An Open Letter in response to: “To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and The Hijab Are Not Equals”
On Friday, April 13, 2012, The Feminist Wire, of which I am a member of its Editorial Collective, published “To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and The Hijab Are Not Equals,” by Adele Wilde-Blavatsky, who is also a U.K. -based member of the Editorial Collective. A link to the Adele’s article was also posted on The Feminist Wire’s facebook page. The article created a firestorm of pain, anger, and betrayal on the part of many Muslim Feminist women and their allies. In the comments section on both The Feminist Wire site and The Feminist Wire facebook page, following the posting of the article was very heated to say the least. I first heard about the article and the anger and pain, via @brownisthecolor on Friday night. TFW Founder Tamura A. Lomax, pulbished a statement on Saturday, April 14, 2012 in response to all of the views expressed about Adele’s article. On Sunday, April 15, 2012, Concerned Members of the Editorial Collective posted, “ A Collective Response To: To Be Anti-Racist Is To Be Feminist: The Hoodie and The Hijab Are Not Equals,” which was written by concerned feminist readers who are not members of the Editorial Collective.
I have been vocal behind the scenes but I have been intentionally silent publicly. However, this morning, I felt a need to write a letter to Adele, which she received along with a few others. After much thought, however, I decided to make my letter public because it was and is important for me to share my thoughts as a Muslim raised, Buddhist practicing, Feminist Queer person of African descent. While I am a member of the Editorial Collective, I’m posting this letter as an individual who is speaking and writing for herself. ~ Aishah Shahidah Simmons
April 16, 2012 (via email)
Good morning/afternoon Adele,
We’ve never virtually met. My name is Aishah. I’ve expressed my concerns to others but I have not expressed them to you. In the spirit of transparency, I believe I have a responsibility to share with you my thoughts as a member of The Feminist Wire (TFW) collective.
Foremost, I was raised Sufi Muslim by a radical Black feminist mother (Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons) who is an Islamic scholar-activist and practicing Muslim for over 45-years. With the exception of going to the mosque for prayers or praying at home, I have never ever covered my head. My mother has never worn hijab in the US. I know she has worn it in Saudi Arabia, when making Umrah. I believe she (has) also worn it (due to cultural norms), at times, when she lived in Morocco and Jordan. However, I know for an absolute fact that she is not a proponent of wearing the hijab. At the same time, she supports the rights of those women who have the choice to wear it. Simultaneously, however, she fights against any laws and cultural norms that advocate for the torture and/or murder of women and girls for not wearing it.
Her work specifically focuses on women’s rights under Islamic law. Amongst her many published articles, her “Are We Up To The Challenge: The Need for the Radical Re-ordering of the Islamic Discourse On Women,” piece is featured in Progressive Islam: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism (Omid Safi). In her article, she challenges patriarchal, misogynist, sexist interpretations of the Sacred Text and practices amongst so many within Islam. She writes as a Black feminist woman who grew up in the (era of) segregation who was on the frontlines of Civil Rights & Black Power movements. She used her lived experiences, before she converted to Islam as the foundation upon which she stands to challenge gender oppression in the religion she has been a part of for almost 45 years. Yes, she has caught and catches hell for her stance, but not because she’s a White woman with (perceived, unchecked) privilege. It is, as you know, hard for (some) Muslim feminists, regardless of if they were born in or converted to the religion to tackle these issues… But they’ve done and will continue to do it. In fact, it’s hard for all feminists to tackle issues of patriarchy, gender oppression, and violence against women in every single sector of almost all societies across the globe.
