This talk was originally delivered at the University of Alberta for World Hijab Day on February 1, 2017 on behalf of Islamic Relief Canada.

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Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah

I want to thank you all for coming and would like to begin by acknowledging that we are situated on Treaty 6 territory. In doing this, I intend to convey my respect for the dignified history, languages and cultures of all First peoples of Canada.

Before I begin, I would like to take a moment to read the names of the victims of the horrific terrorist act in Quebec and ask you to join me in a moment of silent prayer, honouring their memory.

Azzeddine Soufiane, 57
Abdelkrim Hassane, 41
Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42
Ibrahima Barry, 39
Professor Khaled Belkacemi, 60
Aboubaker Thabti, 44

Thank you. I pray that they rest in peace and that their families are granted infinite patience in this deeply painful time. Ameen.

Today I will be talking about some of the lessons I have learned while working in women’s advocacy to combat Islamophobia and all forms of discrimination and I will be doing this by presenting you with a series of vignettes, snapshots in my life and journey as a public intellectual, writer, and activist. I hope that as I weave together this story, we can share in important lessons I have learned and continue to learn along the way.


One of my favourite memories from my time living in a rural village in Morocco is the expression of astonishment and then excitement on my mother-in-law’s face when I took her to her first communal Eid prayer at the end of Ramadan. Scripturally, in the historical records of the life of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, women were implored to attend the prayer even if, for whatever reason, they might be unable to participate in it.

Imagine my surprise then, when my 55 year old Mother in Law told me she had never attended, assuming and being told that it was forbidden for women. I opened the book of hadith where it was written and had her daughter read the Arabic to both her and her father.

“But who will make the bread for the day’s celebrations?” I was asked.

“Bread can wait! Today Allah takes precedence and so do mama’s rights!” I shouted while skipping with Mama out the front door, arm in arm, our floor-length djellebas skirting along the dusty road to the communal prayer space.

That day, when she turned to me with the widest of grins and said “I never realized how many women would be here,” I knew that making a difference in someone’s life didn’t mean having to upend mountains. Revolutions occur by making small changes that have meaning for someone within their own cultural systems and value sets. And often, it is simply a matter of presenting someone with a choice they didn’t know they had.

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Another time, when I was teaching at a non-profit school in a coastal city outside Casablanca I took a small group of motivated teenaged students outside to film a short Public Service Announcement on street harassment. As a class, we had launched a nation-wide campaign called Letters to Our Brothers which had us traveling to classrooms in major cities across the country, having young women write letters to their literal or figurative siblings about how catcalling and molestation in public made them feel and taking pledges from young men to never perpetuate such atrocities in the future.

We collected hundreds of letters and pledges and had decided to film a PSA in the hopes that it might go viral and join the countless other activists around the world, educating people on the harm that street harassment causes.

During the filming my female students set the stage as women walking in the street and my lone male student, Marwane, was to play the part of the catcalling predator. He never got the chance to enact his role because two legitimate predators standing right next to him beat him to it by whistling for the “little cats” to come play with them. The girls started laughing, pointing to my camera and letting these middle-aged men know that I, their teacher and a foreigner, had just caught their perversions on tape, noting the irony that it was during the filming of an ad condemning this very action.

Marwane didn’t step in and neither did I as the girls proceeded to ask the men why they had treated them like objects when they were young enough to be their daughters. Watching the embarrassed looks on the faces of the men, their eyes nervously shifting back to me and my camera, I swelled with pride as my students expressed how the harassment made them feel.

In this moment, I learned: not only are small, meaningful changes revolutionary but so too are learned voices, being heard, not asking to be heard, but resounding all the same, standing strong and sure of themselves, saying “I’m here, I’m not going anywhere and you will hear how you make me feel no matter how uncomfortable.”

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Uncomfortable conversations are part of what I do best. In fact, one of the last times I did something for International Women’s Day, it was an interview with the Mohammedia Presse about this very issue. The interview was a poignant contrast to how the Women’s Day is popularly marked in Morocco, which is to say, with flowers and chocolates handed to women in the street all over the country. My interview, however, was about not letting one day obscure the reality of the street for women daily, which is, as a haven for said harassers to hound women of all shapes and sizes, all ages, regardless of her demographic whether she is urban or rural, educated or illiterate, veiled or not… it simply doesn’t matter.

Now I’m not so naïve to think that this phenomenon is unique to Morocco nor that these women need my perspective for their liberation – that would be anti-feminist and neo-colonial as far as I’m concerned. Rather, Moroccan women (and men) are fully aware of the social ills that street harassment is a symptom of, often (unfortunately) excusing the harassers as simply being bored or out of work.

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’m bored and out of work, the last thing I would think to do is go whisper hideous aggressions at unsuspecting women in the street. I can however, see it as a gruesome way for a hopeless young man to regain some of his power at the expense of another’s dignity.

For me, as a historian, the heart of Morocco’s social ills, and this can easily be extended to most geographical and historical contexts, has a lot to do with the disenfranchisement of women and the lack of gender equality, of which street harassment and even economic ills are but social symptoms. And at the very heart of this disenfranchisement is a lack of education.

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Which brings me to the reason I moved to Morocco in the first place.

