Ahead of the latest edition of QF’s Education City Speaker Series with best-selling author Layla F. Saad, Dr. Amal Mohammed Al Malki – who will moderate the discussion on Race and Identity in the 21st Century – speaks about how, while we cannot change the past, we must learn the truth about it if we are to combat racism and prejudice.
Reading Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad was an eye-opener on so many levels. Layla says it as she sees it, and doesn’t waste her readers’ time or flex her intellectual muscles by writing an overblown literary masterpiece. Instead she delves directly into the heart of the ‘problem’.
Racism is an entrenched practice that stems from, and is still fueled by, white supremacy. Layla pinpoints white supremacy as the issue, contextualizes it, and demonstrates how it is manifested among individuals who enjoy white privilege and interact with people of color. And this is exactly Layla’s original contribution to this important dialogue on racism and white supremacy.
The question of identity is the underlying theme in Me and White Supremacy’, as we learn about the multiple layers of Layla’s identity and the interplay of the different components that make up her experience. Layla’s story is similar to our own. It would be difficult to find anyone whose identity does not oscillate between at least two competing or complementary facets. And it is only when these facets interact can our identity and principles be completely understood, seen on the one hand through our own eyes, and, on the other, through the lens of socio-cultural stereotypes and attitudes.
The time has come to question the supremacy of mainstream, white, Euro-centric history
On the discussion about identity and race, the issue of representation and misrepresentation is paramount to visible minorities and indigenous peoples. These marginalized racial and ethnic communities have a long history of misrepresentation. Their past remains outside mainstream history which has been written by the mighty and powerful. Redressing this injustice starts with recording their own histories as legitimate versions of the past. The time has come to question the supremacy of mainstream, white, Euro-centric history.
The global COVID-19 pandemic did more than slow down time and confine people to the indoors. It allowed the real cancers of society to surface at a time that guaranteed our undivided attention. It exposed the injustices that racial and ethnic minorities face, from unequal access to health services to lack of safe and healthy living conditions. Injustices have never been highlighted before in the way they are today – so bluntly.
We are witnessing a strong movement for social justice worldwide that will redefine our relationship with institutional narratives such as national histories and social policy
We are witnessing a strong movement for social justice worldwide that will redefine our relationship with institutional narratives such as national histories and social policy. Whitewashed European histories are being deconstructed and reconstructed anew; for the first time, voices of the marginalized are being heard and their experiences felt. We see this as protestors attack symbols of prominent historical figures for their role in slavery and genocide. Reprehensible acts were dismissed as irrelevant against the backdrop of the honor and reputation that these figures enjoyed in their own fabricated historical light.
These two histories -- the mainstream and the contested, the white and the black -- needed to be juxtaposed and seen in relation to each other, so that the cruelty and injustice of the past can be exposed. The defacing and removal of the statue of Leopold II in Belgium brought attention to the hidden evils of colonialism and the racial brutality and killing in the Congo. In yet another act of defiance, the statue of Edward Colston, a 17th Century slave trader, was dumped into Bristol Harbor in the UK.
We cannot change the past, but we can release ourselves from its shackles by learning the truth about it
While the Black Lives Matter movement is thriving, sceptics question why people are clinging to the past, and what good will come from exposing its inequalities and rewriting history. For those sceptics let us say: we cannot change the past, but we can release ourselves from its shackles by learning the truth about it.
Racial discrimination will always be one of the ills of the past. While bringing down a monument does not change the past, it is a symbolic expression of deep opposition against injustice. In short, Black Lives Matter, but so does Black History.