Monday, November 17, 2008

Another Stupid Encounter

This one goes in the hall of shame with the desi aunty story and the scary Mosque-hijab encounter. Last week I logged onto Facebook to be greeted on my newsfeed by the use of the "n-word." A brother I knew had posted something about wanting to play basketball that night. One of his friends had responded saying "n****r lol." 

I, of course, was offended. Who expects to see such casual use of racial epithets blasted in their face, when they log onto Facebook? So I responded simply saying "wow." And what came from there was an interesting barrage of messages from the offending brother defending and explaining his right to use the word. To add somebackground, this is a South Asian brother from a subarban (some might even classify it as one of the bubbles) portion of California. Of all of the people who might claim to have a right to use the word, this was an interesting situation.

I made two comments. The first, "wow," and then upon being told by the oh so fabulous brother that I should mind my own business I said something to the effect of "it becomes my business the second you attempt to pollute public space with racist words." For my two comments, I received at least a total of five messages defending his use of the word. His angry messages (yes, he was angry at me for saying "wow" when he was using the "n-word" in public spaced) are included below:
"naw it wasnt a supid comment..ppl dont know why i said it..and should mind thier own business"

"naw cuz u were like i wana play ball...and i was like lets play at mile square then u changed it to i said it..and its not stupid i can say that word i got the right."

"polluting public space..what are u a lawyer..dude people say worse things than that and mean sorry if sisters dont use that type of lingo...and if i knew other ppl would see it and react that way i wouldnt have said it."

"lol dude no one can wreck a junior lawyer"
And to make matters more interesting he also personally messaged me, saying: 
"well yeah its in public..but i do have freedom of speech as u have the freedom to dispute what i say..doesnt make u right..doesnt make me right"
It's a sad-sad day when I have to spend the afternoon discussing the inappropriateness of the term n****r with another Muslim. This person would likely call the civil rights and hate crime task forces if he were referred to as a "camel jockey," and yet he cannot afford other ethnic groups the same respect?

My draft response to his personal message is included below:

Salaams "Junior Lawyer,"

When you are able to put together complete sentences, send me a message. Until then, please feel free to go back and reread what I said/wrote. I never said anything about your right to say the word. Rather I commented on the appropriateness of its usage and my right to respond to such usage.

Considerations here would be:

1. It is widely recognized as a racist term.

2. The word was used in a public space, and therefore becomes nothing more than a commodity in the marketplace of ideas.

3. As you maintain the right to use the term, I maintain the right to say "wow" when I am disappointed about Muslims speaking ignorantly.

I would ask, would you feel comfortable just using that word around a local shaikh? Your mom? The Prophet? Shouldn't we hold all of our speech to that standard? Given such, whether it is a private or public posting, I would ask that you rethink your justification for use of such a historically negative term.

I'm not even going to get into the issue of the gender biased remarks you made regarding a sister's vocabulary. Please see my note above: this is not an issue of brothers or sisters, it is one of Muslims and people of conscience.

Relatedly, I'd recommend you check out the following links before writing any additional ignorant half sentences:

Wiki - Market Place of Ideas
Wiki - N****r 



Fatin said...

good work Zahra, and I don't think you wasted your afternoon on this let's just hope this brother got something out of it.

Anonymous said...

Check out Imam Zaid's article on the topic:

Anonymous said...

provocative post zahra. we can't live by double standards. your points should've been included in azhar usman's "apology" essay...

Anonymous said...

Assalamu alaikum,

It seems like this dude is just another one of those wannabe thugs that live in a suburban neighborhood. Most of these guys don't understand the racial and derogatory context, they just see rappers using it and think that its "cool."

But like the previous post, I do think Imam Zaid offers an interesting perspective into this subject.

By the way, great response!

ahmed said...

you're right, but take a chill pill.