The title of this article echoes the exact words that were yelled at me in my Arabic class just this week by a fellow Arab-American student. Prior to presenting on Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasser, my colleague opened his University e-mail in front of the class to access his project. The title of the email he sent to himself was “My N****’ Nasser.” While I didn’t initially notice or say anything, I was sworn to secrecy by a friend in the class not to say anything after I was informed. I complied until I was eventually forced to choose between complicity and moral obligation.

In between snickers and giggles – as if this was a light-hearted matter — that same friend who swore me to secrecy commented on her disbelief to the presenter that he would have written and, at the very least, displayed such words in front of the class. Perhaps overcome by guilt, shame or challenge, my colleague waved his arms in the air and assured loudly that no one in the class cared, and it was fine. While entitled to his freedom of expression, he’s not entitled to make assumptions about mine. I cared. I interjected simply to tell him so, and that’s all it took for him to condemn me with: “Why do you care? You’re not even Black!” This was then followed by “So what if I’m racist? I’m a racist, so what?”

In the midst of campus climate and the ongoing Theta Xi disgrace, there are so many things I could have, and should have, said. But what seemed more personal was that my colleague was not only a fellow classmate, but also a fellow Arab American. The explicit racism in his use of the “N” word and his misunderstanding of its history are appalling and wrong. But he, and seemingly the other silent students in my class, didn’t find fault enough to speak up about this, nor about his implication that I surely should not care about race, as I’m not Black.

I cannot speak on behalf of other cultures, races and ethnicities, but I can speak on my own experiences — my experiences as an Arab American whose culture has been informed by anti-Black ideals. Our culture is beautiful and proud, but the ugly truth behind my colleague’s comments and e-mail subject line isn’t a reflection of what we as Arab Americans and peripheral communities want to stand for, and it is certainly not a reflection of my own beliefs. Of course, I cared. And I didn’t have to be Black to do so — I only had to be human.

Again, I can only comment on my own experiences, and those experiences included multiple occasions of my aforementioned classmate using the “N” word to casually refer to friends. Others and I corrected him, but he missed the point. To clarify to him and other bigoted individuals, there is no “cool” way to use this word as you suggest. You sound ignorant, elitist, racist and foolish when you use it to refer to your friends or classmates, and neither you nor the person you are addressing is Black or African American.

The “N word” has an incredible history of injustice and oppression that cannot be ignored, and that’s perpetuated every time you appropriate it. Again, while it’s not mine to claim, what I have observed and learned is that the Black communities who were originally held in contempt by the “N” word have redefined it to empower themselves and define their history of struggle. You have no right to it, and neither do I. As the use of the “N” word spreads and becomes more common, you infringe on yet another right of Black and African Americans — as if the institutionalized racism in this country has not been thorough enough. And now, because you use the “N” word and carry the same brand that I have been labeled with in America, others assume that I stand for this, too. Please stop.

As a community that has overall been quite successful in America socioeconomically, we as Arab Americans have empowered ourselves materially and forgotten the richness of our past. When we appropriate words that we have no right to, we become the colonizers, the imperialists and the neoliberals who tore apart our countries because we were not ‘fit’ or ‘civil’ enough for self-rule and self-determination. When we are passive about these daily occurrences, we play into the power structure in America that is systematically influenced by its racist past — and present.

We have simultaneously helped create and played into a hierarchy of races, the highest of which is the white male that we strive to become. We distance ourselves from blackness with lighthearted comments affirming our neither white nor Black status — “Oh, I’m sun-kissed” or “I’m olive-skinned” are among my favorites. Why do we do this? Why do we strive to become what we should rightfully despise? Why is it acceptable that the root of empowerment in America for Arab-Americans and other marginalized groups is anti-blackness?

I can’t even deny this reality in my own life. Growing up, I was told not to stay outside for too long. What would the neighbors or our relatives say if I was too dark? And not to mention the way that Arab American communities refer to Black and African Americans as ‘abd or ‘abeed, meaning slave. Have we forgotten the Arab slave trade and the systematic discrimination likened to apartheid that exists in our beloved Palestine?

It’ s logical and right that we are therefore the natural allies in this intra-campus struggle that has thankfully found its way into the national spotlight. The race and diversity issues that we face at the University of Michigan are merely a microcosm of greater issues in America and elsewhere. From an Arab American’s view, our cultural ideals are in need of re-evaluation. We are not alone in needing to reexamine and amend our thinking, traditions and statements when it comes to allying with the Black struggle. These events are our call for mutual solidarity.

Samia Ayyash is an LSA senior.

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