Introspection and Culture

CONTENT WARNING: BULLYING

[Image description: black-and-white photograph of a wide, rounded outside staircase, with thick metal bars in the foreground of the image. On the right side of the image, a person is climbing the staircase, and their figure is blurred.] Tuncay / Creative Commons

[Image description: black-and-white photograph of a wide, rounded outside staircase, with thick metal bars in the foreground of the image. On the right side of the image, a person is climbing the staircase, and their figure is blurred.]

Tuncay / Creative Commons

Growing up as an African American Muslim in a post 9/11 society was…really hard, to say the least. I had been homeschooled from pre-kindergarten to first grade (2003-2005), and going public definitely wasn’t an easy transition. When I first became a second grader in the public school system, I was immediately confronted with how different it was going to be from school up to that point: firstly, there were no other Muslims, and secondly, people went out of their way to ostracize me.

Some of this I conclude is because I was poor and Black, and my new fellow students were the children of doctors and lawyers. I went to the best school in the county, but it took a toll; fourth grade (2008-2009) was the first time I was called a terrorist, and I vividly remember the teacher not doing anything about it. Teachers generally chose to ignore things like that. My hometown’s the population is 75-90% black, but this school was almost 75% white – and the classes were segregated. The white kids would be in one hallway, and the “other” classroom was all the way in a dilapidated back room full of old chairs.

It was around the time I got to middle school in 2010 that I began to accept the idea that maybe something was wrong with me: even though I had had the highest reading level in my classes at elementary school, it was now hard for me to read without losing track of where I was or mixing up the words. It turned out that I was dyslexic - unfortunately, the U.S. public education system never cared about that, so it became something else for me to handle alone.

Moreover, by middle school my entire demeanor had changed. I was bullied relentlessly every day for being a hijabi, with some people even ripping my hijab off my head. No-one - and I mean no-one - did anything to help me. These are the same people I’m now seeing pride themselves on being allies because they discovered Tumblr - there’s no critical self-reflection, no show of regret. I found out I was different early, not just because I was dyslexic, hijabi, fat, and Black, but also because I realized that I was a girl who liked girls. I was confused about that throughout my entire childhood, but I hid it because I didn’t want to stick out any more than I already did. It’s not that I was raised in an overtly homophobic household; however, homophobia is insidious, and it leeches into a lot of American/Western culture.

I went from being cheery and talkative as a kid to becoming much more reserved as a teenager. If I didn’t talk, I wouldn’t get any rude comments on my appearance, or get booed when I sneezed for it being “too loud” (yes, this really happened). American public school systems claim to take a zero tolerance stance on bullying, but do absolutely nothing when someone is actually being bullied, especially if the victim in question is a member of a demonized group. Closeted queer kid? If the staff knows, they might just let things slide, and won’t bother to do anything about the people harassing you. Remember, it’s your fault for being like that – and just be glad they don’t tell your parents. Muslims? You’re all terrorists anyway! There’s no need to defend one of you! Black people? Thugs. If anything happens to you, you’re naturally stronger than white kids anyway, so there’s no reason to get involved. Kids with obvious problems at home? Keep that out of your “professional” school environment.

[Image description: black-and-white photograph of a person crouching on a rock in the ocean. Their rock is surrounded by others, flat and pock-marked by water erosion. The current is strong.] Capture The Uncapturable / Creative Commons 

[Image description: black-and-white photograph of a person crouching on a rock in the ocean. Their rock is surrounded by others, flat and pock-marked by water erosion. The current is strong.]

Capture The Uncapturable / Creative Commons 

By the time I got to high school, I had become so used to being harassed and bullied that I didn’t think it could get any worse. It did. I really started noticing how people put white kids, even white kids that acted out, on a pedestal; teachers would rather pick the most disruptive white kid over any Black student in the class to “mentor”, whereas disruptive Black kids would end up in detention, or being suspended. White kids would be able to play the “I was bullied” card even if they started the fight - even if they were the bully.

The last one was particularly common among white girls. When I was a freshmen, I knew a girl whom I once heard say, “The n word just means black…it's not a slur!” And I, the sole Black person at a table of 8, was the only one who stood up to her. I was seen as violent by everyone else at that table. The girl in question considered herself a proud “anti-SJW”, and only left her racist friends after she came out and they shunned her for it. All of a sudden, she wanted to talk about prejudices she faced, like fatphobia and homophobia. The amount of islamophobic and racist jokes she made were somehow overlooked because she was a lesbian. I, on the other hand, was a closeted lesbian who had to fight islamophobia and racism along with homophobia.

In the lgbtqia+ community, you don't get to matter unless you’re white and gay. There was huge backlash earlier this year against the brown and black stripes being added to the pride flag in Philadelphia, when it’s only thanks to Black and Latinx trans women that the lgbtqia+ movement even exists. White lgbtqia+ people have always made me feel isolated and hated, and we need to fix this, because for anyone to feel that way is unacceptable, especially given the lgbtqia+ community’s accepting and welcoming image.

It’s not just that I belong to multiple oppressed groups; it’s that I feel as if I don’t fit into any one of them. The lgbtqia+ community in the in the US is extremely racist, to the point where “no Blacks/no Asians” is a common tag on gay dating sites like tinder. And I’ve always felt out of place in the Muslim community – I feel like they look down on my family because we’re African American, meaning we can’t track our ancestry and they know we converted. The African American community is largely Christian and, although my generation is more welcoming, I can still sense hostility as a Muslim. I can’t even see myself in the fat positivity movement. I never see any positivity for fat hijabis or fat women of color.

It’s 2017. We need to be able to talk about issues in our communities without privileged parties taking legitimate criticism as a personal attack, or dismissing these issues as divisive because “we’re all marginalized!” The longer we let these problems fester, the more likely it becomes that we will need something truly drastic to happen to pull us together.  I rarely see myself represented in any of the communities I identify with, and people like me need a voice. We need to talk about people who belong to multiple marginalized groups, and we need to protect them - the intersection of our identities puts us in the most danger. We’ve come so far, but we haven’t come nearly far enough.


Amal Williams is a 19 year old African American Muslim studying animation. She wants her voice, and the voices of others like her, to be heard. Her main interest is art, but she also studies politics, science, anthropology and history. Find her on Tumblr and Twitter.