On my first day of school and academic life, as a five-year-old kindergartener, I was made fun of for the first time for being different. I grew up in Northern California, where people are generally more open to differences.
At my home in Redwood City, my parents spoke to us only in Pashto. So when I went to school, my lack of ability to speak English coupled with my dark hair and dark eyes, led the teachers to believe that I was a Spanish speaking student. I was placed in an ESL class where the teacher spoke to me in only Spanish. I had no idea what was going on and cried quietly the whole time. When my mother showed up with her smooth, long, black braid in her long, colorful, silk partoog kameez, my teacher gave me a look of relief. I walked out of my classroom, holding tight my mother’s hand when a group of middle schoolers shouted, “Sand Ni**ers!” I didn’t know what it meant, but by the sneer on their faces, I knew it was something bad. The words stayed with me. I looked to my mother for help, but she kept her chin high and didn’t flinch. We walked to the car, her clothes flowing regally behind her.
When people are shocked at the racism that “seemed to come out of nowhere”, I am mildly irritated at the lack of awareness that these people have. I am just one Brown Muslim American woman with a few stories, but I know that there are more stories like mine out there.
Admittedly, my experience is not unique or the worst one out there. I can never begin to imagine the marginalization/oppression of Black Americans who have lived with systemic and systematic racism for centuries and the Indigenous Peoples and how they (and their history) has been erased from our lexicon.
I watched the video and the words “Fire and Fury” made me shudder in fear. As I’m not a mathematician or a nuclear physicist, I was tempted to Google the chances that a Nuclear Bomb could hit the San Francisco Bay Area where I live. Should I get a bomb shelter? Then I remembered that I was Muslim and googling words like “nuclear” and “bomb” was probably not a good idea.
Instead, I logged off and put my kids down to sleep a little earlier than usual. I read “Mr. Tickle” to them and we prayed our nightly prayers together. We talked and we cuddled. And…I didn’t want to say good night.
During the next few days, I was getting used to (is that such a thing?) our President’s frightening comments/threats to North Korea when Charlottesville happened.
Neo-Nazi, white supremacists, and other groups organized its members to protest the city’s plan to take down Confederate monuments. The ugly protests got uglier when counter-protesters came. It was then that a car, driven by a white supremacist, Alex Fields, rammed into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer, a local from Charlottesville who stood against hate and bigotry.
I get that we are all entitled to Free Speech, a right that should not be taken away from anyone. But what worries me is how the current administration has emboldened the hateful – a group that didn’t begin with Trump. Previous administrations have failed to accurately define the term “terrorism,” which in part, lead to the radicalization of these white supremacists’ groups. There is a deep seated history of racism and xenophobia in this country, yet I chose to have and raise Muslim kids of color in the United States during this era.
After my first son passed away, I felt a kind of obsession with having kids. A selfish need to heal my wounds. And when I had my two kids five years later, the reality of the world I brought my children into hit me. I’d written in the past about raising my Brown, Muslim kids in this age of Islamophobia and somehow I thought it would get easier. It doesn’t get easier, it just changes. And I thought I was okay with that. And then things like Charlottesville happen and suddenly, my faith is shaken once again.
Often, I go back to my old writing to gain some strength. To remember what is important to me right now- my children. While I am often thinking on a global level, I am raising two children- a boy and a girl- and hoping and praying (after they survive this dystopian novel that we are living) that they grow up to be loving, caring, humble humans who fight for the rights of others. I want my daughter to have the opportunities that I didn’t have. And I know I can do that by doing the daily work of dismantling white supremacy and patriarchies by calling out and protesting the injustices, mobilizing voters, and mostly writing about issues that affect me personally and hope they resonate with readers.
Sabina Khan-Ibarra is a writer and Muslim Feminist (she is still working on a definition of Feminist that fits her ideology) who advocates and demands equal rights and space for women in all scopes. She is a writer and editor with work published on BlogHer, Huffington Post, and other outlets. She is currently a MFA candidate for non-fiction creative writing at SFSU.