While I didn’t agree with the lens from which you wrote, I heard your points. And, for the record, I don’t believe I have to agree with every single article posted on TFW. My huge problem and challenge with your article is what I perceive to be an inability to challenge your location as a British feminist who is not a person of color. I interpreted the article in question and your “'Nobody’s nigger' but somebody’s bitch?” article to essentially say,” (I)t’s not fair that race is the elephant in the room in ways that gender is not.” If my interpretation is correct, then I hear you and agree with you completely. The huge difference is that as a non-person of color, I firmly believe you can’t just say/write that without also saying/writing about the ways in which racism, white supremacy, colonialism (especially as someone who is British), and xenophobia within the white feminist movements and beyond have horrifically impacted women (and men) of color. Painfully my perception of your inability and unwillingness to do this work in those two articles; and your comments in defense of the latest article, makes it damn near impossible for me as a feminist lesbian of African descent to find any common ground or solidarity with you…
I struggle within my own non-monolithic cultural and racial communities with the painful reality that often I don’t believe my life is valued as a woman, regardless of my identifying as a feminist or not, and as a lesbian/queer person of African descent. I believe that a huge part of my cultural work is to play a role, carry the baton, be the chorus that says ending racism alone will not end oppression in our cultural/racial communities…over half of us would still NOT be safe if racism ended… I do this, however, as a person from within this community… And, conversely, I am a part of the feminist and LGBTQ people of color chorus that says ending sexism, gender oppression, and patriarchy doesn’t mean that straight women and LGBTQ people of color will be safe. If we don’t eradicate all forms of injustices, none of us, in the human race, will be safe.
In your responses that I read in the threads both on the TFW website and FB page, you did not take an anti-racist stance at all… This is most problematic and disturbing for me in a world, to quote or paraphrase Audre Lorde, “(I’m a Black woman living in a world) that defines everything as white and male, for starters.”
As a 10-year practitioner of the teachings of Buddha (like you), I wholeheartedly believe that at the fundamental level we’re all one. However at the apparent, day-to-day experiential level, our similarities as human, are colored and gendered and classed. Those of us who do not benefit from White, Male, and/or Heterosexual privilege are consistently marginalized and disenfranchised. The fact that my perception is that in your comments, you consistently stayed away from addressing racism; and then you spoke on behalf of women of color who have articulated your position on the hijab and burqa is, in my mind’s eye, a white supremacist and racist act.
I believe we all make mistakes and cause harm, even with the best of intentions not to make mistakes and/or cause harm. The question and challenge is what happens when this is pointed out to us. For me, the article is one thing, but your responses to the response to your article were very disturbing to me.
I’m sure we all know what it’s like to feel under attack. Speaking from my lived experiences, it’s wretched and egregious, especially when I believe that my intention is not the outcome at all. I get that you felt a visceral need to defend yourself. I really understand that. However, the fact that you felt the need to retaliate in your and your family’s defense, in the name of TFW FB handle is honestly not okay. Why didn’t you switch from TFW to use your own name when responding? Why didn’t you reach out to Monica, or Tamura or other members of TFW that you know. I’m not talking about seeking permission per se, but to seek collective guidance about how to respond, most especially since you consistently used the TFW FB handle and not your name.
I also reflect upon Buddha’s words when he said “Don’t speak, unless it improves upon the silence (or noise, my words)…” This is 1,000,000 times easier said, read, than done.
It’s true that race and religion are huge elephants in the US. I’m not European, but I have a lot of radical feminist friends who are both white and of color who live in England and France. While some of them wholeheartedly support the ban of the hijab in France, I know they would take issue with your article and more importantly your responses to the critiques of it. Additionally, my father (Michael Simmons), who’s an international human right activist has worked in Eastern Europe since the mid-80s; and since 2003, has called Budapest, Hungary his home. I share this to say, that through his lens, I’ve come to really understand the stark differences with how race/ethnicity is addressed in Europe in comparison to in the US. This is most apparent with the Roma (aka Gypsy) communities.
The question for me is what is the goal with our articles and responses to critiques of our articles? Is the goal to be right …to win the debate and/or arguments? Or, is the goal to play a role in encouraging people to think and act differently?
Towards Understanding and In Peace,
Postscript: On April, 19, 2012, The Feminist Wire Editorial Collective (of which I am a member) published a statement in response to all of the issues that transpired as a result of the posting/publishing the article. Here’s the link to the statement.
—> http://thefeministwire.com/2012/04/the-feminist-wire-responds/ <—