I met Nijla Mu'min in fall 2014 when she visited a class I was taking at the California Institute of the Arts, where we both received graduate degrees. She showed her short film Deluge, which premiered at the New Voices in Black Cinema Film Festival in March 2014. The film has gone on to screen at the Black Star Film Festival and the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), and is the recipient of a Princess Grace Cary Grant Award, among others. Deluge resonated with me not only because of its hypnotic visual aesthetics and riveting voiceover but also because the film has a tragic real-life inspiration: It’s based on the true story of a group of black teenagers who drowned because they’d never learned to swim. Deluge demonstrated for me the power of the magical realism genre in addressing contemporary issues of access and oppression.
Since then, I've eagerly explored her other films, which include Two Bodies, about a young woman's struggle with sexuality and her relationship with her mother; Storm, a short meditation on the maladjustment of a black woman soldier who’s just returned home; and Dream, which was shot on location in Lake Los Angeles and focuses on the way fractures in her parents’ marriage transform a young girl’s perspective. In her essay "My Struggle Being a Black Woman Filmmaker Outside White Hollywood," Nijla engages the largely overlooked side of recent public debates about diversity in the movie industry and what the bottom line means for many filmmakers of color who work independently from Hollywood. Along with Yvonne Welbon's documentary Sisters in Cinema and the public interventions of Nijla’s inspiration, Ava DuVernay, that essay is one of the most illuminating glimpses into the multifaceted hustle of many black women filmmakers I’ve encountered. “So instead of boycotting an event and wasting time writing blogs about why it's unfair,” she writes, “invest in us, the working filmmakers of color. For every blog and celebrity statement about the misfortune of the Academy, there's a filmmaker striving against all odds to make his or her movie or get into a writing room on a TV show. There's a woman writing a character we've never seen. There's the sounds of exciting, groundbreaking voices that will be silenced if we don't pay attention.”
She's written a new film called Jinn, which is a coming-of-age film about a character we’ve never seen: A black teenage girl who’s just converted to Islam. The Kickstarter campaign for that film launched this week. I talked with Nijla over email about her affection for the coming-of-age genre, Jinn’s backstory, and the visibility of Muslims in the media.
Blavity: Talk to me about Jinn. Where does the title come from?
Nijla Mu'min: Jinn is a coming-of-age dramedy about a carefree black girl, Summer, who is thrust into Islam when her mother converts, and begins a journey of self-discovery. Along the way, she meets a Muslim boy, Tahir, whose parents practice the religion in a freer fashion than Summer’s mother, and allow them ample freedom to hang out. However, with their freedom comes sexual feelings, which they are warned against, but which they cannot deny. In Islamic mythology, jinn are supernatural beings made of smokeless flame who occupy another world and have free will like human beings. They can be evil, good or a mix of both. Some jinn are said to tempt human beings to commit evil deeds.
B: I want to talk about the of voice-over narration in your films. The voiceover in your films, as in most films, convey information that characters' keep to themselves, or are used to provide context from a temporal or emotional distance. Terrence Malick and Kasi Lemmons have both expertly employed the technique in their films. I find your work to be in relation to the work of those directors. The intertextuality between your films suggests that the use of the voiceover is a part of your aesthetic approach. Can you talk about your decision to use the technique in several of your films, and do you plan to use it in Jinn?
NM: Every character I write has a very rich internal life, and they are often conflicted about issues related to family, identity, sexuality, romance or death. I’ve found that voiceover can be an extremely effective tool in exploring the internal conflict in my characters, and allowing it to inform our understanding of their actions in my films. I’m also a big fiction nerd. I grew up reading adult novels by Danzy Senna and J. California Cooper, amongst others. A lot of my films begin as short stories so the voiceovers come from those narratives. I love cinema that feels like a good novel, in that it can be epic, universal, and peppered with images that build a tapestry of meaning. Voiceover is definitely a part of Jinn, and is related to an important essay assignment in which Summer is asked by her English teacher to write about her identity and how she defines it. As she struggles to write in the midst of her religious conversion, we are let into her thoughts.
B: I think there's such continuity with your works and also films such as Sounder, The Learning Tree, Crooklyn, and Eve's Bayou. In press materials for Jinn, you state that you are a coming-of-age aficionado. What is it about these films that attract you, and how do you see your films in relationship to this tradition? What are some films that have influenced your work?
