Palestinian American political activist Linda Sarsour joined students on Friday as a part of the Arab Student Association’s Focus Week to discuss issues in the Arab community. Sarsour’s talk was the last event of the club’s Focus Week and touched upon feminism in Arab communities. About 100 students gathered in Rackham’s Auditorium on Friday night for the event.
Sarsour hails from Brooklyn, New York, and identifies as an Arab, Muslim and Palestinian woman. During her talk, she discussed the importance of her identity and how all of her identities intertwine to make her the woman she is today. She also talked about how each identity intersects to influence her work as a political activist.
Sarsour was the co-chair of the Women’s March in 2017 in Washington D.C. During the event at Rackham, she told the audience her perspective on becoming a representative for the Arab and Muslim community in America. Sarsour said when she joined the committee, it became a goal for her to ensure all of the groups she identifies with were heard during the event.
“I had a pact to make and this is what women of color do,” Sarsour said. “If I’m on the table, I pull up chairs to the table that I’m at. It was my opportunity to say, ‘Who do I bring to the table from the communities that I come from?’”
Sarsour also said through her work with the march she wanted to challenge stereotypes surrounding Muslim-American women.
“(The March is) figuring out how to kind of reintroduce what Muslim-American and Arab-American women are, and that we too have a seat at the table when it comes to what feminism looks like,” Sarsour said.
Dentistry student Maya Youness told The Daily she was excited to get to hear Sarsour speak. She said her biggest takeaway from Friday’s event was learning not to sugarcoat the problems in different communities.
“Don’t compensate,” Youness said. “Talk about things the way they are.”
Sarsour said feminism in Western culture is often limited to a Caucasian perspective and leaves out what women of color experience. Sarsour explained white women often feel uncomfortable when she begins to discuss political and social conflict that affect women of color and their communities.
“There should just be one form of feminism we should all be embraced by, but unfortunately, what has happened — particularly in the West — is that feminism is only for those it has been a space of comfort, right?” Sarsour said. “The minute you start bringing in issues around global social justice issues … anytime you actually start being an intersectional feminist, then the white women are like, ‘This is getting complicated’ and, ‘This kinda doesn’t work for me.’”
LSA senior Tala Al-Saghir applauded Sarsour for being “unapologetically Muslim” and willing to put herself out there, even though she may face backlash.
“I really enjoyed that she talked about what does it look like to be an Arab-American Muslim here in the U.S. and what does that mean for us, not only for folks in our community, but folks in communities that we interact with, and how we can come together and combine our voices, and how our agenda is their agenda,” Al-Saghir said to The Daily.
Following the event, Public Policy senior Arwa Gayar, co-president of the Arab Student Association, expressed her hope for the future of feminism in Arab communities.
“I think that feminism in Arab communities can often be misconstrued, and our conversation around it was necessary to have,” Gayar said. “These are all things inherent to our community and taboo to talk about, and so as a way to push back against that, ASA hosted a series of events that sits down and talks about it.”