I know for a fact that I am not white. I also know for a fact that this does not necessarily prevent me from upholding white supremacy and anti-Blackness. If you’re non-Black like me, here is a reminder: It is not about you. Keep that in mind as you witness Black people protest how their existence is criminalized instead of centering on yourself.
If you listen to the injustices and oppression Black people face around the world and think of comparing the severity of your struggles, remember that it’s not about you. If you consider your government superior for being “less racist” to feel better about yourself, remember that it’s not about you. If you cannot think of anything but #AllLivesMatter whenever the Black Lives Matter movement is brought up, remember that it’s not about you. We have a lot of unlearning to do in our communities when it comes to our internalized racism, despite the discomfort it may bring us.
Now former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd after the police were called by an employee of Cup Foods, an Arab-owned business. The employee had alleged that Floyd had used a counterfeit $20 bill. When asked about what he thought of statements saying Floyd would have lived had the police not been called, Cup Foods owner Mahmod Abumayaleh said, “Maybe rightfully so, but we cannot predict the future.” But maybe we can.
Cup Foods operates in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Minneapolis. In the United States, it has become very clear that police officers target Black people with devastating frequency. Non-Black Arabs, therefore, have an obligation to think seriously about the possible consequences of their actions in light of this reality of police violence toward Black communities.
I was not in the least bit surprised when I saw a video on my Twitter feed of an Arab man referring to a Black protester as “Abd,” the Arabic word for slave. In a broader Middle Eastern context, racism is quite frequently normalized. If the casual use of that word and its existence in non-Black Arabs’ vocabulary indicates anything, it is the anti-Blackness that is deeply rooted in our communities. The severity of racism goes beyond language, however, as it is seen in the production of media that perpetuates harmful stereotypes that dehumanize Black people, the physical and mental abuse of Black workers and, most horrifically, a modern slave trade.
Whether or not we will ever come to terms with this, we have internalized this racism; it is reflected daily in our actions and cultural practices. Yet instead of standing in unquestionable solidarity with a community that is fighting for justice, we found a way to either focus on ourselves instead of their struggle or worse, dismiss their anger.
When confronted with its own anti-Blackness, my community desperately denies or ignores it altogether. That video was not the first nor the last one: It was followed by other hot takes by fellow Saudis and other non-Black Arabs who could not wait to praise their governments. One viral tweet used both a picture of the current Saudi king kissing the forehead of a Black man and a picture of Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck. Another tweet stated, “Thankgod I live in the UAE (United Arab Emirates).”
I still do not fully understand the purpose of such comparisons that have flooded social media recently. Do they aim to prove their governments are superior to that of the United States? Are they looking for excuses to justify their racism as being “less extreme”? Not only do these widespread beliefs minimize the struggle of Black people in the United States and around the world, but they suggest a selective awareness on the part of non-Black Arabs regarding the reality of oppression. They deny the social and political structures that govern our lives — the same ones that dehumanize Blackness and favor non-Black Arabs due to our proximity to whiteness. They also show our failure to stand in solidarity with Black people both here and back home, wherever that may be.
So the next time you think of posting hot takes telling Black people how to grieve or denying anti-Blackness in your community, remember that it’s not about you. Take a moment to recognize the systems of policing that may have benefitted you at one point. Take this time to confront the presence of your own internalized racism and your exploitation of Blackness in any form. Confront it instead of denying it. And teach others around you. Black people are not obliged to go through this emotional labor for you. Stand up for them here and everywhere in every way you are able: Protest, sign petitions, donate and, most importantly, unlearn and educate.
Khaled Alqahtani writes the Wednesday column on decolonization. Contact them at [email protected]