Everyone should watch the new Youtube series, Black and Muslim in Britain.
In the UK, October is Black History Month, a much needed time to celebrate and reflect on the work of great black activists and progressives. Within equality movements, there is still a risk that only those with the most privilege will be heard. Narratives can still get lost. One group of volunteers is trying to make sure that does not happen this month. A new Youtube series has launched, examining what it means to be black and Muslim, and reflecting on the history of black Muslims.
Mohamed Mohamed, co-founder of Black and Muslim in Britain, shows how everyday activism can make a difference. Mohamed and the creators believed every year Black History Month skipped an examination of faith, and so they worked to bring change to this.
“The video series was set up as a response to the lack of faith representation during Black History Month,” Mohamed said. “We felt the faith of famous figures who were being celebrated during the month were being sidelined, despite it being an integral part of their identity that also triggered their activism.
“Also, when we consider how black British Muslims are portrayed in the media, it’s often as converts (sometimes specifically in the context of prison) or those who’ve turned to extremism. There never seems to be a narrative that humanises or explores the existence of black Muslims without recognising them as criminals or outsiders to the Muslim community. Even in the context of exploring the stories of Muslim women in Britain, black women are often left out. This project focuses on the intersection of race and faith [and even gender], and how that effects black Muslims living in Britain.”
“This project focuses on the intersection of race and faith [and even gender], and how that effects black Muslims living in Britain”
Channel 4 have drawn furious criticism for My Week as a Muslim‘s use of brownface (white people darkening their skin colour). The practice is inherently problematic and has racist connotations no matter how well the intentions were. It showed still that racism in society will be listened to if a white person is talking about it, rather than people of colour experiencing it. Perhaps it reveals progress since the publication of Black Like Me in 1961, where a white man darkened his skin to experience racism of America, has not been delivered as much as might be assumed. The show has put the Muslim community under the spotlight again, and rarely are there positive stories in the media as it is. However, the show also failed to show the diversity within the Muslim community, which may be of little surprise when it centered upon a white person.
Mohamed believes that the intersection of being black and Muslim is rarely explored in society, or acknowledged.
“Unfortunately not,” said Mohamed. “When it is acknowledged, it is often led by grassroots activists. To my understanding, Islamophobic figures do not take into consideration the race of the individual targeted. Even if we look at the recent Channel 4 documentary My Week as a Muslim, it is no surprise they focused on the experiences of the Asian Muslim population, as they make up the largest percentage of Muslims in Britain. However, these types of mainstream outlets do not realise that this marginalises the experiences of those who are not Asian and experience Islamophobia.”
The activism behind the series shows the dedication of young activists. They’re volunteers trying to smash through contemporary media narratives. By using YouTube, the series is accessible and easily shareable. It’s an outstanding work of activism in an era that is still dismissive of the true power of social media and online activism.
Mohamed admitted that the response so far has been overwhelming.
“We were very conscious that the series would be welcomed by the Muslim community, in particular, the Black [Muslim] community. Considering the current political climate in America (in regards to activism and Black Lives Matter), we’ve also received numerous praises and requests to bring the project to the USA, looking at cross-Atlantic dialogue of the Black Muslim experience. We’ve also received outreach from various activists across Europe who would like to further explore being Black and Muslim in their respective nations. It’s all very exciting.”
“We are aiming to build this project, beyond Black History Month. The stories and experiences of Black Muslims are part of Black History, and Black History is not limited to a month. We utilised this month to bring to light the discussion and now it’s our job and the wider community to play their part in taking this project further. We have so much more to deliver and we’re very excited for the future.”
Black History Month should never be an end point. Conversations around black history, and the experiences of black people today should be taking place throughout the year. But awareness months can help give platforms and can help build momentum. The group behind Black and Muslim in Britain have done exactly that. What Mohamed wants to see, is the inclusion of faith in discussions and how faith was central to the characters of many famous black activists.
“If we look at the lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, the role faith played in their activism is very public, and at times, is often their solution to some of the world’s problems,” Mohamed said. “Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, exploring this more in the curriculum and how black history and religious studies could intersect (also further looking into the influence of religions in Africa as a whole) would be intellectually stimulating for any student.”
The series itself is engaging and immensely enjoyable to watch. A group of volunteers have delivered content that Netflix would be envious of. Young activists pushing intersectional conversations to the top of the agenda is exactly what Britain needs.