gravely afraid of losing their so-called “culture,” because of the blacks and the latinx and the indigenous and the gays and the the trans* and the muslims and the feminists. People listen to such messages of violence and respond in kind because the messages name the anger felt towards a political economy but place, wrongfully so, on the ones that are most marginalized by the political economy. It is this that we resist, that we stand against.

This is no mere call for interfaith dialogue that leaves intact structural inequity. This is not a call for  crass multiculturalism that does not get to the root of structural inequity and violence. This is not a call to hold hands and sing as the end goal, though holding hands and singing together celebrates the flesh of one another as worthy of being touched, held, loved. Rather, this is a call for a direct confrontation with the evils of xenophobia, racism and violent cultural nationalism that produces violence against those our political economy, with mainstream media as its agent, choose to misunderstand and misrepresent. This is a call to seek and do justice as a way of life, celebrating that our differences do not have to separate us but can present otherwise possibilities for organizing, for being with each other in way to, together, confront the evils of this world. Our Black Muslim kith and kin modeled for us what that kind of love looks like in the face of adversity. And the love and concern shown emerges from a religious commitment and feeling not dissimilar to a Christian commitment and feeling. Such love and concern is not about the safety from harm as the raising of money this summer demonstrated that such is not the case. Rather, the love and concern is about an ethical life, a moral life, a way that antagonizes the normative way of living as separated, as segregated, as categorically distinct.

Bafflement and Outrage…
We will not allow the voices of hatred to drown out and overwhelm, we will not allow for those voices to be the only ones felt in this moment of crisis. Our ability to be baffled and outraged is a gift, it lets us know that we have not submitted to nor accepted the current loud discourse of Islamophobia. We transform this bafflement and outrage into otherwise ways to sense each other, to be in affinity with each other. We do not use the perniciousness of our times to create our relationality but simply use the capacity for relationality to rise to the occasion of our current antiblack, Islamophobic political economic moment. We recognize that our relationality is not created by the violence and violation of hate and fear mongering because we will not and will no longer be lulled to the sleep of comfort and satisfaction when it is not “our” group that is targeted for violence and violation. Our relationality exists previous to the situation, we simply must live and love our way to it. Bafflement and outrage are what animated James Baldwin’s ethical and moral demand to the world — in response to Angela Davis’s having been incarcerated — an injunction he made on himself demands of us now:

If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own — which it is — and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.

We, Black Christians and Christian adjacent persons (I describe myself as Agnostic and Pentecostal, Agnosticostal) must fight for the lives of our kith and kin as if they are our own, because they are our own.

Finally, [sisters and brothers], whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

We hold each other, love each other, work with and struggle in joy to produce otherwise possibilities for world making with each other. Our flesh is your flesh. Our lives are your lives. We seek, together, to do otherwise than this.

Learn More:
#BlackIslamSyllabus
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Muslim Advocates
Muslim Anti-Racist Collaborative
Sapelo Square

[If there are other organizations, local or national, that you want included, the list can be updated; simply comment.]

(What I Mean When I Say) Neoliberalism

Remember Blackplanet? Remember how you wanted to add swag to your page by animations and images, changing the background from the standard selections to personalized HTML possibilities? Remember the animated dollar signs that some users would place on their pages, animated dollar signs that would be placed at varied intervals?

dollar-sign-symbol-27

Those dollar signs were supposed to show us that, yes, this person indeed cared about gettin that coin, about saving, about wealth. But if you ever tried to grasp it, you’d see that you’d just be putting fingerprints on a screen. To grasp at a dollar sign as a form of something you can own, can hold in hand, while the material of it withers away? There is no content of the HTLM code, no content that is itself the creation or sustenance of wealth. It is just the appearance of a sign that is supposed to mean, supposed to register, a range of ideas. And neoliberalism is all about the appearance of signs without the change to structures and institutions of inequity.

I use the terms neoliberalism and neoliberal pretty frequently and felt it necessary to explicate the concept, or at least how I think the terms. What do I mean when I talk about neoliberalism? When I discuss it, I am primarily talking about the structure of the economy through policy measures that include making private public goods and opening up such goods to the private sector, austerity measures, the reduction of regulation practices that allowed for unfettered economic exploitation, openings to international markets that produce economic crises abroad while limiting job opportunities domestically, the reduction in the spending of governments. When I use it, I hone in on the making private of public goods and services by subjecting such goods and services subject to market forces and trends, allowing such goods and services to be subject to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Such measures produce the occasion where profit on what should be things available to all for free like healthcare, education, housing is made. Importantly, reductions in government spending do not occur in uniform fashion, it is not applied to all sectors equally. For example, in military operations there is not a decrease but an increase in governmental expenditures; monies that could be used for the greater good, to create equity are siphoned off for measures — a mix of government and private sector spending — that further destabilizes the world, creates more violence and produces the occasion for ongoing “intervention” and the monies such so-called interventions require.

Along with such inequitable spending, with the making private public goods and services subjecting them to market forces and trends, is the degradation of and moralizing against those who then cannot afford what were or should be readily available to all without controversy. The degradation of and moralizing against persons that cannot afford now profitable goods and services is about transforming inherent inequity into a seeming moral failure for groups negatively impacted, about making them responsible for their purported personal, private behaviors that are supposedly the reasons obstructing their clear path to success. It is an economic system that requires an internalization of fear and shame, though such is an affect of inequity masquerading as its cause.  And this because neoliberalism is grounded in hiding in plain sight the perniciousness of its enactment.