In 2010, shortly after I converted to Islam, I was planning to go to law school, but on a trip to the country of my family’s origins, Italy, before I would write the LSAT, I read a book about the socio-politico-economic consequences of female oppression worldwide that changed my perspective. This book placed a particular emphasis on the plight of women in dominantly Muslim countries.

As a recent convert and researcher, I had a hard time understanding the disconnect between the gender equality and rights of women preached in the Qur’an and the traditions of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, and what kind of oppressive, misogynistic practices I was seeing played out in real life cases. Of course, this oppression is not limited to Islamic contexts but the fact that I was finding the cures for such oppression in scriptural sources of Islam clued me into a disconnect that, at its core, was educational. As a Muslim, I believe the information exists in our scriptural sources about how to promote gender equality and respect the dignity and rights of women… and if this is not something I am not seeing practiced on the ground, there are two possible explanations: either people don’t know, or they don’t care.

As an eternal optimist, I have to believe that the former is true, that the majority of people just don’t know what is the prescribed status of women in Islam and in my experience living in a Muslim country such as Morocco for 3 years, I found this to be the case, thankfully, as I’m not sure how I’d deal with people knowing and simply not caring.

On that same trip to Italy, a mere 2 weeks after I finished reading that book and had made the vow to myself to work in women’s advocacy in the Muslim world, I met the man who would be my husband in Florence, who happened to be building a school in his rural Moroccan village. Within 6 months of meeting him, I visited the foundations of the school, then only one storey high, and within a year, I had moved to Morocco to finish building it and with the intention to open it as a primary school and center for women’s rights, literacy and entrepeneurship.

During this period, I lived the first year of my life as a Muslim. I did so in secrecy and so I am quite upfront about the fact that I hadn’t yet experienced life as a religious minority or as an underprivileged woman in Canada and I most certainly had not yet experienced life as a hijabi. I did, however, begin to feel the first pangs of what life is like on the margins.

When I moved to the village, my life as a hijabi began and I felt that I was finally able to practice the Deen of Islam in such a context (as opposed to here, where I would have to secretly pray, laying down in bed, or tell my family I was going to the bar when I was really going to the masjid to attend a halaqah), but what I came to find was that what I had the freedom to practice and enact as my rights as a Muslim woman in Morocco was not the same for every woman in the village and my suspicions had been correct: education was a serious issue.

The literacy rate of women in the village was only 27% – that means that anywhere from 2 to 3 women out of 10 could read. And I’m not even talking about the Qur’an or legal texts by which they would know their rights in Islam, I’m talking about medication bottle instructions and formula recipes for their babies – things that you and I take for granted in a literate, word-saturated world.

So, as we built the school over three years, I came to know more and more about women in the community we were serving and the obstacles they encountered to self-actualization.

I would attend literacy classes for the mothers of our students, warmly welcomed by all participants, consistently invited over for tea or couscous, showered with gifts of hijab, or jewelry or whatever else people had on hand. I met women who:

-had literally never left their homes since their wedding day

-couldn’t read or write

-were physically, verbally or sexually abused

-were kept in servitude

-had no way to earn their own income, and

-had no reproductive or birthing rights

And of course, this wasn’t everyone. Another set of opportunities to other people was also present, especially when I moved to the coastal city where I met educated, working women who were free to come and go as they pleased, and who were highly educated and financially independent. For me, all or nothing scenarios serve no one but those who thrive on division so it is important to have a holistic picture of this.

Interestingly, during this time, I also became a woman who:

-was a visible minority: abroad (as a foreign convert) and at home (as a veiled Muslim woman)

-was harassed in the street for very different reasons both abroad and at home.

And I came to understand what it was like for women be robbed of their reproductive birthing rights after I almost died during a horrific birth trauma. SLIDE

Here, I learned that sometimes, we have to experience what others go through, literally or empathetically, to know the best ways to make change and that might just mean truly listening to someone else.

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This is a theme that has continued through my work as I returned to Canada, started my graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish studies at the University and became Vice President of External Affairs for Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

With this group, I have been fortunate to initiate a number of community programs that are centred around some of the lessons I have outlined above, and in initiating them, I have been fortunate to learn even more from the communities I serve  – lessons which haves carried forward into everything I am doing today.

During the federal election of 2015, the divisive political rhetoric being espoused from the conservative propaganda machine, particularly centered around the niqab and the barbaric cultural practices hotline, leading to a spike in public acts of Islamophobia in my family and communities I belong to. This shocking normalization of hateful speech aimed at Muslims like myself shook me to my core. I had just spent three years in a Muslim country, married to a Muslim man, as a Muslim woman and mother to a Muslim child. I had been accepted by my family and friends upon announcing my conversion. How could it be that some of these very same people were now turning on me under the guise of free speech and political partisanship to claim that that Islam is inherently violent and oppressive to women?

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The power of legitimated political rhetoric at the highest level of government to embolden latent prejudices in a disenfranchised populous was a slap in the face. Even though I had seen these trends before as a historian of the Jewish Holocaust, watching them in action, where I was suddenly the target, was wake up call for me. In October 2015, I joined AMPAC and as my first action I took in my new position, I wrote an op-ed in the Edmonton Journal about the niqab. I had never really done something like this before, but I came to realize that exceptional circumstances call for exceptional action to be taken by those who have been endowed with skills and privileges necessary to take them.

