My New Site

Hello dear readers,

I’ve decided to become a whole person now and drop the two blogs.  I’m excited to announce I have a new website: nesimaaberra.com.

You’ll find all the great content from this blog  as well as my other writing and diverse interests together in one place.

I won’t be updating this blog anymore so make sure to head there instead!

Thanks!

Empowering Women of Color

“There’s no such thing as a safe space. We need to get over that, that there is a place where there is no violence, oppression or challenge you have to face.”

- Loretta Ross, co-founder and National Coordinator of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective

Ross’ fiery passion and quirky humor kicked off the 29th annual Empowering Women of Color Conference at UC Berkeley. As president of Woman as Hero at Arizona State University, I organized summits 3 years in a row  to bring our community together to discuss issues central to women’s rights and empowerment, and since I’ll unfortunately miss the Womanity summit this year, it felt fitting to continue the tradition by connecting with my new community in Berkeley.

The theme of the Empowering Women of Color Conference was: Talking Back! Our Voices Overcoming Violence. Ross, the keynote speaker, shared her story of early childhood sexual trauma and that without the support of her parents to help raise the child she was forced to bear at age 14, she wouldn’t have made it. She began therapy at age 25 and decades later is still proud to be using it as a way of healing. Ross launched her career in human rights advocacy and reproductive justice when she worked at the D.C. Rape Crisis Center in the 1970′s, which was at the time the only center run by women of color in the U.S. Through her experience, she fought against apartheid, racial and economic violence, and all the violences that take place in our intersectional lives.

Some of her other statements that resonated with me:

There are eight categories of human rights, but most of you don’t even know them. Why? There is a financial incentive to not teach you your human rights.

I believe the 9th category of human rights will be informational or digital rights. The digital divide is a form of oppression for communities without access to technology and the Internet.

We’ve had the civil rights moment, the women’s rights movement, the LGBT movement. There is one movement that has yet to be built-the human rights movement, one that is inclusive for all.

There is not one form of violence that is linear. It is structural and institutionalized.

We have to have a sense of humor in our work. Fighting Nazis should be fun. Being a Nazi should suck!

There were a number of sessions held at the conference to explore violence and healing. The three I attended were: 1) Ending Violence Against Women and Children and Promoting Healing Through Digital Storytelling, 2) Muslim Womyn, Not As Seen On TV, and 3) Drumming as the Movement

The first session had a lot of potential but because of lack of time, we didn’t get to actually create our stories, however I came away with a lot of great tools and techniques that I will apply in my own work. I also loved the facilitator, Monica Anderson aka Kin Folkz, this amazing black woman, scholar and activist, who really inspired me to pursue my interests in storytelling and becoming a woman of color in academia. She also brought her daughter, who is homeschooled, and that girl is so smart and level-headed. I never thought about homeschooling my kids before (when I have kids), but I am really warming up to the idea of independent learning. (This TEDtalk on hacking education by a young homeschooled kid also had a huge impact on me.)

The second session was interesting because I felt like coming in to it, I didn’t know what story or vantage would be told and how the participants would engage with the topic. The facilitators were college students that seemed a bit nervous and unprepared to cover more nuanced and scholarly analysis of Muslim women and feminism but they were strongest when they spoke from their own personal experiences about prejudice, family, love and their relationship with the hijab. It got a bit tense when a few participants (one Muslim, one non-Muslim) criticized the discussion from being too simplistic and problematic in how Muslim women and representation were being spoken about. Other non-Muslims asked how they could be allies without victimizing us or speaking for us. I give props to the facilitators for standing up for themselves and their narratives, but I also agree with the presentation not fulfilling what I had hoped it would have achieved based on the workshop’s title.

After spending most of my day sitting and listening, I was eager to do something active so I joined the drumming workshop. There was a taiko drumming entertainment session earlier in the conference which made me antsy to just hit something and let out my emotion. It’s been awhile since I’ve been around instruments (I play piano and am learning guitar) and it’s been killing my soul. I got to play the snare drum and learn some Afro-Brazilian inspired beats and played together with other women and it was AMAZING. Drumming is usually seen as a masculine, aggressive art, so it was great to be surrounded by strong, capable women in tune with the sound we were making on campus.  I am so captivated by the power of drums and really want to join a class now to learn more drumming from around the world!