NM: Wow, thank you for the compliment. I love those films. I am fascinated by the formation of self and of identity during the adolescent years, and how these years greatly inform the people we become. Some of the most frightening, exciting, and enlightening things happened to me when I was a teenager. I laughed and cried with a group of close black female friends, I experienced heartbreak for the first time and laid on my bed numb from it, I realized I had more potential than I ever thought when I was admitted to Cal Berkeley after believing and being told for years that it wasn’t possible. I engaged in debates in my AP US History class about double consciousness and Jim Crow laws, and read novels that kept me awake at night thinking about how I could also make my words sing like the writers I so admired. I cried so many tears, I was confused and confident and awkward. Now, as a youth educator, I see some of my students going through the same things, just in a different cultural framework where social media and cell phones allow them to expertly craft identity and emotions.
B: If each of your previous films focused on a particular theme, what is Jinn's theme?
NM: Jinn’s theme is identity. It is a film about how one’s identity, fully-formed or in-process, leads them to interpret things in certain ways, including religion. I connect this to my father’s journey. Born Richard Scott, he came from a small town in Louisiana where black people had their own schools, doctors, and stores, and he moved to Oakland in the late 1960s/early '70s, where [he] was drawn to the Nation of Islam, as they symbolized black self-sufficiency, independence, and defiance to a white power structure. He would later convert to Orthodox, Sunni Islam and change his name to Saleem Mu’min. His journey and experiences influenced his conversion in the same way it does for the characters in my film. Summer and her mother Jade encounter Islam through different lenses — one out of a need for cultural belonging and enlightenment, and the other from a lens of curiosity, resistance and awe. Both lenses trigger a specific relationship that unfolds over the course of the narrative, that intertwines and often clashes with the other.
B: In your short films, I am struck by your conveyance of place, whether it be Dream's arid landscape or the lush water world shown in Deluge. What are the challenges of creating a film like Jinn, that refers to otherworldliness, especially as you work within the strictures of a budget you describe as being a "micro-budget?" Why do you set some of your films in these vibrant, unnamed locales? How does your view of place, as a director, differ in a narrative feature versus in a short film? Does this involve an adaptation of technique or scouting/planning?
NM: I think this also relates to my love of fiction and the creation of place and location that happens in those texts. It is often epic and functions in many ways as a character. Some of my favorite films share that with fiction — The Piano, Malcolm X, and A Prophet. One of my favorite short stories is "Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx. Its attention to that frontier, Western space and the ways its characters wrestle with their lust can almost be felt. Ang Lee’s adaptation of it is masterful because he carries most of those location-specific details into the film, from dry tumbleweeds to lush mountains, it’s all there and it elevates the feelings of longing and denied love that the story illustrates. I aim to do that with my films and with my fiction and poetry. In my short film, Dream, I was especially concerned with building a very tangible physical world in which a 12-year-old girl longs for a family moment she might never have again. The emptiness of the desert was very real to me. In Jinn, I am also very intentional about how Los Angeles is represented, apart from the mainstream image we see of it. The Los Angeles that Summer — a 17-year-old black girl — navigates is one of pink sunsets, cramped pizzerias, abandoned buildings in Inglewood, Leimert Park, empty Metro trains, damp gyms and small dance studios.
B: In Jinn, the main character Summer is drawn to the jinn, or supernatural creatures who live in parallel worlds, as framed in the Islamic tradition. Many of your films feature black female adolescence at the center. Oftentimes the space of adolescence is viewed as the quintessential "other world." In fact, in a few of your films, the teen protagonists spend substantial reel time in their bedrooms, the ultimate private space. I feel like there's a connection between the parallel world of the jinn and the ways in which girlhood is deemed as insular, disconnected and both in and out of a logical realm as adults see it, in ways that even teen boyhood is not seen. Is there a connection, in your opinion? Is this popular reading of teen girls' intellectual and physical spaces necessary for a specialized approach, or is it isolating and condescending? Is there an analogue between the jinns' occupation of a parallel world with the work of black filmmakers position within Hollywood? How do you intend for Jinn to expand on this body of cinematic knowledge?
