Being Muslim and Black at UC Berkeley

old_DNU

The first time I was called a terrorist was when I was in middle school. I was playing badminton during physical education with my friend and another pair of girls. During the game, my opponent and I got into an argument over something so superficial that I can’t even remember it. What I do remember is the way she sneered “f******* terrorist” before walking away. At the time I had no idea what that meant. I heard the word terrorist being thrown around on the news but I couldn’t think of a reason why it would apply to me. I couldn’t comprehend how I was similar to someone such as Timothy McVeigh or Osama bin Laden. Eventually, I grew to ignore the continual defamation of my religion and instead focused on bettering myself as a person and as a follower of Islam. My intersectional identities have given me many hardships in this society, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I am Muslim. I am Black. I am a Woman. It’s important to remember that our identities aren’t defined by one group but rather multiple factions. This intersectionality is what makes us individuals. At UC Berkeley there is a lack of Muslim students and even fewer Black students, making it hard to find a solid community. UC Berkeley prides itself on diversity and being socially aware, yet fails to provide adequate support for Muslims, Black people and other minorities.

Counseling services have inconvenient hours for full-time students, almost as if the service providers don’t really care. Most of the cultural spaces allocated to us are either hidden from public view or pretty small for the number of people who make use of them. For example, the Black Student Union meetings are held in recreational rooms in Unit 1 and the Muslim prayer hall is a single room located in the basement of Eshleman Hall — a place that shares its space with a nap pod. Additionally, it was just last year that UC Berkeley opened the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center, a space that specifically provides outreach and support for the Black community. UC Berkeley really thinks that giving us one multicultural center will be enough, but the reality is that we need more spaces for more minorities. We need more platforms for our voices to be heard. We need to admit more people of color, or POC, and make sure they get the support they need to truly call this university a diverse place.

Seeing the lack of representation at UC Berkeley really opened my eyes to the fact that prejudice isn’t always upfront — it mostly comes in discreet forms. There may not be someone directly calling me “terrorist” or “n*****”, but there are established systems and biases that keep POCs from reaching our full potential. One of the downfalls of going to a more “liberal” school is that oppression is still here, it’s just harder to pinpoint. Many people pretend to be socially aware or “woke,” but look around and become complacent with how minorities are treated.

There are some people who believe I was accepted into UC Berkeley because of my minority and low-income status. Consequently, I find myself in situations where I am not taken seriously because my intelligence has already been judged. Is this kind of discreet prejudice really any better than the frank insults I received back in middle school?

The cure for this ignorance is simple: admitting more minority students. Doing so would provoke people to continually question their ingrained prejudices. When people are forced to confront their ignorant thoughts they end up bettering themselves. In addition to encouraging a greater presence of minorities on campus, the university administration needs to really make an effort in providing spaces for minorities to form communities and not feel ostracized and forgotten in this establishment. Blatant and offensive slurs may be publicly condemned but until systematic oppression is understood and addressed by all, UC Berkeley can never truly be the No. 1 public university.

Aisha Jama is a rising junior at UC Berkeley studying integrative biology.

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