#BlackInMSA gives voice to racialized Muslim students

When the hashtag #BlackInMSA went viral on social media in December 2015, it sparked a conversation about the experiences of racialized students, particularly black Muslims, in student groups and community spaces within the Ryerson community.

“The hashtag deals with the issue of black Muslim folks not feeling included and them experiencing racism,” said Mariam Nouser, the vice president of external affairs for Ryerson’s Muslim Students’ Association.

#BlackInMSA began in the wake of protests against racial discrimination that swept across the United States in December. The protests prompted Tarek Toulé, a poet and public speaker, to tweet about the treatment of black Muslims in student organizations, asking individuals to voice their concerns using the hashtag.

Saffiyyah Waithe, student life director for the MSA, said that before #BlackInMSA, black Muslims mostly spoke amongst themselves about being perceived and treated differently in various environments, and rarely expressed their concerns with the larger Muslim community.

“We didn’t think we could approach and address these topics and it seemed that if you’re a black person, you’ll automatically be excluded from certain spaces,” said Waithe, a fourth-year sociology student.

As a racialized Muslim herself, Waithe said that black Muslims are often a minority in spaces within a school environment. Students sometimes face racist remarks, feel excluded from discussions or find that there is a lack of representation within student associations. This, she said, creates a gap between racialized students and non-racialized students, making the former feel that voicing their concerns will be ineffective.

Waithe said that the #BlackInMSA movement has encouraged Ryerson students, who may not have been aware of the challenging experiences of black Muslims, to begin understanding their concerns and address their needs. Student groups like the MSA and the East African Students’ Association are organizing events and initiatives that focus on allowing racialized students to share their experiences, while also creating a more inclusive and accommodating student culture.

Recently, these groups, who are collaborating with the Racialized Students’ Collective, organized a roundtable discussion on how black Muslims are treated in different spaces.  In addition, the MSA held an event on Feb. 8 that encouraged female Muslims to have an open dialogue about racism and neglect in the Muslim community. Following the movement, the MSA also created the position of VP Equity to specifically address equity issues, including the mistreatment of Black Muslims in the community.

Waithe says these initiatives have brought a positive response from students who are glad their voices are being heard, as well as from those who want to help by bringing to light the anti-Black racism that is prevalent but often swept under the rug.

“A lot of racialized Muslims are thankful for what the MSA is doing. They’re happy this is finally happening,” she said. “A lot of non-racialized students are becoming committed to the cause as well.”

While there has been a rise in interest in the cause, Huda Hussain, a student who’s attended events held by the MSA, including Black in MSA, said there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

“It has to start with each and everyone of us as an individual to be critically conscious of the overt and inferential forms of anti-Black racism that takes place on a day-to-day basis within the Muslim community,” she said.   

Nouser agreed and said it’s an issue that people beyond just the Muslim community should be informed about in order to create a more unified society.

“I think more still needs to be done on our end,” she said. “I feel like they are a racial group that have experienced the most racism and we as humans should be standing up for one another regardless of our skin or religion.”

Both Nouser and Waithe said that student groups at Ryerson should focus on providing racialized students with safe spaces to openly discuss their experiences, because they are often unable or afraid to do so.

“We need to create spaces and environments for Muslim students to talk amongst themselves and share their experiences,” Waithe said. “But not just to share their experiences, but also for them to have a sense of support and community to help them cope with their issues and situations.”

Waithe said that Ryerson will continue to work towards eliminating barriers to inclusion for racialized students on campus, while also encouraging other universities and organizations across the GTA to follow their lead.  

Featured image by Augustine Ng