Introduction

From: Muslim Cool

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1 Introduction Esperanza: Stuff is kind of mashed up, and now [Arab and South Asian U.S. American]1 sisters are wanting to dress like the [U.S. Black American] sisters they see on stage. . . . It’s girls that are probably first generation here, trying to find the aesthetic that fits them that is not their mother’s or from their mother’s land, which I can sort of understand since I come from an immigrant [Dominican] background, but what happens is that they start picking from the people that are around them, like the magazine White culture, and then they want to add an urban element cause it’s a cool thing, cool to be from an urban environment , right? (Laughs) Su’ad: What is urban? (Laughs) Is that a euphemism? Esperanza: I don’t even know what it is. (Laughs) You wanna wear cargo pants? . . . See, I have a camouflage scarf, I’ve worn it only once because this Pakistani girl walked up to me like (mimics a voice) “This is so cool” and I was like [to myself] I can’t even pretend like that’s OK with me (Laughter). And it’s a girl that I love! Now I want to back this up by saying I have been wearing camouflage my whole life, I’m the camouflage queen! . . . I wear it a lot because I like it but also I feel like I can, it’s appropriate for me to wear it because my brother was in war, people! (Laughs) Like geez, this is my actual surname on my jacket. Anyway so this sister comes just really sincerely, “I really like your scarf, where can I get it from?” and I was kind of like, “Like, thank you,” but I don’t know really what else to say. It’s a compliment but in another way it’s really a thievery because we don’t have much, right? Like where does culture come from? It comes from people who don’t have much. That’s where hip hop comes from, that’s where house music came from. That’s where tying your hair up [in a scarf], wearing fatigues, because you ain’t got no other clothes, right? So you got to make do with what you have, and when someone is taking that, you don’t have anything left because you don’t have much 2 | Introduction to begin with. You going home to your mansions—how many mansions did I visit in the last week, right?! You going home to silverware that’s really silver but you taking my scarf?! Just let me have something. (Laughter) And I get it; you can’t really tell people what they can put on their body. I get that; but there is a certain level you can at least give due to where it’s done and at least try to do it authentically yourself. You have to know your boundaries and give knowledge and respect. Esperanza is a single mother in her early thirties. She is a multimedia artist who loves to teach but also teaches to pay the bills. I met up with her at her home in Humboldt Park in Chicago, and after she let her kids know “we handling important business here,” we lounged and she shared her reflections on being raced, gendered, classed, and Muslim. Although Esperanza is a convert to Islam and was born and raised in Chicago and I was born to Muslim parents and raised in Brooklyn, we hit it off right away. This was because of the other things we had in common: Latinidad, being part of the hip hop generation, and having intimate knowledge of the joys and the frustrations of growing up working class in the ’hood. Indeed, our respective experiences of race, class, and gender as Muslim women were often parallel. I had seen Esperanza at hip hop cultural events around the city, always observing folks, as artists are apt to do, before we formally met at an event at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, IMAN. IMAN is a Muslim-run nonprofit that provides services, community organizing, and arts-based activism on the southwest side of Chicago. IMAN was a key site for me in the field just as it was a place of central importance for many of my interlocutors, who I refer to as my “teachers” because I drew on their generous sharing of their knowledge and experiences. These “teachers,”2...


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Relations with Muslims.
  • Muslims -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • African American Muslims -- Social conditions.
  • African Americans -- Race identity.
  • Hip-hop -- Social aspects -- United States.
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