I wrote about how the veil had not divided the nation; rather the nation had divided itself — symptomatic of a lack of understanding. While some argued these women are in need of liberation or that their veiling presents a security issue for fraudulent citizenships, what I saw was a nation of the same people neither talking to those who wear niqab about this issue, nor having a nuanced understanding of the complicated legal procedures that go into obtaining citizenship. The niqab was a veil no longer, but a megaphone that amplified the claims of a fearful public made to fear by a leader abusing his position of power.

As a Canadian convert to Islam of an Italian-Canadian family who wears the hijab, I knew both sides of this story all too well. I have been fortunate enough that the vast majority of my family has been brilliantly accepting and accommodating of my cultural choices, but I know it took time to get there and this is not the case for everyone. And, increasingly, since the election was called, the air was rife with hostility and uncertainty. People didn’t know how to be around each other anymore.

I repeatedly posed the question to my family and friends: Can you imagine the uncertain reality that I and many of Muslims now face in public? If I don’t fit the vision of what the majority has decided are Canadian values, does that mean I can’t contribute any longer? Is my head scarf an island — isolating me from a society I thought I participated in, that I loved, that I live for? I wanted to believe that the vast majority of Canadians wouldn’t stand for this and I refused to fall into despair.

At the end of the article, I concluded with a promise that: Even if people casted their votes in such a way that doesn’t support the dignity of another person engaging in non-harmful cultural practices, I wanted them all to know: that if the day should ever come that the same hate and violence were laid before them by a government, I would stand with them.

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I learned the power of that pledge, and being an exemplar of it, shortly thereafter when I received an email from the wife of a local synagogue’s Rabbi, asking me to start a Muslim-Jewish women’s conversation circle in order to combat Islamophobia within the Jewish community. In my view, it would also be a unique opportunity to combat Judeophobia in the Muslim community and change the global narrative that Jews and Muslims are destined to hate one another – something that is simply not historically corroborated and not directly relevant to intercommunity relations on Canadian soil.

That women’s group has met every month for an entire year, sharing faith traditions, reading scripture together from the Hebrew Bible and the Quran in the synagogue and the mosque, enjoying iftar during Ramadan, and most recently, we have opened up the group to allies in the wake of the rampant Islamo and Judeophobia coming out of the American political machine.

In launching the group over the course of the year, I didn’t understand how it would make a difference to anything really. We were just women getting together, eating snacks and talking about our traditions but I didn’t yet understand that it would have a very profound impact. In fact, I learned that face-to-face, emotive conversation is one of the powerful tools for social change available to any of us.

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If we understand its power, we also understand that there is no secret to activism or striving for social justice. Any of us can take the initiative to bring people together, to educate and make change. During the past year, I have had both Muslim and Jewish women tell me that they were profoundly changed by our group. That they had never expected to sit across the table from the other person, had vowed even to never do it, but when they did, they not only learned about the other group, they had to face their own prejudices and be honest with themselves about them.

The feeling of fear or anger that they came to the table with was quickly replaced with love and sisterhood. Together, we now share in our joys, we celebrate our successes and we do charity work to better the status of other women in our broader communities. Just last month, we raised over $4000 worth of toiletries and gift cards for groceries and coffeeshops for at-risk indigenous mothers who will also join our circle of sisters in the coming months. Last meeting, we spent our time laughing and eating food prepared by an entrepreneurial Syrian refugee woman who has a home-base catering business, while writing love letters to include in the care packages for our new incoming sisters.  Taking care of one another in a broad community sense has become a part of our sisterhood, but the group itself also recently helped one of our members out of a very dangerous personal crisis – something that could not have happened if our community group didn’t exist.  It made me realize that the difference between poverty, homelessness, despair, and suicide, and a healthy, self-actualized joyful life is having a strong network of people you can rely on, who are genuinely there for you, without judgement, celebrating your differences and wanting you to succeed.

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Additionally, that woman happened to be non-Muslim and in taking care of her, we all came to recognize that the nourishment and power of sisterhood should never know religious, ethnic or geographic boundaries.

This Muslim-Jewish group has recently come to include individuals who openly support Donald Trump. It might surprise some of you to hear that, but we do not turn away women based on their political views, as long as they come to the group with an open heart and an intention to learn and love. One woman, in particular, has expressed that, despite supporting Trump politics, her participation in our Muslim-Jewish women’s collective has opened her eyes to how deeply harmful those politics are for people who do not occupy positions of privilege. She has repeatedly requested that we establish a separate conversation circle, at which she can bring other people like her, to come into contact with Muslims and Jews, and women of colour who are marginalized by the hate speech of the one that they support. After the horrific shooting in Quebec, this same woman messaged me in tears, terrified for her Muslim sisters in the community and recognizing the weight of harmful rhetoric in radicalizing the terrorist who stole innocent Muslim lives on Sunday night. She has since made the commitment to do everything in her power

This is not the first time I have seen an incredible turnaround in people with Islamophobic attitudes. We also cannot underestimate the power of these people to become allies themselves, speaking to others about Islamophobia when we are not present or on our behalf. Since they have experienced a turn-around through proximal interaction with upstanding Muslims, they can then speak to others about how their own views shifted.

