A Letter for My Little Brother (And Other Arab and Muslim Boys Around the World)

Sami5

My beloved little brother, my habibi, 

I love you so much.

But I can’t protect you from what’s to come, not any more than Baba or Mama or Layan or Razan could. The only way to protect you would be to cover you with myself and my whiteness.

Yes, it’s there. It hides under an olive tone at times, but it comes out the moment I end my name with “Davis,” and one day with “Cowett.”

I can hide myself. You don’t have that luxury.

And I couldn’t do that to you, and even if I could, I wouldn’t change your beautiful olive skin, your big brown eyes, or your nose that may one day hook like mine and Baba’s. If I took away your body, and made it what it wasn’t meant to be, I’d take away the history we share.

I’d have to take away the story of our Baba, who came here on scholarship, confusion, hope, and fear in his heart, who was mocked and derided by those studying at the same institution as him. I’d take away the story of this man, who worked at great risk to himself instead of going home, because doing so could have meant going home in more shame and in more trouble.

If he had done that, my life never would have begun, and neither, perhaps, would yours.

I can’t take away the story of our grandparents, refugees oppressed by those who have a long history of oppression. Nor can I take away the story of our great grandparents, including one who left Russia before having to leave Palestine.

No, habibi, I won’t take away our history from you, not even to protect you.

Sami6

Sami7

That being said, I can’t promise that you won’t be accused of being any number of things that you obviously aren’t.

I can’t promise that you won’t be judged by your name, your skin, your nose, your eyes, and all the physical traits we love about you instead of by your character, your skills, your wisdom, your story, your life, or anything else that makes you amazing.

I can’t promise that you won’t be hurt, antagonized, discriminated against, spit upon, demonized, or lumped in with a group you oppose as vehemently as the rest of us who value freedom and human dignity.

I can’t promise this will be an easy life. Baba can’t promise it, because it wasn’t easy for him, not when he was young, when he became a citizen, when he met my family, when he had me, when he lost me, when he got married, when he had our sisters, when he got and lost his cushy job, when he had you, or when he sees headline after headline demonizing our people, even when they are at their most vulnerable.

But I can promise that you will need to live this life, and you can count on Allah to be with you as much as I can count on Jesus to be with me.

And no matter what, I promise you that I will not let those different names divide us.

And I would remind you, as Baba might, that our family lived in the village of Imwas, or what the Christians call Emmaus. And we tell the story of Emmaus every year.

In that story, two men travel the road. They had lost all hope of being dignified, of having their divine humanity recognized, of living freely as the people of God and not the people of Caesar. As they walked in hopelessness, a man they didn’t recognize walked with them, talked with them, and ignited their hearts.

And when they finished walking, he broke bread with them, and they saw, staring into their faces, the hope they thought had died.

People will tell you, “You are not my people,” and unfortunately, some, if not most of, those people will claim the same Christian title I do. While it will be impossible for it not to get to you, I want you to know this: Their words are lies.

You are my people.

Your God is my God.

Your family is my family.

Your blood is my blood.

There is no half in this.

You.

Are.

My.

Brother.

Different mothers and different skin complexions don’t change that. You are my brother.

And while our upbringings, skin tones, and lives will be different, we share eyes and a nose and a kindred spirit and an inherently divine humanity.

We also share a family, for better or worse.

And I will keep the promise I made to you before you were born: I will always be with you, and I always be for you.

All my love,

Lindsay (Your Favorite Big Sister 🙂 )

Sami2

Why Ms. Marvel and Muslim Representation are Important

marvel

marvel.wikia.com

When I first walked into a comic book store two and a half years ago, I went straight for the Marvel section to grab Ms. Marvel Issue 1 (2014).

I knew nothing about Carol Danvers. I barely knew anything about Kree or Inhumans.

But I knew about Kamala Khan, the second-generation, Pakistani-American, Muslim teenager who carried the title of the super-heroine Ms. Marvel.

