I am tired… I am tired of justifying my conversion to Islam. I am exhausted of clarifying that I come from what is now known as Mexico. I am wary of explaining that my maternal line is Indigenous and that my paternal line is metizo. I am irritated while telling people that I “look Asian” because my great-great- grandfather was Chinese. I am drained when describing why my family immigrated to Turtle Island. I am also annoyed when disclosing that it was in here that I met my last partner, who was Saudi, and that it was then that I got to know the complexities of inter-cultural and bi-racial relationships. And I am also tired of telling people that yes… it is likely that my next relationship will be with a person of colour.
I am just exhausted of having to defend anything. But the fact that I am tired seems to mean very little to the world around me.
A couple of weeks ago I opened my mailbox just to find a note that read “Canada is no place for immigrants or terrorists. Go back.” When that happened my first reaction was one of uncertainty. What do you do with something like that? Who do you contact? How do you feel?
I am thankful to all my Muslim and Indigenous friends, and to all my community of colour, because they were the first ones to react. They were the ones reaching out and pointing me to the right resources. Did I call the police? Yes, I did. But being a non-priority issue, no one came to see me. I had to walk into the station two days later just to find two very confused police people who told me that they did not think the note was “either racially or religiously motivated.”
I have never had a lot of hope in the police… but I had to do this for the sake of statistics and of visibility… as if my existence and the violence surrounding me became valid only through a file number issued by one of the most oppressive institutions for Muslims and people of colour.
The note, as horrible as it was because it threatened my own sense of safety in my own home, was just the beginning of a very nasty process that showed me once more and first hand that racism is pretty much alive in Canada. Also, it was a reminder of the fact that the famous Canadian “politeness” only hides these obnoxious behaviours and hinders any real dialogue about the experiences that people of faith and colour have in this country.
In this process, the media picked up my story. Aside from one or two reporters who actually did their homework and acknowledged systemic racism and Islamophobia, which has been responsible for several attacks against women of colour and Muslim women in Canada, the rest just made me into the stereotypical oppressed “Muslimwoman” or into an angry woman of colour. Mind you, I am not a visible Muslim, but I am a “visible minority.”
My overall message to the media, though, was that racism is not nuanced. Racists often times only see “other.” Thus, I was likely targeted for my “difference” rather than my Muslimness. Perhaps the message was just too complex for the media, which was too eager to make connections between the attacks in Paris and Islamophobia without acknowledging existing relations of power that deem people of colour dispensable and violence-worthy, and have done so for centuries, in Canada.
It did not even take 24hrs for the racist and the Islamophobes to start sending me hate emails and messages over social media. Expected… I know.
But as difficult as that is, it was another realization that truly became an eye-opener.
Very few white-Western-non-Muslim-friends touch based with me. Only those who are allies and have done work to address their own privilege were empathetic and comfortable enough reaching out and offering support. The rest remained quiet. Am I surprised? I should not. At the end of the day, I have been constantly labeled an “angry woman of colour,” an idea that is racist and gendered in itself, for making white-Western-privileged people uncomfortable with my activities.
One of the first times I was called that was the day a professor of mine asked me about my thesis topic. “So you are another angry woman of colour?” He asked with arrogance while we walked into the elevator. I stared at him in shock, not because it was the first time I heard the label, but because this was a senior professor of public policy.
“Why wouldn’t I be? White-male privilege has not been particularly good to me or women in my family,” I responded daringly while attempting to point out his maleness and his whiteness. He then stared at me, “I will never understand angry women,” he said as he walked out of the elevator and rushed away from me.
I was also called an “angry woman of colour” when my white-middle-class colleagues nervously saw me become politically active in issues of violence against women of colour, and when I asked them not to set me up with white-privileged men after becoming single.
“How can we set you up if you are being that picky?”
“But white men aren’t all the same.”
“My boyfriend is white and he isn’t racist.”
During a dinner one of them said to me, “You know, you don’t have to be so angry all the time… for us, at least, you are an honorary white person.” That night, I finished my dinner, and I did not even wait for dessert. I walked out of the restaurant. Such a comment was an affront. And affront to who I am as a person and to my experiences living in Canada. It was an erasure of my anger… of the anger that has (multiple) reasons to exist.
I am tired of people who are not minorities and who have an unexamined privilege expecting me to “educate them” in their terms. They ask me to prove that Islam does not promote terrorism, that Indigenous peoples are the original inhibitors of this land or that Latin Americans are not all drug dealers and criminals.
I am also exhausted of these groups assuming that I am looking for their approval… that I am awaiting an invite into the white people’s club. And as much as some may be looking for this (it is not unheard of among people of colour with passing privilege, for instance) many of us are not. Many of us are just plain and simple angry, and finding ways to channel our anger towards projects that challenge the structures and that create safe spaces for faith communities and people of colour.
And after the last few weeks I am angrier than ever… I am angry because I am fearful all the time; because I am concerned about friends and family; because I feel that I need to conduct a thrill background check on anyone that comes close to me in order to filter for racists, Islamophobes and sexist people; because I am afraid of letting the “wrong” people into my life either as friends or partners; because I have to wonder if my exposure and activities will come back to haunt family, friends and the person I am involved with; and because all my complaints, as legitimate as they may be, are erased when I am called “an angry woman of colour.”