NM: In my film, Summer is drawn to the jinn mythology partly because she is a shapeshifter. She feels she is several bodies in one. She enjoys switching between different looks, personas and identities and documenting them on Instagram and Tumblr. Similarly, the jinn can take on different forms — as animals, snakes, women and men. Summer’s black teenage girlhood is a distinct world all its own, and as her mother’s conversion consumes her, Summer’s internal space becomes that much more separate. Her desires and frustrations, while strong, are unseen by many.
The film is also concerned with this idea of free will, which is something that human beings and jinn exercise. However, it is believed by some that jinn have the capacity to influence human beings to do evil deeds. As Summer and Tahir go deeper into their friendship, their feelings for each other and the freedom they are given present them with a choice that, while looked down upon by many, is theirs to make. I am interested in teen sexuality and temptation as an extension of free will.
B: Your visual palette and inspirations for Jinn range from black women with afros, Beyoncé dancing, Muslim women rocking hijabs, the singer SZA and even churros. How did you come up with this collection of visual influences?
NM: I envisioned all of the distinct ways the elements of my identity converge and clash. I learned a lot about sexuality from the Lil’ Kim’s song “Not Tonight,” and the film Eve’s Bayou. I’m a child of black popular culture, of Islam, and of black girl magic before there was a term for it. I went on a college tour road trip with my best friends in high school and we cried while listening to Lauryn Hill’s Unplugged album, then discussed its relevance to our lives as 16-year-olds. We were so deep. I love the inconsistencies and complexities of black girl identity, and I wanted to capture that. I also love churros.
B: You've worked with Ava DuVernay as a production assistant, and you appeared in one of her commercial projects, "Say Yes," an ad for Fashion Fair cosmetics. When I studied with Tisa Bryant at CalArts, she suggested that DuVernay's commercial work, which includes ads for Apple, Miu Miu and Fashion Fair, were acts of syncretism, in which these advertisements were being deployed for subversive means, that is, to depict rich depictions of black sociality. As a black, woman, Muslim filmmaker (among your other identities), do you find yourself having to layer your films in coded ways so that your work will be received by larger audiences?
NM: I think a large part of Jinn’s appeal for larger audiences is that it’s a funny, fresh, serious film about Islam. It does not point fingers and does not preach. And I think the fact that the main character does not begin the film as a Muslim will allow many people who are not Muslim to experience the religion through her. In the same way that DuVernay intentionally brings audiences into spaces of black female bonding, warmth and familiarity, I am also encouraging a certain movement toward Muslim laughter, Muslim love and Muslim beauty that we just don’t see in mainstream images. But I am not coating those images with “This is a message!” I just let my images live and work through the mind and body.
B: You write that your films "humanize those who are routinely dehumanized." Can you elaborate on that statement? Could you describe or define those you allude to in that statement?
NM: I’ve written scripts about black mothers, a black woman porn star trying to reunite with her mother, a biracial mother who accidentally runs over a child on her way home from work, a mother battling breast cancer on the eve of her daughter’s 16th birthday, a black sister who loses her brother to a police officer’s gun and falls in love with the man who witnessed it, and black teens trying to find themselves.
B: I grew up in West Philly, where there is a large population of black Muslims. Several members of my family are black Muslims. Outside of films such as Moozlum, and the classic Malcolm X, as well as a character in Night Catches Us, I don't often see images of black Muslims in film or on TV, and when I do, they were narrowly conceived in the vein of black conspiracy theorists or cartoonishly depicted as one-dimensional bean pie hawkers. Also, there's a frequent conflation between the Nation of Islam and black Sunni Muslims. In your opinion, why don't you think these communities are covered in mass media, even by other black filmmakers, when there are large populations of black Muslims in metropolitan cities throughout the U.S.?
NM: “One-dimensional bean pie hawkers!” That is hilarious! Can I use that?
It’s interesting, but I actually set up a google alert for 'Islam' so I could receive relevant news about the religion in my email inbox, and the headlines are so dismal, and scary even. There’s little humanity in those headlines, which are about repressed Muslim women’s sexuality, ISIS threats, and the like. I juxtapose those very scary mass-produced headlines about Islam with a recent experience I had seeing my Muslim cousin Juma, his wife and their three young sons over winter break. Juma was so very in love with his wife. I could see it in the way they looked at one another, in the warm laughter and jokes they shared and the way they flirted with one another as if they’d just met. It was heart-warming to see them and to play with their sons, one of which had a deep interest in filmmaking. We took selfies and they beamed with a youthful vibrancy and hope that I can still feel. These are the Muslims that I know and grew up around, and their images and stories are so different than the ones being pumped into many people’s minds.