My mother has become one of the strongest allies to Muslims that I know. As a hairstylist, she encounters a lot of people from all different walks of life. One of her clients, a wealthy Jewish businesswoman, was also a client of mine back when I worked retail. Seeing me wearing the headscarf upon returning to Canada, she asked my mother why I was doing that. My mother explained that I had found philosophical and ethical expression in Islam and that I was now a Muslim. Without hesitation, the woman replied, “But I hate Muslims.” My mom stopped cutting her hair, put her hands on the woman’s shoulders and looked into her eyes in the mirror. She simply stated, “You are going to have to do some research to understand why your hatred is wrong.” Unbeknownst to me, the same woman came to see me at my store a few days later. I answered her questions about the products we sold with due diligence and even went the extra mile to print her off some more information for home study. Over the next two months, she would spend her free time learning more about Islam on her own. By the spring, she would present me with a cheque for $1000 for my Muslim school in a Muslim country.

From this, I also learned that we can never give up on people.  I don’t believe that a human being’s default position is hatred.

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Someone very, very close to me has also gone from being openly fearful about Muslims and the so-called spread of Islam, to visiting a Muslim country and now, openly defending Muslims against Islamophobia at every possible opportunity. As someone close to me, she has seen me embody the principles of our Deen and put them into ethical action while still respecting her and her differences. This generous spirit which is at the heart of Islam has been recognized by her as a shared value. As such, we cannot underestimate the power of our own actions to change the hearts of those around us. It can seem like a heavy burden to always feel like an ambassador of our Deen – and I wouldn’t want that to put anyone in an unsafe situation – but at the same time,  we have to remember that Allah does not task us with more than we can bear and we, indeed, have been entrusted with the message of His Truth through Muhammad, sallahu alayhi wa salam.

Thank you.

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Nakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. She recently completed graduate studies and work as a research assistant in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta, as well as a research fellowship on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for The Tessellate Institute. Nakita serves her community as the Vice President of External Affairs with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), as an advisor for the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life,  and as a member of the Executive Fundraising Board for the YIWCL Cree Women’s Camp. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and is currently working on a graphic novel memoir weaving her experiences abroad with her community work and research.

 

 

 

 

 

In the Name of Allah, The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

Thank you so much for having me today. And thank you everyone for being here. I would like to reiterate that we are situated on Treaty 6 territory and that these are the traditional lands of Indigenous people who have lived, gathered and passed through here for many thousands of years. They are still here and it is on you to insure that that is forever the case.

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I also want to acknowledge that I am a white, cis woman, the child of Italian immigrants to this land, and the mother of a beautiful, Arab girl, a convert to Islam and all those things are combined, I am afforded certain privileges and I pray that I am using these to the advantage of every person, people of every gender, orientation, religion, ethnicity, ability and anything else we use to identify ourselves.

I came here today to inform you that the day you were born was not the day you came out of your mother’s womb. The day you were born was the first time you witnessed injustice and you decided to take a stand. Deep down inside you, alarms bells started ringing and a call resounded through the center of your being. A call to take action, a call to stand up and use your voice to say, “No, hatred will not live here, Oppression will not be tolerated, injustice will not be served today.”

The day you heard that call may have been November 8th, when the one who shall remain unnamed was legitimized in his hatred and misogyny, and propelled to the highest institution of the most powerful nation in the world. And we will oppose him. And all echoes of him at home.

That day might have been before. It might have been after. The day you hear that call might be today, right now.

For it is a call I am issuing. This is not a call to silent prayer but a call to submission of the ego in the service of others, even if those others are a future self in need of your present compassion. It is a call of recognizing that any of us could be oppressor or oppressed and that many of us are both, and we’re standing on a fine line and you are choosing dignity, respect and compassion that every single one of us has earned by virtue of our existence.

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It is a call to make space for one another, to take space when it is not yielded, to recognize that we create the worlds we live in, and that hatred and love take effort of an equal measure. The day you were born was the first time you saw hatred in action and you chose Love.

Fierce love. Love that dismantles and is disobedient. Enraged love. Disappointed love. Grieving Love. Love that refuses to accept anything less than solidarity, anything less than taking care of one another.

Taking care of one another does not only mean fixing dinners and giving shoulders to cry on – though those things are important. No, taking care means a commitment to the idea that, even if I have never met you, I love you and I respect your right to a life of dignity and hope, a life of self-actualized growth and I will fight for you.

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I do not accept that black, brown, Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish people with varying orientations and degrees of ability are made the collateral damage in the bulldozing path of a historical lie spun incessantly about racial and social superiority, while those who spin it hold our planet, our children, our wealth, our future, our collective soul hostage. I do not accept how they divide us. I do not accept that our trauma and violence are painted as intrinsic to who we are, while they cover their colonization in the fog of words, in a war of semantics, in imperial programming. I refuse to normalize their hatred.

The day you were born was the first moment you witnessed power in action and you said no to it. Where you traced its institutions, its circulatory system, feeding life into those who designed it and relegating the rest of us to despondency and despair. You deserve better than a life of despair.

Answering the call is a commitment to replacing despair with kindness, even when kindness means blocking roads and lobbying governments. Especially when it means that.

So I want to ask all of you and please let me hear a beautiful Yes:

Do you hear the call?

Do you hear the call today?

