Yesterday, the second ‘teaser’ for unMosqued came out and featured me discussing my initial reaction to being segregated by gender when I first attended the mosque. In the teaser, I discuss how hurt I was because it felt very much like the kind of Jim Crow style racial separation I’d seen pictures of growing up. I’d like to expand on that:
I was lucky enough to have been raised by two very good people. They educated me about our country’s racial history, and although I grew up in the 1980′s, I was made aware of the injustices that were imposed on African-Americans in the form of chattel slavery during the 19th century. But the racial injustices of slavery did not end when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. My mom, having been born in the 1950′s, often told me about the racial inequalities she saw growing up. She showed me pictures like this, and told me how, even though slaves were ‘freed’, black Americans were still very much oppressed throughout the 20th century:
The oppression felt by blacks in the form of Jim Crow laws were actually as insidious–if not moreso–than outright slavery….because Jim Crow paid lip service to the idea of equality while still keeping a significant portion of the population from participating in our society. The control, governance, and most of the privilege still rested with the white population.
Quite simply, Jim Crow was based on an idea that human beings can be SEPARATE, BUT EQUAL.
This idea of separate but equal was based in ‘law’, and often backed up with ‘scripture’, which made it really hard to challenge. But eventually, it was challenged by both whites and blacks because the fact is, separate but equal does not work. It was tried, and tested in a free and open society, where we saw that it was actually just an excuse to keep one group of people ‘in their place’.
Jim Crow is not just part of the American Black Narrative. It’s also part of the American White Narrative. And it’s part of the Greater American Narrative. It’s a lesson we all (should have) learned about the importance of integrated, pluralistic communities that allow an equal space and and equal voice for everyone.
Separate But Equal is alive and well at the local masjid. And it’s still not working. My friend Hind Makki has developed an entire blog to document the disparities between mens’ and womens’ prayer spaces at mosques: Side Entrance.
If the correlation between Jim Crow Laws and the Gender Segregation imposed at the majority of mosques offends you, I’d recommend that you think about WHY it’s so upsetting.
My comment in the teaser was many things–controversial, critical, and truthful. But it was not based in ignorance. I’m not trying to appropriate anyone else’s struggle, but when I showed up at the mosque and saw a sign pointing to the back entrance for me, that’s exactly I saw in my mind. Aside from public bathrooms and Jim Crow signs, I am not quite sure I’ve ever seen any other signs that designate a separate space for people based in their innate characteristics. The director asked for honesty, and I was honest.