What are examples of neoliberalism?

Neoliberal policy doesn’t simply appear with measures that many would, or could, immediately dismiss as bad. Prisons that are run by private corporations are one, though minuscule — though certainly problematic and in need of remediation — example. That prisons can be produced through the logic of profit, for many, makes absolutely no sense because such corporations would need to guarantee that each “bed” is “occupied,” which runs counter to the very idea of rehabilitation that prison, many presume, is supposed to produce. And that incarcerated persons’ labors can be exploited in both publicly and privately held prisons, that they can work for so many hours for so little pay, is in need of interrogation. And many were rightfully angry at the exorbitant, rapid increase in cost — 5000% increase — for medicine for people living with HIV. Yet this is the end result of making goods and services that should be available to all subject to market forces. Should incarceration allow for profitability? Should quality healthcare only be available to those that can afford expensive hospital bills? Should healthcare lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal debt and bankruptcy? These policies — prison and healthcare — many readily understand as problematic. But there are others that almost feel too good and warm hearts that are equally in need of interrogation and that because the logics of economic inequity are what ground the very forces that produce these things.

Yet, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, state colleges and universities and even the My Brother’s Keeper Initiative all follow the same patterns of neoliberalism: each promote privatization of public goods and services, goods and services that should be available collectively. NCLB and RTTT each pressured local government, through the promise of federal funding, to privatize public schools. This happened, for example, by offering incentives for chartering parts (to varying degrees) of local public school districts. These charters would allow for public funding to be used in private organizations, making of public schooling a private market. And in the case of RTTT, school districts were quite literally subject to competition, following the logics of capitalist economics, that competition creates opportunity. Schools, in other words, are offered up to the logic of business administration and education is no longer primarily about the possibility of liberation. Instead, a problem of resource allocation because of competition is the result. But these educational institutions are also decidedly against teacher unions. Teacher unions are the organization of collectivities in the service of bargaining for better pay and work conditions, for better healthcare and training. To the degree that teacher unions are the targets for elimination of school privatization proponents is the degree to which collectivity, as a concept itself, is targeted by neoliberalism itself.

Colleges and universities are especially guilty of neoliberalism with their transformation from spaces of education, questions, learning into spaces of private wealth management and real estate investment as the chief concerns. Colleges and universities have colluded with local municipalities in “redevelopment” efforts that have been nothing short of the displacement of communities, particularly low income, people of color, women. The lofts and condos and reclaimed wood, the coffee shops and walkable neighborhoods, are all good for individuals but have negative impacts on communities that are displaced.

gentrification

Questions, no doubt, linger: What about the increase in people that are able to get medical care through the Affordable Care Act? Aren’t prisons about protecting communities? Aren’t charter schools giving parents in under resourced areas urgently needed options?  Certainly, more people accessing doctors is a net good and protecting communities from violence and harm — when it does happen (and too much research demonstrates that the opposite is, in fact, the case, with regard to incarceration) — and certainly, kids learning at schools are commendable. But there remains the question of structural inequity that neoliberalism discards and, thus, leaves materially intact. What these various measures do, to varying degrees, is demonstrate the limits of the current political economy itself, the limits of the structural forces of capitalism to produce something along the line of justice. And in each case, these measures make citizenship an explicit case of indebtedness to the nation through financialization, through putting at remove the case and cause of justice by focusing on the so-thought urgency of now. So I think about the debt that college students are supposed to accrue in order to attain educations. But the debt accrued makes them — us — indebted financially, making our relation to the nation one of financial obligation to pay back. So our work, our labor, our practice, is in the service of us paying back to the nation the very possibility of being educated. It is a pernicious cycle.

Neoliberalism, for me, is a structural relation grounded in a presumption of individualism, of property as conferring worth and value, and a necessary degradation of publicly available, collectively held, socially sustained ways of providing care, for collectively held, socially sustained modes of relationality. Just like the degradation of collective organizing and bargaining of teacher unions, neoliberalism itself requires of us to be individuals against collectivities. This works itself out as caring about me and mine, of course, at the expense — unhappily, even — of others. Neoliberalism is a metaphysical relationship between the capacity to own private property and to be a private citizen, all effects of John Locke’s possessive individualism. Neoliberalization is about possessive possibility, about making goods and services subject to being owned and, thus, sold and exchanged for profit. Neoliberalism is a labor issue, an exploitation of labor and collectivity. Those of us doing its work, those of us producing its patterns without resistance have our labor exploited in ways that are structurally similar to — even if the material results and conditions of our lives differ  — those that actively resist.

The point is not simply to name the relation but to change it, to imagine otherwise possibilities, to consider alternative modes of organizing. The point is not to individualize and internalize the critique of the political economy, it is not to individualize and internalize the critique of neoliberal policy. Such individualizing and internalizing produces the occasion for thinking that our personal, private work is important — and no doubt it is — but trades the personal as a disruption to the systemic and institutional. And that is the flaw. Surely, people have, do and will continue to produce work from within the zones of inequity, myself inclusive (since I work for a university). The point is to think about the forces that structure the political economy and find ways to collectively resist these forces, to work against them.