Trigger Warning: Slavery and anti-blackness.
There are days when I am grateful that I am no longer surprised by the injustices and cruelty in the world. Other days, it feels like the greatest burden, carrying the knowledge and pain of what's out there. I have learned though, that no matter how much knowledge I carry, there will still be things that will surprise me along the way.
A couple of weeks ago I saw the first headline about the slave trade in Libya, one of hundreds that I'd be seeing over the next few weeks. Had you asked me prior to that moment if I'd be surprised to learn that slavery still existed in this same sense, I'd tell you yes. But I saw it, and I was not surprised at all, as if I had been expecting it all along. That day, it was not news for me.
After reflecting and analyzing on my reaction, I have realized a few reasons for my lack of surprise.
1) The atrocities that are committed after any kind of US intervention are despicable, and challenge our understanding of just how awful White Supremacy and Imperialism are. I am not naive to believe that any good can come out of the US entering any location. It has ALWAYS ended in disaster. This is just another addition to the long line of pain and trauma that the US empire has left.
2) Anti-blackness is a reality in every community around the world, and only increases with White Supremacisty Imperialist Patriarchal and Capitalist intervention. The Arab community, even the North African Arab communities, are anti-black in every meaning of the word.
I grew up in a tight knit Muslim community in Arizona. My home was the Mosque, my friends were the local Muslim kids, my parents friends were muslim, and I even went to an Islamic School. The reality is that I did not truly know a single non-muslim until the age of 12. Sure, I saw them in stores, and interacted with them in the library, but I didn't KNOW any of them. They were foreign to me, surely as foreign as I was and still am to them.
Sure, the United States is the largest White Supremacist Empire currently around, but I learned my anti-blackness from my predominantly Arab community. I learned it in fourth grade when I was made to believe that I was too black to be Palestinian. I learned it in fifth grade when we learned about Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam was never mentioned. I learned it in sixth grade when the African American Principle was driven out for no reason other than her blackness. I learned it from the conversations around me about marriage and having kids and families, and parents saying how they'd die if their children brought a Black girl home. I learned it in second grade when people told my Mom that she shouldn't take us to my younger sisters kindergarten teachers house because she was black. I learned it because I overheard what people said about my sisters friendship with a black girl from her class. I learned, always. I learned that being Black is being less in terms of your value as a human being. I was constantly told that we are all created equal, but less than in every other way.
Years later my Mom would tell us that in her elementary school, they'd tell them to stay away from Black people because they are cannibals and that they will eat you. I did not learn anti-blackness from the white people in my life, I learned it from my own community. I learned about the hierarchy within the Muslim community from the youngest of ages. I learned about privilege, and I learned that I am only beautiful if there's someone darker than me in the room. That I am only able to belong if I am not Black.
I left my Arizona community when I was twelve, and found the same anti-blackness in Canada, in Jordan, in Europe, and in Massachusetts. I found it everywhere, within every community. I have yet to find a community that loves blackness as they should.
Slavery in Libya is not an anomaly - it is part of the anti-blackness legacy that has been around for thousands of years. This is not new. This is normal.
For those of you surprised by all this, you're probably wondering why the reaction has been so weak. This is a big deal, after all. If you're surprised, then you do not understand the prevalence of anti-blackness in the world. Black Lives Matter, believe it or not, has been hijacked. It has become synonymous with a single form of violence: Police Brutality. This implies that in every other space and settings Black Lives already matter. But the truth is that there are no spaces where Black Lives Truly Matter, not unless they are intentionally and intersectionally created. Black Lives do not matter, not in your Mosque, or Church, or School, or any place.
So what can we do, to change our legacy of anti-blackness:
1) Recognize that this is not an anomoly. Black bodies have never stopped being sold and used.
2) Dissect and eliminate your own anti-blackness and the anti blackness of those around you.
3) Commit to fighting anti-blackness, and understand what that actually means. Does it mean that you'll give up anti black music? Movies? Books? Friends? Family Members? What does it look like for you? Because our lives are infected with anti-blackness.
4) Commit to loving blackness. Being anti-anti-blackness is not the same as loving blackness. Loving Blackness is not telling black people that you love their hair, or skin tone, and it's definitely not appropriating everything that they are. Loving blackness is in the way we build our lives, it is the way we raise our non-black children, it is in the way that we build our spaces. Loving blackness is investing in Blackness, and its growth. Loving Blackness is in every aspect of our lives. Do not tell someone darker skinned that they are beautiful if you are not willing to fight against the systems in place that have told us day in and day out that we are not beautiful because we are darker skinned. When we talk about hate we are constantly talking about the need for love, that only love can extinguish the hate, but rest assured that love is not inclusive of loving blackness.
5) Center Blackness. How many people out there will tell black people that their hair is beautiful but are unwilling to hire someone with their natural black hair? Or because they're too black? You are not loving blackness if you are not centering and empowering black lives. Black Lives must matter in every aspect of our lives.
6) Reflect on where you've been this entire time, lost in your anti-blackness. Let me be very clear, every single one of us Non-Black people, both POC and White people, we are anti-black and until this anti-blackness and ultimately white supremacy is rooted out of our lives entirely, we will continue to benefit off of every murder, every sale, every missing cent from a paycheck, every injustice that is committed towards black bodies - whether or not we are directly committing the injustice or not.
We need to step up. We MUST be better. This problem isn't just in Libya, or hiding behind a Make America Great Again sticker - it's behind those eyes staring back at you in the mirror, it's the family members that you just saw for Thanksgiving or Eid, it's everywhere. It's time to root it out, and destroy it. There's no "let's be patient". There's no "well they have good intentions". There's no "this is not my problem and things will get better on their own". There's just this, this world we're currently in, filled with the most callous of injustices.