We are not here to feel good about ourselves. We celebrate who we are and we resist in our joy but we are not here to joke around about what is happening south of the border, around the world, in our own backyard, in our families. We are here to make a public declaration to do better and to stop those who won’t.

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The work does not end here, it starts right now.

I want you to turn to the person next to you, put your hand over your heart, look them straight in the eye and face their humanity. Thank them for being here today. Thank them for taking a stand and answering the call of Justice.

Repeat after me:

I am here for you.

I will always be here for you.

I will defend you.

I will use my voice

In the face of your oppression.

I will work for justice.

I hear the call.

And I answer it.

Very good.

Hear this call today, everyone, I am holding you accountable Let it echo every day in every action you take.

It is history calling, wondering what side you will be on.

It is our duty to memory, wondering how selective you will be.

And it is the scales of justice calling, wondering what your balance look like.

All our lives hang in the fold.

Thank you.


Nakita Valerio is an award-winning writer, academic, and community organizer based in Edmonton, Canada. She recently completed graduate studies and work as a research assistant in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta, as well as a research fellowship on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism for The Tessellate Institute. Nakita serves her community as the Vice President of External Affairs with Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC), as an advisor for the Chester Ronning Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life,  and as a member of the Executive Fundraising Board for the YIWCL Cree Women’s Camp. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and is currently working on a graphic novel memoir weaving her experiences abroad with her community work and research.

Photography: Lindsey Catherine Photos & Media

Video: Radical Citizen Media

While anxiety around the impending Trump presidency and the people he is surrounding himself with remains (rightfully) high, it’s important not to get overwhelmed by pessimism and fear, or we may become paralyzed. As a defense against pessimism for the future, it helps to note victories and positive signs in the present. One positive sign that came out of the election but got somewhat lost under the numerous responses and stories around the presidential race, is that the next Congress will be the most diverse in US history.

freestyling-feminism

The most striking success is probably the three new senators who will be joining Mazie Hirono (D Hawaii) to make a total of four women of colour in the Senate. Hirono was already only the second woman of colour to be a Senator, so this is a substantial increase. Kamala Harris (Cal) is of Indian and Jamaican descent, making her the first Indian-American woman and second Black woman to serve on the Senate. Catherine Cortez Mastro (Nev) is the first Latina, and Tammy Duckworth is Thai-American. The total number of women in the Senate will be 21, which is a record, but there will be only 83 in the House, which is a decrease from the previous 84.

The 115th Congress will also have record numbers of Hispanic, Black, and Asian American members. 34 members of the House of Representatives will be Hispanic, 46 Black, and 12 Asian American. Four Senators will be Hispanic, three Black, and three Asian American. There will no comparable increases in LGBT representation in the Congress, with the number of openly LGBT members staying at seven. Jewish representation will increase by two, from 28 to 30. The number of Hindus will increase from one to four, and there will be three Buddhists, and two returning Muslims.

The numbers above are small in relation to the total number of members of Congress, which remains disproportionately dominated by straight, white, Christian men, so this is hardly an identity politics utopia of perfect representation. Many of the non-white, non-straight, non-male representatives are also Democrats and therefore members of the minority party, so their influence may be limited. (And it would be silly to suggest that just because an individual politician is a visible minority they will necessarily be a progressive force!)

The reason to take some heart in these numbers is not that a marginally more diverse Congress will single-handedly protect America from fascism and white supremacy – they can’t. Instead, we can take some reassurance in what this says about the American electorate, which is that they are not be so accurately represented by Trump and his most rabid followers. Not only will the 115th Congress be the most diverse yet, the 114th Congress, sworn in in January 2015, was itself also the most diverse yet at that time. While Donald Trump was winning nationally, women of colour, Black, Hispanic, and Asian candidates were also winning and continuing this pattern of progressive change on a smaller scale in local races. While remaining duly alarmed on a national scale, Americans should cultivate this smaller scale, local hope. And Canadians, of course, should remain vigilant at both a national and local level.


lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta.

I was originally scheduled to start a new column, Freestyling Feminism, on topics related to intersectional feminism this week. My second blog for this column was going to be a light, introductory primer on “what is intersectional feminism?” However, it would be inappropriate to bypass for a later time as the outcomes of last night’s American election, and exit poll results suggest that the topic of intersectionality is more urgently relevant now.


58% of female voters voted for a candidate other than Trump. 47% of male voters voted for Clinton or a third party candidate. Only 37% of white voters voted for Clinton, plus 5% who voted third party.

53% of white women voters voted for Trump. 49% of college educated white voters voted for Trump, compared to 45% who vote for Clinton. White feminism did not bring about a female president and education did not stop white voters from electing Trump.

This election is obviously complex and it is impossible to find a definitive reason why America elected Trump. It is pretty clear, though, that racism was a strong driving factor. I certainly suspect that misogyny played a role, but more passively – it probably biased and intensified the way some people saw Hillary Clinton, and it allowed many people, including women, to overlook Trump’s misogynistic statements and history of sexual assault – but I don’t think that on the whole people voted for Trump in order to vote against a woman president. They voted for Trump because they were voting for racism and white supremacy. Perhaps we can charitably agree that this may have been unconscious in some cases, but at some point unconsciously responding to dog-whistle racism turned into intentional denial and self-delusion. The man has been openly and enthusiastically supported by the KKK, after all.

