To my dear fellow Non-Black People of Colour (NBPOC) Allies of Black Lives Matter;
I recently read Sima Xyn Kuday's letter in HuffingtonPost, where she shared her heartfelt thoughts on what transpired for her with Black Lives Matter (BLMTO) members at Pride Toronto.
I too, am a queer Muslim woman.
While I grew up in Toronto, I am one of many not lucky enough to have found acceptance at home. For me Pride Toronto is where I first sensed a place of belonging when, five years ago, I witnessed Iranian and Muslim queers march in unison of both their identities, something I never knew could exist.
This was a very emotional moment for me, and although I cannot speak on behalf of every Muslim queer, I am sure no person's journey has been without bumps and difficulties, nothing of which I am here to discount.
Pride Toronto may feel like a place of acceptance to some of us -- but it is important to understand that this isn't the case for every person of colour (POC).
Of the few points Sima made in her letter, two stood out to me: the idea that BLMTO is "pushing away allies", and that their movement seeks to intentionally exclude many attendees of Pride Toronto -- a space she describes as inclusive and accepting. As another non-black person of colour (NBPOC), I want to share why this troubles me.
As allies, and particularly NBPOC, it is important to understand a few things:
1. Anti-Blackness (colourism) transcends ethnicity.
Sima and I are both from the Middle East, a place saturated in it's own history of occupation and war. Commonly highlighted in many Asian and Middle Eastern countries, is the issue of skin bleaching that is nothing new to mainstream media.
White skin has long been an indicator of wealth, beauty and intelligence in many of our nations, and in correspondence with this belief -- blackness is often associated with low wage labour work, ugliness, and lack of intellect.
It is important to understand that although we, as NBPOC, hold traumas and histories of our own, people of darker skin are regarded negatively even within our own communities.Anti-Black racism is not something that we only fight for here in the West, but a global belief that all light skinned people benefit from, regardless of our origin. Thus, we cannot use our ethnic experience to justify or relate to Blackness and why they should include us, when we ourselves are not Black.
2. Queerness doesn't debunk Blackness either.
Another issue that comes up often about the Toronto Pride sit-in by BLMTO is commonly that, "they took away the spotlight from another oppressed group".
The fight to live openly as an LGBTTQQ2SIA+ community has been a long one, and not short of its difficulties.
Similarly, Western feminism was a movement that started with much difficulty to secure women's rights.
But early on, the movement was started by white middle class women who forgot to include, or purposely exlcluded, many voices of women of colour (WOC). Slowly, what once began as a fight for all women soon became an opportunity for Western white women to police WOC's bodies and use racism as a tool to combat issues of sexism.
They were quick to point fingers and claim veiled Muslim women must "unveil" to escape their oppression, for example.
"I can understand it hurts to have your help rejected."
Or even so simply exluded WOC entirely seeing as first-wave feminism (1848) became a movement in the US long before segregation of Blacks and Whites (1964) had ended -- and Black women were even thought of to join the table.
In other words, just because we group together to fight against one form of injustice, as we do for the rights of LGBTT2SIQQA+ community, it doesn't mean that all voices are included, particularly those of Black folks.
So when we, as NBPOC or White folks say things, like: You were kindly invited as "guests" of honour to sit with "us" ...lead "our" marches" -- I ask us to question who it is that "we" are, that "we" have been so "kind" to invite Black communities into this Pride Toronto space, rather than already including them in these spaces to begin with.
3. It is not about us.
I can understand it hurts to have your help rejected.
I can understand that as another POC with a history of trauma and struggle, it is hard to understand why we might once again be excluded and rejected from a group. But this doesn't have anything to do with BLMTO.
In fact, BLMTO is doing something no other group or society has ever done -- centering a Black experience, instead of excluding it. BLMTO looks to put its efforts into elevating and putting forward the issues of Black folks because no one else is -- and this is important and necessary.
So instead of being angered by this rejection, I ask us to empathize. I ask us to understand that this isn't about us NBPOC -- and when we ask Black folks to include us in their equation, we are asking them again to put us ahead of themselves.
You see, our skins are light in their tinge of melanin. We are advantageous in many places. We are not as easy to spot and be made assumptions of. We can (sometimes) pass and see ourselves represented in spaces where many Black folks cannot.
I am not saying this to diminish our histories, or experiences -- but I am here to say, we cannot equate ourselves to a Black experience. And our job as non-Black POC is to listen before we offer help, and allow BPOC to take up space without trying to find out where we fit within it.
With all this being said, I hope that this conversation can be open and flourishing, and a chance to explore allyship in a way that serves purpose and with an acceptance of humility and learning.
From one Ally to Another,
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