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Running Brown In A Race of Black and White

I’m a female-identifying Brown Muslim political candidate, and this is my experience running in the current trend of social media-driven anti-racism

I ran in a small election with a small group of diverse candidates to represent my community. Half of us are Muslim. Half of us identify as female. Half of us identify as White. We set out to get elected together to bring inclusive representation to our party platform.

The results of the election will be announced tomorrow. Tomorrow also marks a month since the event that set what I can now honestly call a smear campaign against my Brown team leader in motion.

We came together by invitation as neighbors and grassroots activists. We each brought unique experiences, causes, and perspectives to the table. Frankly, we did it hurriedly and very close to the deadline to register to run. We could have been more prepared than we were for the event and generally. Representation was essential to our rallier and all of us. We invited activists from our community that we believed would bring it. Unfortunately, not everyone we asked could not join us in time.

A month ago, we hosted a live virtual event on social media. Our goal was to introduce ourselves, detail our values as a group, and discuss how we could best represent our community. We invited speakers that we believed were aligned with us to share their experiences and talk about working together. Our planning for the event happened in the same vein as our coming together. While we’d worked on our agenda outline throughout the week prior and communicated with our speakers, we finalized the day before the big day. Each team member shared the agenda with the speakers they invited as soon as we did. We spent our run through time working out technical details for our meeting setup. That was the reality of our schedules and meeting limitations.

The speaker I extended an invitation to is a Black community activist, leader, and organizer. She was one of the people we’d asked to join our team that had declined. Unfortunately, she was unclear on the meeting agenda I shared with her before the event. That was a factor I was not aware of despite our communication. I now know the importance of making time to go through all agenda items with all speakers before an event. When it was time for her to speak, I introduced her and her topic as the change we could bring to support BLM and the African American community. She talked about the lack of Black faces on our team and about our inability to represent the Black community without Black members. She went over her assigned 5 minutes. After allowing her a few additional minutes, our Brown team leader and moderator interrupted her and informed her she had a minute to wrap up. Now, here’s where it got muddy for some folks, including members of our team. Because of the nature of the dialogue and the rightful sense of urgency for Black lives, in an instant, the narrative became that our moderator silenced a Black woman because she was uncomfortable with what she had to say. All of our moderator’s following words and actions were scrutinized through this lens. When she introduced an educational slide show, it was viewed as her trying to “educate Black women.” The sensitivity was hyper. We ended the event early because instead of supporting each other in handling the situation, our team’s social media message thread blew up discussing it while still in it. That would have never happened in an in-person event. We accidentally left the live feed on for a little too long after we ended the event and recorded a part of our private conversation. We deleted the video later and decided as a team not to put it back up. It was not constructive, and there is a lot we could have done differently. We had erred, and I believe we all learned a lot from that.

The majority of event attendees were not aware that we’d been discussing our silenced speaker’s chosen topic with another Black community leader who was also in attendance. You see, four days prior, we received a message from a community activist asking about the lack of Black representation on our team. Our team leader responded honestly with our efforts to invite Black activists to join us that were declined. Unfortunately, her response and truth were not satisfactory. A phone call to a teammate followed. And then a series of blasting social media posts that we were blocked from responding to, and inappropriate messages riddled with microaggressions. Our speaker was interacting on some of these public posts. The intention behind them was clear and the tone deliberate.

Despite knowledge of this, one of our White teammates took on an unnecessary savior role after our event. They actively participated in the demonization of our team leader. They shared details of conversations and discussions we had as a team and misrepresented and misconstrued information to paint our team leader and, to a much lesser extent, myself in a bright red fiery light. Like women of color are often painted.

When we set a team meeting a week after the event to work on our response and follow-up meeting time with our speakers as a team, the savior challenged our team leader and asked for the responsibility of communicating with the concerned speaker and meeting attendees on our behalf. Unfortunately, and for reasons unknown to me, they later decided against it but neglected to let us know that as a team. This added more fuel to the fire, as it just made our speakers wait longer. So came the publicized social media posts explicitly targeting our team leader. The first one, which isolated an emotional mistake of a message from her to one of our speakers with none of the above context, was riddled with misrepresentation. It erased the faces of the only two Brown women on our team. A fact none of the “anti-racists” in the comments addressed because it may not have been obvious, but it was encouraged by the savior’s rhetoric. The second one came a few days later. It was a terrible, inflammatory, and derogatory post that went as far as threatening our team leader’s family business. The platform it was shared on took it down for harassment after multiple people reported it. The savior encouraged all of these posts with comments and reactions. It was challenging to watch.

In general, the representation we brought to the table as Brown Muslims was overlooked. Our accomplishments and endorsements triggered jealousy and even embarrassment from our teammates. They weren’t celebrated.

From the beginning of our coming together, the savior, whom I did consider a friend prior, demonstrated a lack of respect towards our Brown female-identifying members. They questioned every decision our team leader made, mostly with little reason other than a “Why should I listen to you?” attitude. They labeled exercising our expertise as a “need for control” and dismissed deadline reminders and frankness as “constant aggression.” At a certain point, we became too “ridiculous” to address directly, mainly after speaking passionately about our points of view. They began calling a male team member to talk things through with him when they had something to say. The most unfortunate part is that they expected us to put up with their disrespect in their lack of self-awareness. When they relayed their twisted account of this to others, they made it as though I’d stepped away from our friendship for politics. Not their actions. One person they’d spoken to sent me messages questioning my “friendship values” and calling me pathetic for it. They’d victimized themselves to that extent.

This type of ‘ally’ can be the most damaging. I can attest to this from this experience. To be clear, it’s the type that doesn’t dig deep enough to connect the dots in their anti-racist education for all those in between. The type that perpetuates racism by excusing inappropriate behavior from members of marginalized communities because they cannot see past their marginalization. The type that is more concerned with looking good than with really dismantling the issue. The type that continues to dismiss and demonize Brown while chanting “Black lives matter.”

So, to the anti-racist White saviors reading this: Continue doing the work until you don’t feel the need to save anyone. Continue doing the work until you accept that the only help needed from you is your own growth.

And for equality’s sake, inclusive representation doesn’t mean having an individual representing every possible face in our community. Truly inclusive representation means having people who care enough to listen to and echo all of our voices.

For change.