Kamala’s run as Ms. Marvel, previously portrayed as the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Carol Danvers, began in February 2014. While she isn’t the first Muslim superhero in the Marvel universe, she is the first to have get her own solo title and story.

When I found this out, I wanted to read her story, which sounded interesting and exciting on its own.

But I also had a bigger reason.

It’s no mystery that post-9/11 America has not been the kindest or safest place for Muslims. Pastors burn Qurans, men rip hijabs off of women, and people demand that incoming refugees and immigrants take religious tests in order to prove whether or not they are Muslims and, therefore, terrorists. Anti-Muslim sentiments and hate crimes have only increased in the month after the election.

Thankfully, I’ve also heard many in my own Christian circle strive to be more open to, inclusive of, and engaged with those they call “our Muslim brothers and sisters.” I appreciate and affirm these efforts and encourage all of my Christian friends to continue them.

But the term “our Muslim brothers and sisters” is not just a phrase to me or a call to go out of my way to interact with this group as if I can avoid them.

Muslims are my actual brother, sister, father, stepmom, and half of my extended family. They are my flesh and blood.

And that is why Ms. Marvel is so important to me.

This is a female American Muslim who is a person, not a token or a poster child. She is a teenager who goes to school, fights with her parents and brother, attends the mosque, quotes the Quran in the name of justice, and is obsessed with the Avengers. She also messes up often: she falls for a boy who hurts her, takes her best friend for granted, and is betrayed by her idol. She is a character whose ethnicity and religion is incorporated into “the larger, more holistic representation of what it is to be a person.”

Kamala isn’t just a girl who happens to be Muslim AND a superhero. Her identity and ideas about justice flow from her religious faith and family heritage. She rebukes the stereotype of Muslim women being oppressed and passive. Instead, she is physically, mentally, and emotionally strong with similar limits as other superheroes. Her religion does not hold her back. It pushes her forward.

Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel is an important icon in an age when people are calling out inherent racism in our media, from movements like #OscarsSoWhite and backlash against whitewashing characters who should be portrayed by people of color. She is a breath of fresh air in a storm of common negative media narratives surrounding Muslim Americans, including, but not limited to, threats of ISIS within and outside US; the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, and Pulse Nightclub attacks; and Ahmed Mohamed’s arrest for building a clock his teacher suspected of being a bomb. She is someone that can represent my siblings, parents, and family well, someone to remind them that they are good, beautiful, whole people just as they are, with their dark, curly hair, large brown eyes, and olive skin. They are not tokens or terrorists. They are people with stories similar to and different from Kamala’s, and their stories are worth telling and upholding. This is what Ms. Marvel’s story says to my family and other Muslim Americans.

When people of color and from minority groups demand better representation, it isn’t a whiny demand from brats who just “want everything their way.” It’s a call to acknowledge a broad range of people as complete, complex human beings in the same way so many white, hetero, cis, Christian, and able-bodied people already are. It is a plea to notice and honor the divine humanity of brown, black, and Muslim (among other people groups) in realistic, well-rounded, and accurate ways.

In short, it is a cry for justice.

So broaden your horizons. Not all of the media you consume should be headlined by people who look like and have similar backgrounds and lifestyles as you. If you’re Christian, find some stories from Muslim, Hindu, or even atheist perspectives. If you’re white, read the stories of black and brown characters (even better, get stories like those written BY people of color). If you’re able-bodied, seek the stories of people with disabilities. The point is, don’t limit your stories. Seek all of them from as many perspectives as possible. Recognize the divine humanity in each diverse story. If you’re a creator, make sure if your characters are people of color or different religions that you do your homework well in bringing them to life. Make sure they are real people whose ethnicity and religious beliefs add to their character instead of forcing them into a stereotype.

This is important, holy work, friends, and it is hard work. We won’t always say the right things or portray people as well as we could. We will blunder. I know I have many times.

But know that this is work for justice. This work of honoring stories honors the beautiful humanity  within each person, including my own family. And we need this work to be done now more than ever.