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Ask Irshad a Question

Irshad Blog

In Arabic, Irshad means “guidance.” So go ahead — share your burning question, especially if it can lead to better conversations.

25Aug

I just watched you taking “taboo questions” from TV viewers and I am really disappointed. You said that reverse racism does not exist. Yes it does! Even though I am Latino, I have been discriminated against by the woke crowd because my skin looks white. What happened to your moral courage? – Hector

 

Hold up, Hector. You’re doing exactly what “woke” folks do when they who dismiss your experience. They fail to listen. And so have you.

 

Here’s the video, “Taboo Questions with Irshad Manji.” Let’s read the very first question together: “I’ve heard that there is no such thing as reverse racism, but I don’t understand why that is. Can you explain?”

 

Notice that the questioner didn’t ask whether I believe reverse racism exists. Instead, the questioner wondered whether I can explain why some people say there’s no such thing as reverse racism. So I explained.

 

You took my explanation to be an endorsement. But I don’t endorse the idea that reverse racism is a myth. I, like you, know that reverse racism happens.

 

Reverse racism is when people of color discriminate against lighter-skinned folks. Here’s a real-life example: My own family was expelled from our home, Uganda, by a black military dictator named Idi Amin. He proclaimed that Africa belonged only to “the blacks.” As brown-skinned citizens, we suddenly didn’t belong — despite living in Uganda for three generations.

 

Even beyond the issue of race, all kinds of people have the power to discriminate under certain circumstances. A young woman who takes gender politics seriously can discriminate by suggesting violent death for a celebrity author who asks challenging questions about the politics of gender.

 

Even a poverty-stricken mother can discriminate by deciding which of her children gets the rare second helping at supper tonight.

 

As I say elsewhere on this website, power is situational, not static, so any of us can have it in a given context. Which also means that any of us can abuse our power to exclude others in profound ways. Recognizing this reality is part of exercising Moral Courage.

 

You know what another practice of Moral Courage is? Listening to understand, not to win. With respect, Hector, I think you’ve failed on this front.

 

It seems to me that you wanted validation of your experience so instantly and unreservedly that you didn’t actually listen to the intent of the question. No wonder you misunderstood my response. That’s understandable, but it’s also unhelpful to having constructive conversations about highly emotional issues such as yours.

 

As a thought-experiment, let’s turn the tables. If you try to describe your experience to someone who thinks reverse racism is a lie, isn’t it frustrating when they distort what you’re saying? And isn’t it infuriating when they judge you based on their own distortions of you? People do this to one another all the time because we want our biases confirmed right away. This is the impulse you’ve caved to in accusing me of saying something that I didn’t — then (ouch!) implying that I’m a hypocrite for abandoning Moral Courage.

 

The most reliable way to get a fair hearing is to give one first. People who think that reverse racism is a fable will never hear you unless you try to understand why they believe it’s a fable. That’s the understanding I conveyed in addressing the first question.

 

The effort paid off: My answer to the next question opened the eyes of some “woke” viewers. They continued watching because I answered the opening question empathetically rather than disparagingly.

 

Want to claim your voice? Then lead by listening. That might be a paradox, but it’s no contradiction. Neither is it an abdication of Moral Courage. I welcome your response, Hector — and I promise to listen.

 

Photo credit: Unsplash / Jackson Simmer