I think the lack of representations of black Muslims comes from misinformation and from an enduring fascination some people have with seeing people as “the other” —Muslims, people of color, LGBTQ folks and anyone who doesn’t fit neatly into the Eurocentric, Christian values this country was founded on.
I also think that the increased stigma and hatred that Muslims face in the time of Donald Trump, ISIS and Charlie Hebdo, makes it complicated to tell a 'complicated' story about Muslims. Many within the Muslim community might not want to step out and portray a Muslim character who is struggling with their faith, who is tempted to have sex or who lies, because those things are 'wrong,' per se, but they are also what makes us human, and as a storyteller and filmmaker, I am interested in exploring humanity in unlimited ways — not to exploit or wrangle Islamic identity for my own purposes, but to humanize and connect with a religion that helped make me who I am today.
B: What would you say to viewers who'd say that a woman using her film to provide depth to Islamic experiences is inherently a contradiction of the religion's terms?
NM: The Qur’an is full of depth. It is full of surahs about the complexities of life and how to face them.
When I was growing up, my father told me that Muslims weren’t allowed to date and that if I wanted to meet up with a boy, I had to be chaperoned. Meanwhile, my mother let me hang out with my friend Ryan and get on the BART train to meet him. I embody a dual perspective, and that’s always how I’ve entered these conversations. The only way I know how to make art is to humanize my subjects, and humanization comes from a recognition of flaws, contradictions and complexity.
B: What did you hope to achieve by writing "My Struggle Being a Black Woman Filmmaker Outside White Hollywood"?
NP: I wanted to bring attention to the everyday realities of being a working filmmaker of color outside of the studio system. I really appreciated a lot of the dialogue that April Reign's #OscarSoWhite spurred, but I think at some point, the dialogue became some type of publicity stunt, or a racy question to ask celebrities, when it should've been a step in the direction of providing a space for the people who are most affected by it — the filmmakers. I think we sometimes have a tendency to take a top-down approach to issues, especially related to the film industry. The Oscars are in many ways the end of the chain when it comes to filmmaking — lack of access, resources and opportunities underscore the disparities we see in this industry. Those are the root problems. I was interested in exploring that, as a filmmaker. The piece garnered a massive response. It was one of the top articles on VICE and people shared it all over social media. Many filmmakers reached out to me, sharing their projects and their stories.
B: What can people do to make sure films like Jinn get made?
Support them, screen them in their schools, homes and organizations. Go see them when they are in theaters. Take their families and friends.
In relation to our campaign, people can spread the word to their family, friends, and communities through social media and word of mouth. One tweet or Facebook post goes a long way. One email. They can also contribute any amount. It's about building community and showing that we want to see these stories because they are our stories.
Nijla Mu'min is a writer and filmmaker from the East Bay Area. Her short films have screened at festivals across the country, including the Pan African Film Festival and Outfest. She has written for Shadow & Act, Bitch Media, The Los Angeles Times, and Vice. She is the recipient of the 2012 Princess Grace Foundation- Cary Grant Award for her film, Deluge. Recently, she was one of 10 writers selected for the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters Intensive. She was the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Screenplay at the 2014 Urbanworld Film Festival, for her script Noor.
Niela Orr is one of BuzzFeed’s first Emerging Writer Fellows. Her work has appeared in The Believer, The Baffler, Salon, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. She’s currently working on a book about the convergence of black pop culture and visual art. She lives and works in New York City.
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First, let me start by saying this is not one of those HBCU vs. PWI stories aiming to debate the validity of either educational system. Both are great in their own right, worthy of praise, and marked with imperfections. I did, in fact, attend an HBCU — but I didn’t choose my HBCU because my HBCU chose me.