Though I am not personally a survivor of domestic, physical or sexual violence, it is an issue that I am very passionate about as a human rights advocate. Coming to this conference allowed me to hear and listen to different experiences that I will never comprehend but I want to do my best to empathize and facilitate collective action around overcoming violence.

One of the most haunting things I heard was from one woman who was a victim of incest and has since stopped having a relationship with her parents because of that trauma. People ask her why she has no relationship with her parents anymore. Her response: “Would you have a relationship with your slaveowner after you’re free? Would you have a relationship with your pimp still after you’re free? My greatest loss is that I’m 25 and I will never have a mommy. No matter how many people say they will adopt me. It’s never going to happen.

As a storyteller, I hope to lend my skills and my craft to help others heal and share with the public the myths and structural inequalities that perpetuate violence and allow generations to inherit these debilitating crimes. I want to challenge the normalization of aggression as a part of masculinity. I want to poke holes in the greedy, self-destructive capitalist society. I want to shift the narratives of otherization and Orientalism.

At 23, I’m just now coming to terms with my identity as a woman of color and learning to align myself with that group. Sometimes it feels itchy and foreign, other times it feels just right. There are just so many issues that women of color deal with that I don’t even know where to begin in figuring out my position, privilege and responsibility to act! I’ll end with another great quote by Loretta Ross:

“The term ‘women of color’ was created, and they didn’t see it as a biological designation… It is a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed women of color.. we self-named ourselves this. This is a term that has a lot of power for us.”

My thoughts on SB1062

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.”

- MARTIN NIEMÖLLER

All the uproar over SB1062 may have seemed hysterical at first, but to me, the issue essentially came down to this: the freedom to discriminate towards one group means giving others the freedom to discriminate against you. Why would we want that included in our state laws? I am a religious person but I do not see any benefit in this law to my ability to practice and believe.

I’m glad Governor Brewer was sensible enough to veto this bill. We have much bigger things to take care of in Arizona from improving the economy, quality of education, immigration reform, access to healthcare and social services, conserving our resources etc. etc. I hope we can now focus our attention to solving those problems!

#BeingBlackandMuslim

  • Becoming well versed in Arab and Desi culture, language, food  but seeing no reciprocal interest in your traditions
  • Writing for a news site focused on global Muslim culture/trends but actually only covers the Middle East/South Asians
  • Not seeing yourself represented on the Muslim fashion scene
  • Not seeing yourself represented in Islamic conferences and events
  • Being mistaken as a convert
  • Being discriminated against for two reasons, add female and that’s three strikes
  • Not learning about your contributions to Islamic scholarship and history
  • Participating in relief fundraisers and awareness campaigns for Arab countries only
  • Experiencing racism in two layers
  • Carrying on the legacy of an indigenous American Islam
  • Shying away from calling out non-black Muslim friends who stereotype Africans so you don’t make waves
  • Standing up for peace, justice, and equality…values rooted in both your culture and faith

For more on this great Twitter discussion, look up the #BeingBlackandMuslim trending topic and read here.

There will be more discussions planned in the next few weeks, so be sure to participate (and if you’re not black & Muslim, be sure to listen respectfully and not derail the conversation.)

muslimarc

How I became a ‘Ramadan Muslim’

Nesima Aberra:

Great reflection that echoes a lot of the issues I brought up in my Unmosqued post.

Originally posted on neederish:

Image

‘Ramadan Muslim’ – it’s a condescending, derogatory term used to refer to Muslims who ‘all of a sudden’, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, ‘show up’ to attend the mosque for every Taraweeh prayer, stop cussing/smoking/drinking/clubbing/pre-marital sexing, pray all of their five prayers, and fast from sunrise until sunset ‘religiously’.

I grew up playing at the local mosque in the hour leading up to Mughrib prayer while my dad volunteered and socialized. I attended an Islamic School where our classroom windows had a view of the mosque. I’ve attended jumuah prayer for an overwhelming majority of the Fridays of my life. I began volunteering and organizing around the mosque in my early teenage years, and continued well throughout high school, college, and even after. The mosque has been a constant space in my existence since before my first memories, and up until about 3-4 years ago.

