Hug Your Black History–Hug A Koran


Years ago, I was on a train going from Chicago to New Orleans for the AWP Conference. It was a few months after the 9/11 attacks and I was still afraid to fly.  At dinner one evening, I sat in the dining car with a young Brother and an older White man. They got to talking about the 9/11 attacks and then, started bonding over hatred over Muslim people. They just kept going on, until I told them they were both bigots and disgusted me.

I told the Brother, “And I’m surprised at you especially, Black Man. Don’t you know a few years ago, people were talking this way about us?” The Brother waved his hand at me dismissively and he and the White man started back talking, giving each other amused glances at my expense.  I don’t remember everything that was said in their conversation, but I know the phrase of “real American” kept coming up.

As the ninth anniversary of 9/11 draws near, there has been a whole bunch of crazy (re)surfacing. Apparently, there is some minister, Terry Jones of Gainesville, Florida who is planning to burn the Koran on September 11th, just two days from now. He is claiming his “freedom of speech” to justify this hateful act. President Obama has tried to get this man not to do this, because it would just inflame some Muslims.

That the Koran burning would be “inflammatory” is the President’s official stance. My stance is this: what kind of lowdown individual—a Preacher for God’s sake—calls himself a Christian and a human being and then defiles someone else’s sacred beliefs by desecrating their holy book?

Sidebar: You know sometimes when I’m reading my Bible I just keep flipping through it to figure out, am I just reading a wrong translation of the New Testament? Maybe that’s why I have three different translations, because I keep wondering where all this hatred is coming from. It certainly isn’t sanctioned by my Jesus—who appears in the Holy Koran as a prophet, by the way.

But then my Jesus had a nappy Afro and a dark tan. He was from the Middle East, after all, and that’s right next to Africa. Apparently, some of these so-called Christians didn’t get that memo either.

And apparently, some Americans don’t know that Muslims have been part of American society since the very beginning of “American.”  Recently, an article on the Mother Jones website discussed the graves of enslaved Africans in New York City, and that strings of blue beads were found as part of some of the recovered items; it is speculated that these beads might be Muslim prayer beads. However, among slavery historians it is common knowledge that many Africans kidnapped into slavery believed in Islam–and continued to believe.

But what many don’t know is that some of these graves where those blue beads were found were located underneath what are now the ruins of the World Trade Center. To read a more detailed history of the New York City African Burial Ground, click here. I know it’s true, because my colleague at University of Oklahoma, Lesley Rankin-Hill was one of the anthropologists who worked on that African Burial Ground project for several years.

Sidebar: And that gravesite was not the only one for kidnapped and enslaved Africans that was “forgotten” and built over. This has happened all up and down the Eastern Seaboard. And if I got started talking about the Native American burial grounds that have been defiled all around this country, and the Native artifacts that have been taken by grave robbers, I’d be here for a few weeks writing this blog post.

I’ve never visited that memorial for the African Burial Ground in New York City, but I have visited the Colonial African Burial Ground in Newport, Rhode Island, a cemetery that is taken care of in a very honorable way.  It’s called “God’s Little Half-Acre.” My visit was sobering and sad, but at the same time, lovely. There weren’t very many gravestones—most were of wood. Some graves just had a big sink in the earth. and I made sure not to step on those.

It’s interesting to me that, in this country, the “restart” button is always hit whenever it’s convenient in regards to our “sacred history.” The ruins of World Trade Center have been called “sacred ground.” And indeed  they are, but the 9/11 attacks are not the first time that ground held dead bodies. That ground has been blessed for a long, long time.

It’s time “real Americans”  remind these religious bigots who are (continually) messing up our country that “never forget” didn’t start for some of us nine years ago. For some of us, it’s been going on for centuries.

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