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Where Do Our Racist Beliefs Even Come From?

The last few weeks have been turbulent. Many discussions and zoom meetings now focus on the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. The pain and dismay we, black people feel needs conversing.

I believe there is goodness in discussions, however painful and uncomfortable for others, we must address this inhumane act. We must address: where does the evilness of racism come from?

I want to know about the origin of thoughts and ideas towards others; how can we change them? What informs our attitude towards others?

It is time to check and balance

We are a by-product of our societies, communities, and families; no one is born with a racist attitude or behavior.

These ills are cultivated and embedded within individuals or groups of people through the normalization of racists attitudes and behavior: modeling, accepting, repeating. Every action stems from a thought, a thought comes from a belief. 

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What is the belief that makes one prejudice or a bigot or a racist?

Behavior is believed to be learned. Educationalist theorists, such as John Locke, believe that children are born as ‘blank slates.’ We began our lives morally neutral thus inherently neither good nor evil.

Our nature and personalities are developed during childhood, during the impressionable age. Thus it is believed that the adults surrounding the child could potentially have a lasting effect on his/her personality.

What is your child inheriting from you and those around him/her?

As it is said in the African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” It is important to understand that children aren’t shaped by only their parents.

A child’s formation takes their genes, their cultures, the culture of the community it is growing up in, the culture of the country at large, the culture of those they associate with as peers.

All these cultures that the child is exposed to and is a part of come with set beliefs, practices, customs and behaviors that are found to be common.

The question is: What is common in the beliefs, customs, and behavior of the cultures your child/children are growing up within?

As Muslims our actions are informed by our belief in the Oneness of Allah and his Messenger. Our lives are shaped by the teaching of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). As it is reported by Abu Huraira: The Prophet, peace, and blessings be upon him said

No child is born but that he is upon natural instinct. His parents make him a Jew, or a Christian or Magian. As an animal delivers a child with limbs intact, do you detect any flaw?”

Then Abu Huraira recited the verse, “The nature of Allah upon which he has set people.”  

Muslim / Ar-Rum : 30

Similarly, Ibn Taymiyyah said about the fitrah that it can be corrupted. The fitrah is the state of purity and innocence Muslims believe all humans to be born with. He continues to say, when this happens the corrupt fitrah will be your informant. It will inform your gut feelings in a situation or with a person.

So if your fitrah is corrupted with racist beliefs, your reaction will emulate your thoughts and inform your behavior. Hence the importance of a check and balance mechanism.

The challenge is – who is going to check if a fitrah is valid or not for example if you live in a society or community or family that has racist attitudes towards black people and if this is an acceptable norm in such culture?

How will one know if it is wrong?

For example, who can correct these wrong, racist attitudes that these people have come to accept?

– when a mother denounces her child for marrying a man she redeems less worthy just because of the color of his skin

– children taunting another child

– when a father would rather have his daughter dead (even putting his own hands on her) rather than to marry her off to a man he sees unfit only based on the color of his skin.

– what gut instinct allows a man to knee on another man’s neck for 8:46 seconds and suffocates them to death?!

Which aspect of the collective ‘norm’ did these people internalise to be the normal moral practice?

For sure, if your fitrah is not in sync with the Qur’an and Sunnah – if it is not aligned with a higher source than you are following a corrupt gut feeling. You can not rely upon your instincts for morality.

There is no moral in an act of disbelief and contempt of God’s creation. But all is not lost. We can check and balance ourselves and our own beliefs first, er all we choose the way we live our lives.

What changes will you be making to make sure the cultures you expose your children to aren’t the source of corruption to them?

The recent events have presented us with a choice in whether we should explore racism in Muslim communities honestly – this is an opportunity to check and balance!

“Man will become better when you show him what he is like.” Anton Chekhov