Wide-open, piercing eyes and an unflinching look crept on the beautiful dark face of young Muhammad as he entered into his classroom on February 1st. He knew the routine all too well at this point in his academic career.
As usual, his teacher would have his classmates read a few textbook excerpt passages about slavery, reflect on stories about bruised and oppressed civil rights leaders, and create a “hopeful” visual graphic about Black History Month.
As a bright seventeen-year-old black man, Muhammad resented Black History Month. His blackness represented so much more than eleven months of white-washed history of Black people in America and twenty-eight days of triggering stories of intergenerational trauma.
His blood boiled as his teacher sat stiffly on the edge of her dark wooden desk and dryly stated it was “Black History Month,” to the class. She glanced over the edge of her foggy glasses and asked the students to name a significant “black” person in history.
He resented this annual activity, as it clearly was designed to cherry-pick certain “acceptable” blacks to the point of diluting their political activism, while completely ignoring the legacies of multiple black freedom fighters that didn’t fit into the “good black folk” American ideal.
Muhammad abruptly stood up and demanded to use the bathroom. His anger and frustration were visible but to his non-black peers, this was just another “aggressive Muhammad moment.”
Despite having a difficult time with curtailing his resentment, frustration, and feelings of disempowerment, he tried his best to remember the Islamic principles his parents instilled in him daily.
These principles were one of the few things that gave him hope to see beyond his pain and identify healthy ways to deal with his ever-growing frustration as a Black Muslim man living in America.
Black History Month
Black History Month originated from Negro History Week, which was established by Harvard graduate, Dr. Carter G. Wilson. He had a growing concern that African American history was being ignored across educational settings in America.
It originally began as a week of remembrance and eventually led to a month of celebrating Black Americans. The month of February was chosen because it coincided with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, according to historical texts.
Although, Black History Month originates from a place of noble intent and sincerity, many struggle with the white-washed formulaic approach non-black communities take towards addressing and highlighting the significant contributions of the black community.
As black Muslims, we are often faced with the critical job of navigating our spiritual practices while trying to re-establish our dignity, honor, and heal significant generational trauma.
Our ancestors arrived on this soil in chains while concealing their faith from those that aimed to own their entire beings. We still feel the pain of our ancestors in our chests and we continue to struggle with reclaiming our Islamic identities after it was painfully stripped from us.
The dichotomy Muhammad experienced between maintaining his religious principles and navigating his own intergenerational trauma is symbolic of Black Muslim men across this country.
Mass incarceration, communal isolation, racism, and the denial of blackness in our historical Islamic teachings are just some of the issues facing black Muslim men in America.
Identifying tools to navigate these current challenges, while establishing a process to address a history of generational trauma has created a need to develop programs, organizations, and therapy services for African American Muslims.
To be continued