Liberals and progressives, especially white liberals and progressives, who are looking at this verdict[1] in horror, wondering what went wrong, what could have been done differently, and what can be done now, need to look at the magnitude and depth of the racism and xenophobia in their society and culture. Many of us still had faith that enough of America would be sensible that Trump’s seemingly insane rhetoric couldn’t win, and this has been an eye opener.

 [1] A weird slip into judicial language reflecting the feeling that America has been handed a sentence, not a government.

The next thing to do is to look at the movements already at work fighting these bigoted attitudes and systemic problems. Black Lives Matter, the land defenders at Standing Rock, the LGBTQ communities who fought for decades to win marriage equality, Planned Parenthood and activists who have been struggling to maintain basic reproductive rights. Groups like these are fighting for a better future every day, not just in the presidential race. There is turbulence but they are making change that matters and they know how.

It is time for white progressives to get in line and stand behind people of colour, queer people, Muslims, and other marginalized activists. White people don’t have the solutions for this, but we do have numbers and influence. Intersectionality now (always, but very critically right now) means white activists and allies putting POC’s voices, ideas, and solutions to the forefront. Listen and follow. Remember that your experiences of misogyny matter, but they don’t discount your white privilege and security; your experiences of homophobia matter, but don’t discount your white privilege; your class struggle and economic inequality matter but they do not discount white privilege.

Now is not the time for white people to search for new solutions or to lead movements. Now is the time for white people to throw their weight behind existing solutions and movements.

This is not just a Canadian scolding from across the border. Canadians should not be watching this election with smugness or relief. Canadian culture absorbs much of the influences and trends that American culture generates. More seriously, we need to recognize that white supremacy is equally as native to Canadian settler culture as it is to American settler culture built on slave ownership. The monster is under our bed too. The same xenophobic fears and attitudes that Trump exploited with his suggested ban on Muslim immigration, Harper grasped at when he introduced the idea of a niqab ban in the last election. Thankfully Canadians largely rejected that attempt – this time. The idea was there and it resonated, though. Similarly, the same rage and hostility we see in Trump’s core supporters is present in sections of Alberta politics. Most fundamentally though, the colonial white supremacy that the American nation was built on, is just a particular variety of the same colonial white supremacy that the Canadian nation was built on. We’re seeing the legacy of the former playing out dramatically in the United States right now, but we cannot ignore that there are similar things present in the foundation of our own society. We must not lapse into complacency in Canada just because the United Sates is more explosive in its dysfunction.

And finally, since I imagine many people woke up feeling shocked, helpless, and isolated after election day, wondering who their country really was – remember that Clinton won the popular vote. You are not alone.


lizElisabeth came to Edmonton to do a Masters degree in History at the University of Alberta after completing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Art History at the University of Victoria. Her research interests include medieval and early modern social and cultural history, especially issues around medical history and persecution. In the first year of her Masters degree, Elisabeth received the Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, followed by the Walter H. Johns Fellowship, Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship, and the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship.She  presented at the HCGSA Conference at University of Alberta in 2016 and will be writing the entry on Leprosy in World Christianity for the De Gruyter’s Encyclopedia of the Bible and its Reception (forthcoming). She has worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Alberta, and as a contract researcher and writer for the Government of Alberta’s Heritage division. In addition to her work as a writer and researcher, Elisabeth works with the Art Gallery of Alberta and Latitude 53 Contemporary Visual Culture.

I have some people that I keep at bay on Facebook and other social media outlets. Most people who know me, know that I don’t take lightly to removing people from social media pages because I see it as a loss for potential education on critical issues. I have seen incredible growth and understanding about social justice issues in general and Islam in particular from people I know, and I am regularly thanked for offering this information freely and unceasingly. However, during the last Canadian federal election in 2015, there was such hateful rhetoric being spewed out of the timelines of people I have known my entire life that I had to take what I consider to be drastic action and put them under a privacy setting so that they don’t appear in my newsfeed. I’m torn about this because the flipside is that I no longer appear in theirs; however, I’m not too sad about it because they have continued to engage with certain posts of mine which means that they are, indeed, going out of their way to check up on me without me having to be subjected to the vile poison they put into the world daily.

These people are my dirty little secret because I know exactly how they think and how they will act. I know this because I study the Holocaust for a living. I know exactly what kind of illogical thought processes go through the minds of those who hate, even if they are totally unconscious of their hatred. I have a strange ritual I go through whenever a terrorist attack happens or a shooting or some other equally hideous event: after properly mourning, I go look at the pages of these people to see if my assumptions about their thought processes are correct, to see if they will continue to err on the side of reckless, prejudiced thinking and behaviour. And I’m always right. They have no idea how predictable they are and how much they lack a genuine original thought. Harsh, yeah, but I hardly think pandering to xenophobes and how they feel about anything makes much sense.

