Recently, a conversation with my daughter, a three-year-old, left me stunned. I was getting ready to take her to preschool in the morning. Here’s how it went:
“Mom, I don’t want you to take me to school.”
“Take off your hijab and tie your hair up like Miss J.”
“I’m Muslim. I love my hijab.”
“Everyone looks at you.
I was huddled on the floor putting on her shoes. I stopped for a moment and responded, “Maybe they think I’m beautiful.” I smiled at her and gave her a hug. Inside, I was crying.
How does a three-year old learn that she does not belong?
The first time I attended CCCC was in Indianapolis. It was a lonely and alienating experience, and it motivated me to try to find a community. In the years since, I have worked collaboratively with a colleague to propose an Arab/Muslim Special Interest Group. We advertise this as a group for Arabs and/or Muslims and/or those interested in issues related to Arabs and Muslims. This year, in Kansas City, we had our fourth annual meeting.
We have met some wonderful people and allies over the years, but there have also been instances in which we felt deeply troubled and upset by what has happened. For example, one year, a professor came to our meeting expressing interest in the group and then proceeded to make statements about Arab men as predatory and violent. Another year, the Muslims in the room felt more like we had to comfort the non-Muslims than get the support we needed ourselves in the group.
This year, no one attended the meeting. I recognize that people might have been tired or had dinner plans or had another meeting to attend or lost track of time or could not find the room. But not to have one colleague in thousands show up in these times marked by mosque vandalisms and arson, the Muslim ban, the murder of many innocent people in anti-Muslim/anti-Arab attacks makes me feel like we need to do more at CCCC. I keep thinking about Nabra Hassanen and Thara Uddin and Maulama Akonjee and Abdisamada Sheikh-Hussein and Mustafa Mattan and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Ricky John Best and Yusor Abu-Salha and Deah Barakat and Razan Abu-Salha and Khalid Jabara and Hussain Saeed Alnahdi. Each of these people was killed in recent years for being Muslim and/or Arab or for defending Muslims. These are just a few names of people here in North America. There are so many more victims of violence and hate crimes, but my point is that this is a dangerous time to be Muslim or Arab in America.
The students you will encounter in class will have stories to tell you. What will you do?
It’s true what Ersula Ore says: “Kansas City constitutes no more precarious a space for Black folks than the rest of America.” Kansas City, Portland, Houston, Tampa, Indianapolis. Racism and anti-Black racism is everywhere. It doesn’t matter where you go; you will still have the same problem.
What can you, as a member of CCCC, do to show up at the conference?
First, say hello. Try to talk with colleagues outside your specialty area. Attend panels you would not ordinarily attend. We could do so much more if we extended ourselves to explore other areas and meet new people.
Second, listen. We have so much to learn from one another.
Third, work in coalition with the caucuses and ask how you can contribute.
I welcome you to add to this list.
Coming back to the story I started with about my daughter, I have been thinking a lot about how early we learn to internalize racism. The students in our classes learned how to sort and categorize people before they learned how to read and write. As a teacher, part of the work I do in the classroom is prompting students to reflect on the early lessons we learn about race, gender, class, sexuality, language, and many other issues. And at CCCC, I expect to learn how to do my work better. One of my colleagues, Telsha Curry, puts it this way: “CCCC should function to normalize the ways that we embody an Anti-Oppression ethic in our pedagogy, our scholarship, and our interactions at professional conferences and in our everyday movements.” I agree with Telsha. We need to do (a lot) more at CCCC.
I look forward to working with all of you to be part of that change.