What would U.S. Muslim communities be like if they loved Black people as much as they love Black culture?
I use the phrase the “facts of Blackness” to describe the two primary ways Black culture is treated in many non-Black Muslim communities in the US: disavowal and instrumentalization. Disavowal describes the way Black culture is presumed necessarily un-Islamic or at best, religiously suspect, in Muslim contexts. Black culture is “suspect” because of the ways in which long-held stereotypes of Black “immorality”—oversexed and prone to crime— have become “facts” that shape the ways Muslims understand Black cultural forms. One of example of this is when Muslims do not take any issue with listening to religious music from the Middle East but are hesitant to include Islamic hip hop in their events.
Facts of blackness also have their more “positive” renditions as when Black culture is still seen in only one dimension but this time as essentially cool and oppositional. In this instance Blackness is instrumentalized or used as a tool. This is often at play in the countless times we see Black Muslim imams and emcees invited to speak and perform in non-Black Muslim communities. These men are invited because they can move a crowd — to want be a little more “Muslim” or add more zeros to their checks and the crowds adore them. Yet I call this instrumentalization when outside of these special events Black people in these communities are marginalized and hold no religious authority.
The facts of blackness of U.S. Islam reflect broader US society in which Blackness, in its fullest expressions, is disavowed, and when allowed it is turned into an instrument. Disavowal and instrumentalization are extensions of Frantz Fanon’s early analysis. In my analysis, the Muslim Negro is bad (religiously suspect) as well as badd (cool). Black expressive cultures are seen as outside proper Islamic practice or, when included, they and the bodies that perform them are policed in such a manner that, as the poet Amir Sulaiman once put it, “what makes you Black and American is haram.” Thus, these facts of Blackness are different techniques that do the same work of devaluing Black life.