I am now/have…

View original 3,293 more words

Enemy of the Reich: The Noor Inayat Khan Story

History is said to be written by the victors.

Noor Inayat Khan is a Muslim woman, born in Moscow in 1914. While living in Paris, she found her true calling during the Second World War: to stand up to the encroaching Nazi terror. She worked as a secret agent and wireless operator in Paris behind enemy lines and transmitting messages to Berlin. Noor was eventually betrayed by some French operatives, arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis. She was tortured, but refused to reveal any information to her captors.She was later transferred to Dachau concentration camp with other female agents and shot in 1943.

Noor Khan was posthumously awarded the George Cross in 1949. She is a real-life hero we have failed to acknowledge in our war accounts and heroic narratives and now we have the chance to ensure history doesn’t miss this incredible chapter.

Unity Productions has produced a fantastic 60 minute docudrama about her life and needs our help to make sure the movie gets to see the light of day. The Kickstarter campaign has a $45,000 goal and already $39,467 has been pledged. There are 69 more hours to go and the campaign is SO CLOSE.

There are hundreds of films about WW II, but the Muslim story is largely missing. Our aim is to share the story of a hero who was unique in her own right: growing up in a household with American and Indian roots. Noor’s childhood was rich with inclusion and openness to all people, even as divisive nationalism and ethnic genocide were on the rise across Europe. Because of its universal values and sheer display of heart and courage, everyone can identify with Noor Khan’s story. It will help people to see Muslims, particularly Muslim women, in a new light.

Noor’s identity as a Muslim woman did not stop her from signing up to join the fight against the Nazis. Motivated by her faith, Noor’s worldview was based on a respect for all faiths against Hitler’s ideology of ethnic and religious extermination. She suffered the same fate as millions of Jews.

In a period like ours, filled with debate about Muslim women, who they are and what they stand for, we see great value in bringing into the public square examples and stories of strong Muslim women in unconventional situations. The Muslim community rarely has an opportunity to share such stories widely. Noor Khan’s biography, shown on national television, has the potential to reach millions.

If the campaign doesn’t reach its goal, then the project loses ALL FUNDING. ALL OF IT!

That means all the hard work and outreach will have been for nothing. Please donate whatever you can to this amazing project and spread the word to your family, friends and network. Check out the project on KickstarterFacebook, and Twitter.

UPF is a 501(c)3 educational non-profit, so all donors will also get a tax-deduction (if that’s what really motivates you.)

Noor’s story deserves to be heard. Let’s make it happen!

Winning the Story Wars

I’m currently reading a book titled Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs. If you have seen the awesome video called The Story of Stuff hosted by Annie Leonard, well, he’s the man who produced that controversial viral documentary.

My coworker mentioned that I should read the book for an interesting perspective on strategic communications. The imagery of  a “story war” and the illustrations on the cover caught my attention. In the opening chapter, Sachs writes:

” All societies have relied on core myths to guide them, and too many of ours have been stretched to the point of breaking. Our hunger for these stories explains many of the greatest marketing successes of our time and points to the enormous responsibility marketers carry as creators of modern myths. Why? Because the wars fought over stories have always been the most critical fights in shaping a society’s future.”

So this sounds like pretty exciting, epic stuff, right?

As a creative writer, I love the idea of linking storytelling with social change. Stories shape how we view the world, ourselves, our morals and values. Communication is a key part of the implementation process of any new business strategy or policy measure. You have to understand human psychology and behavior to achieve your goal and build the appropriate relationships with the public that foster participation and mutual respect.

I choose to see this ability as a “force for good,” although clearly there are plenty of media professionals out there using their authority for “evil”  whether its through corporate or political propaganda, smear campaigns, otherization, victim-blaming, and shoddy journalism.

Just think of the powerful voices who created the narratives that deny the occupation of Palestine, the reality of global warming, the facade of WMDs in Iraq, the otherization of Muslims in the US, the disproportionate incarceration of young black men in US prison system, the failure of the war on drugs and poverty etc. etc.

I’m looking forward to learning more about how to take timeless storytelling themes and weave them into the modern day media landscape to amplify truth, empowerment, and justice. I plan on blogging more about my readings from this book, so stay tuned and let me know if you have any specific questions!