Many won’t understand that last statement, especially if you weren’t fortunate enough to experience the magic that is an HBCU, so let me school you. As an African-American woman who attended private schools her entire life, I had a very narrow definition of what encompassed a high-quality education. I flip-flopped between a predominantly white elementary school, racially diverse (yet majority black) middle school, and staunchly white high school for the better part of my academic career. When I reached my senior year, at what most would consider a relatively progressive high school nestled in the hills of one of the most affluent counties in the country, I started the process of college counseling.
Filled with common app tips and tricks, SAT vs. ACT listicles, resumes of extracurricular activities, and the dreaded questions of financial aid, the college prep process was more grueling than landing my first full-time job out of college. My classmates casually referenced top Ivy Leagues as their safety schools, while I considered myself lucky to have even one of them on my 'reach' list. But as I look back on things, out of the 20 or so small liberal arts colleges and states schools that were pushed my way, not a single HBCU was brought into the discussion. Likely due to the fact that I was one of three black students (two of whom were bi-racial) in my class of 98 graduating students. My high school simply did not have the subject matter expertise to advise me on such a decision, and as a result, I never considered these schools to be an option.
This, of course, didn’t stop my mother — who’s always had a vested interest in my education — from pushing me to apply. After lots of teeth-pulling, eye-rolling and utter resentment, I ultimately submitted an application to the HBCU which would go on to become my beloved alma mater. But why this push to send me to an HBCU? I thought you’d never ask!
A mother’s intuition is undeniable. They know you better than you know yourself, despite our relentless efforts to prove otherwise. My mother knew I was smart, she knew I was well-liked by my friends, and she also knew I had yet to come to terms with a very important aspect of my identity — my black girl magic (as it’s affectionately called today). Don’t get me wrong, I knew I was black. I went to an African Methodist church, was a member of Jack & Jill (look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about), and experienced my fair share of subtle prejudices that quickly reminded me of my blackness. But the vast majority of my days were spent around people who didn't look like me, didn't always care to understand my culture, and most of all, weren't prepared to embrace the more 'uncomfortable' aspects my blackness. Thus, while I knew I was black, I didn't know what it really meant to be black.
This lack of identity is what pushed my parents to enroll me in Spelman. And although, at the time, I felt like they stripped me of one of the most monumental decisions of my young-adult life, I'm glad they did, because I would not be who I am today if it were not for my HBCU. In some strange twist of fate, I truly believe Spelman chose me. It’s said that Spelman women make a choice to change the world, and when asked, I never hesitate to say Spelman changed my world.
It is at Spelman where I learned what it means to be a smart, independent, proud black woman. It is at Spelman where I met the women and men (Morehouse College is right across the street) that have been and will be by my side anytime I celebrate a new career milestone, anytime I experience heartache and need a shoulder to cry on, anytime I fall and don't think I can get back up, and most importantly, anytime I fail to live up to my full potential.
It is this invaluable network of amazing black women and men that makes an HBCU magical. It is the organic connection and innately common experiences that make HBCUs a safe haven for young black adults in today’s racially turbulent environment. And it is this once-in-a-lifetime HBCU experience that makes us the envy of anyone we meet (especially around Homecoming season) even if they don’t want to admit it. So whether your family has a strong HBCU bloodline or you’re the first to attend, wear that regalia with pride and never be afraid to represent!
What was your college experience like? Let us know in the comments below!
Oakland, CA native. Black woman in tech. Lover of all things food and wine. Strange obsession with Polaroid photos. Professional ghost writer finding her own voice.
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Have you ever thought about the meaning of your name? Personally, I like to Google the meaning of my unique name at least once a year. The Name Project is a docuseries that takes the time out to explain how our names affect our lives by diving into identity, family histories and public perception. The series is directed by Antoinette Brock, blogger of Don't Throw Away The Crust. Check it out above and share with us what you think!
What does your name mean to you and how has it affected your life?
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There’s a bad bug in our country, and I’ve seen it more than once.
It’s quiet, and it’s fearful, and it grows from month to month.
I see it on empty trains when a White woman pushes me “accidentally,” and if her friend notices she forces an “excuse me” gently.
I see it when I’m introduced by one White friend to theirs, there’s a look of disgust as they make sure no one is looking before they won’t even shake my hand.
There’s a bad bug in this country and it really packs a punch. And I’ve seen it. Boy, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it more than once.