It doesn’t matter what has happened in the world, whether an attack against Muslims in a Muslim country somewhere, whether a coup in an increasingly authoritarian country (which they may be hard-pressed to actually find on a map) or whether it is another black person of countless black people gunned down in the streets of America…whatever it is, you will find them blaming all Muslims, saying that not all religions are the same, that some are worse than others, saying that all lives matter, saying that blue lives matter, saying that any life matters unless they are black and brown and Muslim lives. They even go so far as to regurgitate blatantly misogynistic bullshit while often being women themselves, not realizing the violence they are doing to themselves or not realizing the privilege they have if such misogyny doesn’t touch them. They remain silent when the victims are from the LGBTQ community or pretend that, because the shooter in Orlando had Muslim lineage, Christians would never do this to gay people because Christianity is “different”. For the love of God, open a history book. Just once.

Regardless of how they frame it: what I continually see is a lack of knowledge and empathy. Half the time, these things aren’t even spelled correctly which only adds to me feeling disheartened. These are the same people calling educated people like me “Libtards” (which is a profoundly offensive term, especially to those who care for and love individuals living with disabilities). These are the same people claiming that I’m not more educated than them because I spend thousands of hours of my life studying in University (sorry, but that’s exactly what it means – I have no more value than you intrinsically, but I’m still more educated than you). These are the same people who pride themselves on calling other people out, not for the sake of justice, but to win an argument, to be “right” even though any half-educated person knows these days that the idea of “right” is nebulous and socially constructed. There is no greater arrogance than this because it causes the harm of others for the sake of satiating an insatiable ego.

So, they never stop.

In the current political climate, all red lines have been obliterated.

Just the other day, I had to remove Holocaust deniers from my pages. Shortly thereafter, I nearly spit my coffee all over my phone when I saw one of these individuals claiming that black people and the Black Lives Matter movement “has become a group of brats who say everything and anything is racist if it involves someone of colour.”

Excuse me for a moment………………. are you f*cking kidding me?

These types of people support Donald Trump. Like, actually support him. Like think he would be a good president kind of support.* In a world full of critics and just regular goddamn people who can’t even believe he has made it this far (because: what an insane, horrible, nightmare-ish joke that just won’t end, am I right?)… there are people out there WHO I KNOW who watched the Republican National Convention and shouted “All Lives Matter” along with these lunatic fascists. Lifelong Republicans who believe in the party of Lincoln no longer recognize this mutated far-right, gun-toting, skin-bleaching zombie that is the GOP. They are committing party suicide left and right, trying to distance themselves from the hateful rhetoric that shitheads like David Goddamn Duke delightfully retweet.

(*Note: my loathing of Donald Trump is in NO WAY indicative of any support for Hillary Clinton.)

Yes, that’s right. I have people I have known my entire life, still in my life, who consciously defend white supremacy and white supremacists. There is no other way to frame it. Their entire identity is enshrouded in their whiteness and they spend their time defending any ill-perceived attack on it from those “darkies” that keep shouting for their own freedom. I’m included in that lot because I’m an educated, veiled “Libtard” with a husband and kid from Africa.

Like many activists, and especially like many historians, and ESPECIALLY like many historians of the Third Reich and Holocaust, I have no clue what to do any longer and am horrified to watch elements of history repeating itself as people get their lesser-educated minds washed and manipulated by dangerous fools with a microphone.

I’m tired.

There is a tidal wave of bitter insanity brewing in these people who barely stop short of shouting “white genocide” from their gentrified neighbourhood rooftops.

I’m so very tired.

How do we continue slogging? How do we, who have taken NEVER AGAIN into the depths of our being, stop a train wreck while it is happening, while the cars collide and screech towards what can only be a supremely violent end? How do we stop a tsunami with what seems to be only a few sandbags?

I don’t know how to put any of this very eloquently despite the fact that writing is my vocation, so I’m just going to list some things we can all do to hopefully avoid political catastrophe in the coming while. I have to believe that we avoided this kind of disaster in Canada by saying “No, absolutely not” to the divisive, xenophobic rhetoric of the Conservatives (regardless about how you feel about ANY other political party in this country) and I have to believe that if it is possible here, it is possible anywhere, anytime and about any issue.

Apologies to those who like things framed positively, but some of these things are direct references to harmful behaviour that people DO so the advice needs to be framed as a DON’T.