When White men hear what I do, refusing to look me in the eye, they pry about my education and if I had a full ride. Before quickly minimizing what I’ve accomplished, doing so with glee. And comment after comment makes me want to flee.
When a boy is murdered and it’s “let’s focus on something else. I think Friends is on. Now those are people that I’d like to help.”
When a Black girl is killed and it’s “well, if she would have only listened, then her blood wouldn’t sit there on the classroom floor gleaming as it glistens.”
There’s a bad bug in this country and it really packs a punch. It’s everywhere I go — at breakfast, dinner, lunch. When I go to an event, there’s a woman sitting there. And she turns around and smiles, twirling her fingers in her hair, and she looks at my two White friends, handing them her card, but to me in the middle she glances, looking as if I were a fraud.
There’s a bad bug in this country and it really packs a punch. And I’ve seen it. Boy, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it more than once.
It’s ignoring when a Black woman screams in a Silicon Valley asking why she must choose between being safe or being sorry. It’s a struggling Mexican restaurant that prays for steps at the door, while down the street three White men in sombreros have so much business it becomes a chore.
There’s a bad bug in this country, and I’ve seen it more than once. It’s a thought. It’s a feeling. It’s a lie. It’s a hunch. It’s ignoring how we’ve been taught to believe that one is better than another. It’s a hatred when a White woman sees a Black woman doing better than others. It’s saying “Racists only lived long ago.” while stepping over Black bodies in the cold, hard snow.
There’s a bad bug in this country, and I’ve seen it more than once. And you? Have you seen it too? Do you have it? Does it punch?
McKensie or Kingzie is a writer and strategist with a love for dope poetry and prose. A consultant by day and writer by night, she composes works about her experiences growing up on Chicago's beautifully vibrant Southside. Follow her on Twitter...
How do chemistry, biology, mechanical engineering, and English majors end up as the face of African and Middle Eastern Studies? By being black females at a school where only 3.6 percent of the undergraduate population identifies as African American/Black. Upon seeing the image below and reading its heading, I felt an immediate sense of disrespect — as if all of my accomplishments at the university were moot and it only saw me as a token minority to be showcased. They chose a 7-year-old image of my friends and I enjoying our first few weeks at Southern Methodist University, a time filled with excitement and joy, to use as a rather peculiar exhibition of diversity.
When I look at the image below, I remember being a freshman excited to commence my college experience. What SMU saw was a stock photo, their very own “50 Shades of brown and hijab," that perfectly encompassed the type of diversity the university lacks but loves to use as a token.
A friend of mine at the university forwarded me the picture above in jest to show how our picture was in the course catalogue and featured as the face of “African and Middle Eastern Studies.” However, when I saw the photo I didn't find it humorous but deeply upsetting. My alma mater, a place I called home for five years and received two degrees from, judged my friends and I based on our physical appearance as only being “fit” to represent a study that matched our skin color — they saw three women of color and a supposedly Middle Eastern girl and consciously categorized us.
According to SMU’s logic, African and Middle Eastern studies are the only disciplines we could have possibly studied, why else use a random picture of black women to exemplify the major? Let me be clear. I’m not upset at SMU for incorrectly identifying our majors; the issue at hand is that they profiled us to be the face of those studies. I am disappointed in the deliberate decision, fueled by implicit biases, to profile women of color to represent African and Middle Eastern disciplines. The issue at hand is what is being insinuated and communicated between the lines. It's the denial that these implicit biases exist that continues to maintain systematic racism not only at SMU, but also in our educational system and American society in general.
This is not the first time an image of me has been used as promotional material for SMU. I have no issue with them using any image of me, as it is their right given that we signed a waiver as freshmen. My issue lies with the disrespect of my entity as a student and as a black woman. I have a story, and it's not that of an African and Middle Eastern studies student. I earned a BS and MS in engineering at SMU as one out of four women in a class of 40 undergraduate mechanical engineers. That is the story SMU should be celebrating and promoting.
Do not disrespect my degrees.
Less than 2 months ago I participated it in the #ilooklikeanengineer hashtag with fellow female engineers across the nation to combat stereotypes we face in corporate America. Never did I expect that my alma mater would be the institution that stereotyped me.
SMU could not have been more wrong about me. My parents hail from Ethiopia, and I identify as black. More importantly, the hijab I wear does not make me Middle Eastern. Black American Muslims exist. We have since slavery when an estimated 30 percent of slaves were forcefully kidnapped from Muslim communities.
In response to my tweets demanding a statement, SMU replied, “the photo was mistakenly used on a University web page and is being removed. We apologize for its use and thank you for alerting us.” What the administration fails to realize is that we need to address how this ”mistake” happened in the first place and figure out a way to make sure it never happens again.
I responded to their tweet with, “@SMU How do you mistakenly profile a group of black women? This was biased and you need to own up to that. Who approved this selection?”
SMU replied, “@nliben We understand your anger and are working to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. We apologize, and we will do better.”
I want to know how you plan to do better, SMU. Racism, unconscious biases and profiling are absolutely unacceptable.
What steps are you going to implement to strengthen your black community on-campus and off-campus? What steps will be taken to further diversity and awareness?
You don’t mistakenly harbor stereotypes, you don’t mistakenly act with bias and you certainly don’t mistakenly profile people. Maybe, just maybe, if SMU had a more diverse student body, you wouldn’t have to recycle a 7-year-old photo. More importantly, maybe if we had a diverse student body we could create a more inclusive community where minorities are more than just tokens.
Thanks, SMU. Pony up, I guess.
Noura Liben is a Swedish Ethiopian living in Jacksonville, Florida. By day, she hustles as an engineer and by night she hosts 'Empire' watch parties. She enjoys sci-fi, books, music, AKA, finding new ways to dress up her hijab, traveling and shopping.
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Diversity in the film industry or nah? Watch this spot on video that highlights the issue. Also be sure to check out Blavity's list of multi cultural film/TV directors to check out.
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This piece by Pages Matam covers the complexity of being black and living in America, no matter where you're from. Watch his riveting performance below.
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On Saturday night, Lin Mei, a 29-year-old from London, was refused entry into DSTRKT nightclub in London along with a group of friends. In an interview with The Voice newspaper, Lin Mei alleged that two of her friends were told that they would not be allowed into the club on the basis that they were "too dark" and "overweight."
Since Saturday, a number of women have shared similar experiences of discrimination at DSTRKT and other London clubs on social media. Representatives of the club have allegedly denied that the club turns away people on the basis of race, but they have not yet released an official statement.
Last night a crowd gathered outside DSTRKT to protest in response to the mistreatment of the women. The protest is also gaining strong support online under the hashtags #DoILookDstrkt and #dstrkt.
Check out some of the tweets below.
Have you experienced something similar to this? Let us know in the comments below.
In her first directorial debut, Nadia Sasso blows the lid off the identity and cultural duality of West African women of the diaspora. Am I: Too African to be American or Too American to be African? documents the journey of seven dynamic women as they navigate life and the difficulties of their bi-cultural identities. One of the women covered in this film is Issa Rae, the well-known producer, writer and director of the comedy series Awkward Black Girl. Although the film covers West African women specifically, all people with bi-cultural influences can relate to the content. The film facilitates dialogue between immigrants and their children with non-immigrants about what it means to adapt and grow in a diverse and complex environment from their perspectives.
In the clip below, the women of the film touch on what they identify as key parts of their upbringing and how they cope with the world around them.
Am I is currently being shown in pop-up screenings on the east coast.
To find out more about the film and what Nadia is up to next, check out amithefilm.com.
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The phenomenon of being woke is a cultural push to challenge problematic norms, systemic injustices and the overall status quo through complete awareness. Being woke refers to a person being aware of the theoretical ins and outs of the world they inhabit. Becoming woke, or staying woke, is the acknowledgment that everything we’ve been taught is a lie (kind of/mostly).
Woke(ness) provides us with a basic understanding of the why and how come aspect of societies’ social and systemic functions. The phrase itself is an encouragement for people to wake up and question dogmatic social norms. It requires an active process of deprogramming social conditionings focusing on consistent efforts to challenge the universal infractions we are all subjected to. However, in order for one to stay woke, one must first, be woke. To quote Dr. Baverly Tatum, former President of Spelman College, “ignorance can only be tolerated as a temporary state of mind.“ To that I say, a(wo)men sister, a(wo)men.