  1. Take care of yourself. There are a lot of articles out there about activist burnout and the fact that no one can serve from an empty vessel. These articles and ideas are true. While some people equate occasionally disconnecting for the purposes of self-care with privilege, this is not always the case. In fact, for those of us who have to be traumatized every time we see our brothers and sisters bombed or shot to oblivion in our newsfeeds, this is an important first step in grounding yourself. You can know that there is immeasurable pain in the world, take care of yourself and still be active in mitigating injustice in the best ways you know how. These things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, that knowledge and desire to be active necessitates that you take care of yourself lest you be dragged down into the deep hole of depression. Trust me, I’ve been there. I go there a lot. But people need me and my voice more than that hole can serve me, so I have to care of myself guilt-free. We need you around too. We need your bleeding heart. So turn off, tune out, feel the sunshine on your skin, enjoy coffee with a friend, pamper yourself at the spa – do whatever it is that you need to do to take care of yourself before you get back in the trenches. The rest of us will understand and be waiting.
  2. Have painful conversations, if you can, with everyone you know. Maintain contact. The more these people are isolated, the more warped their worldviews become. This one is tough but necessary if you are able to do it. There is absolutely nothing that works better for immediate social change than inviting people to have a conversation… or many of them. Even if those conversations get heated or uncomfortable. Even if they don’t have the results you hope for – they are helpful. A conversation does not have to be an invitation to tea. It can be as simple as asking someone to clarify what they mean when they make racist jokes. It can be as uneventful as calling someone out for an Islamophobic post and asking them what exactly they meant by that. You will find that after all the brainwashed rhetoric has been spewed and the dust settles, they likely didn’t know what they meant by it (“Why did you shoot me?” “I don’t know”) and at the heart of everything is fear and a genuine lack of knowledge. Even for the craziest, consciously racist white supremacists. Their hatred is born in ignorance and the antidote to ignorance is awareness, then education.
  3. Don’t stop sounding the alarm. The fight against the darkness of ignorance and hatred is unrelenting. People devote their lives and careers to trying to protect themselves and others from harmful rhetoric and violence. You don’t necessarily have to do this on your social media accounts, but you can definitely do it in everyday, real life. Every time someone makes a Judeophobic comment about Jewish world conspiracies or claims that all Muslims are terrorists or make queerphobic comments about transpeople in washrooms, you should say something. Even when other people won’t have your back. This isn’t really something we can do once, for one group even, and then call it a day. I’ve been accused of jumping on every social justice bandwagon out there, of capitalizing on the oppression of others by making myself look good. People who hate you will pull any argument out of the hat to besmirch your image. Continue sounding the alarm anyway because your concern is born out of love, not hatred. For me, if I’m known for standing up for society’s most vulnerable individuals and for sounding the alarm on their oppression again and again, no matter which demographic they belong to, I’m going to wear that with pride.
  4. Don’t shit on activists who are doing more than you. This is a tough one. There are a lot of well meaning, non-racist people out there who take it upon themselves to write stupid posts about how “talking about politics and religion on Facebook lacks taste”. Like, what do you even gain from this? What are you contributing to the conversation? When I hear this stuff, I hear people saying “I don’t see colour” – using their privilege to erase other people raising their voices about things that matter to them. Elsewhere, I have written that the internet has become a vehicle for connecting liminal, minority groups and what we are seeing is a dramatic increase in critical awareness for a variety of minority issues. The result is an influx of posts, videos and pages devoted to the causes of those marginalized in regular society. Almost immediately, people in positions of privilege have criticized these movements as minorities being overly-sensitive, rolling their eyes at the proliferation of trigger warnings, or jumping to defend those who have been brought to justice by bringing their injustices to light online. What these individuals don’t realize is three-fold:
  • These oppressed people have always been around you. They just have a larger collectivity now because of the internet and their voice is much louder because of the heavy use and reliance on this technology today.
  • Oppressed people who cannot find justice in their everyday lives will use every means at their disposal – outside of the collectively prescribed methods – to achieve their justice.
  • If you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen. Challenging the arbitrarily-legitimate and hegemonic-heteronormative social order is what the internet does best. If you don’t like the sound of rallying cries from all directions of oppressed society – you’re probably part of the problem.
  1. Read more. And not just articles you find on the internet. We have to keep educating ourselves in history, philosophy and the social sciences. Other pools of knowledge are also critical: anything and everything that engages our critical thinking and analytical skills to keep us on our toes. Reading stuff that confirms your well-intentioned biases does little to stimulate your mind or increase your knowledge base. The more you know is the more you know and that, in itself, is priceless. Since hatred is rooted in ignorance, I have said time and time again, the primary antidote is education. Facts aren’t enough but they are a good start. Seeking out wisdom through critique is the next step too.
  2. Do more stuff. Yeah, it can seem like a full-time job and I know that it is for me too. But you have to actually do things that make a difference in your community. These things do not need to be complicated. It can be a letter to the editor. It can be forming a small reading group to read the TRC or black history. It can be signing a petition. It can be making a donation or helping an agency committed to fighting discrimination. We have to put our beliefs and ideas into practice. You will be shocked how fast change accumulates when we all put a little extra effort in.
  3. Don’t hate on yourself for only making local change. You don’t have to save the world and, more importantly, you can’t. You can, however, change spaces that you move through and communities that you subscribe to. In fact, this is more important than anything else you are likely to do. Change starts locally and builds momentum outwards and it starts with people being committed to get together and strategize ways to make that change from all possible angles. What you are doing is critically important – don’t worry about living on in the pages of history.
  4. Don’t give up. Bailing out a sinking ship is exhausting if you are doing it alone. Banding together with others, learning to swim or building a better ship in the first place might be better strategies. Either way, we can’t give up, no matter how shell-shocked we feel. People can change; people do change. You have changed and learned and grown – so why can’t others? Part of never giving up is recognizing that this isn’t a one-person show to save the world. You do what you do with your strengths and join hands with others who have their own strengths to stand together. Even if, for every step you take forward, you end up taking two steps back, we have to continue stepping forward. Period.
  5. Take solace in the fact that there is no essential human character. Human beings are neither essentially good, nor essentially evil. We are socially constructed and even though this means that goodness and evil are also socially constructed, it also means we can build the society we need to, together, through dutiful and purposeful education and inculcation. I’m prone to saying BAH at the darkness of humanity and writing all of us off, but I exist and you exist – therefore, it is possible for other compassionate, caring and self-reflective activists to also exist and bring change.

I invite other ideas for staying active and sane. We are, after all, in this together.

In solidarity,

Nakita