Beware of the pseudo-intellectual, the fake deep folk, the hotep bro, ankh negro, or shea butter sistas. They regurgitate known facts or popular thought amongst the woke crowd. They might be able to reference a well-known scholar like Audre Lorde. They play devil's advocate because they have no valid argument, or they intellectualize a dumb comment a celebrity makes. These people spend more time learning the tricks of the trade instead of the trade itself. True intellectualism entails a consistent quest for knowledge and information. True intellectuals are open to hearing new perspectives and valid points, even if the result reveals flaws in their argument. Being woke is not about being right, saying “down with the man” or winning an argument. It’s about accurately understanding someone's experience and embracing paradigm shifts for the global progression of people.
By default, we all project problematic ideologies that reinforce the social ills of our society. As a result, we are all a part of the problem and must unlearn what we have learned to be a part of the solution. With that being said, there is no room for ego in the realm of academia. It prohibits proper intellectual growth and development. Woke(ness) necessitates the ability to consistently check ones own ego, privilege and perspective.
So what do we do with new awareness? Elderly people always say, “when you know better, you do better.” It's not good enough to just know. Those who are woke must engage themselves in ways that actively challenge the world we live in. We must create safe spaces for same-gender-loving communities; we must be open to learning about the transgender experience, acknowledge race and gender discrepancies, victim blaming and all the other messed up ish. The saying is cool, the shirts are dope, but we must do more than say or wear the expression “be woke.” In the famous words of Dap from the movie School Daze, “Waaaaaake Uuuuup!”
Raven Cras is a new New Yorker, author, poet, activist and Spelman College grad. Her objective as a writer and a thought leader is to create a lasting impact on social cultural progress by developing reader content that challenges perspectives and beliefs. But overall she be chillin'. Follow her on Instagram at @apoem2go.
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Let’s talk about Sam White, better known as @SamWhiteout, internet phenom.
Although he's most known for his Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. shimmy that has looped on monitors and smartphones throughout the nation, White has also gained attention in the realm of social justice, especially at the intersection of race and identity. Just surveying his Instagram, his friends are black, white, yellow and red. Whether he’s clowning with his line brothers, snapping candids with senators, or dancing (on beat) to Caribbean music, Sam has planted himself at the corner of Race Avenue and Identity Street.
But White doesn't just do those things for show. Sam has also chosen to work in the areas of allyship and intersectionality through platforms like the Huffington Post Live team. There, Sam works with producers and hosts to put out a wide variety of stories every day, ranging from celebrity interviews to panels on the most current geopolitical issues.
“The issues I talk about have been part of who I am for a long time," White said in an interview with Blavity, "Making it only natural for me to extend that passion to my various platforms."
For example, Sam helped produce a segment with Marc Lamont Hill and Zerlina Maxwell on allyship in social justice endeavors last month.
Race and identity are tough subjects to confront. But the World Wide Web is saturated with mediums that tackle the hard stuff in real time with potential global impact. So for normal people, gaining internet notoriety as it relates to diversification is a tangible deed. Moreover, this reality makes it difficult to maintain blinders in the day and age when “staying woke” is the digital mode of operation. So we Millennials marry internet fame and staying woke at approximately 140 characters at a time — we brand ourselves online. That’s exactly what Sam White has managed to do on a magnified scale.
“I try to use my platform as a conduit of information and commentary for issues of social justice, including Black Lives Matter," White said
But while White's intentions might be good, he isn't free of certain criticisms that call his motives into question as a white man interested in black culture. According to White, navigating the fine line between cultural appropriation and genuine interest is difficult.
“I do not pretend to understand experientially where such understanding is impossible," he said. "Rather, I always make sure to remind myself the ways in which my role as an ally is limited in that capacity. Remaining aware of my privilege is critical to productive and respectful discourse in social justice spaces.”
White has created quite the following, and he’s one of many millennials who use social media to demonstrate their affinities toward other cultures. For instance, there's Nyahalay A. Williams (Instagram: @cosmicallycultural), a Sierra Leonean-American Georgetown junior with an affinity toward Asian pop culture, politics and food. Peruse through Emory University’s Kevin McPherson’s timeline (Twitter handle: @scientistkev) and note his involvement in Native American activism and Black Feminism.
These media moguls speak to the greater involvement with multinational, intersectional and social justice endeavors. Join them?
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