Leah Vernon: Being Seen and Heard

Leah V. is an indie author who’s just published her first speculative fiction novel, Impure. Her main focus is bringing diversity to commercial fiction. When she isn’t writing or eating tasty foods, she’s modeling and tending to her body positive style blog, Beauty and the Muse. Here, she shares a powerful perspective on identity and belonging. Leah’s original article appeared here on Wear Your Voice Magazine.


I’m the unseen. The lost and broken. I’m the minority who is buried under media outlets like Fox News and CNN. You don’t see us on the cover of American magazines or hear the pleas of our communities. You certainly wouldn’t know of our accomplishments in the fields of art, science, math or motherhood. No one even notices the splitting and struggles between both identities. Two cultures. One religion.

I’m Muslim. I’m Black. I’m fat. I’m a female living in America.

That intro wasn’t to get you to feel sorry for me. For us. It was to pique your interest. To pull you in. Get you to see something you’ve probably haven’t even fathomed.

Oh, yes. The Black Muslim. Who am I?

When I was a little, fat Muslimah growing up on the poorest side of Detroit, Michigan, I was confused about my place in Islam. We weren’t accepted by the Arab-speaking Muslims because we were Black and not Muslim enough according to their standards, and we were misinterpreted by Black people because we were too Muslim, wearing all that “shit” on our heads.

“Are you a nun?”

“Are you hot in all that clothing?”

“Why do you have a pillowcase on your head?”

I’d get laughed at as I walked down my dilapidated street: hidden giggles and sniggers and fingers pointed in my direction.

White people would stare, pull their children closer. Move two seats away.

And this happened all throughout my adolescence. I remember never saying anything back to these atrocities. I never stuck up for myself. I just took it. Because I was an anomaly. I was the one out of place. Making people feel uncomfortable with my very presence. I didn’t have anyone who looked like me to look up to. To reassure me. Tell me that it wasn’t OK for people to point and jeer like I was some circus freak, all because of the piece of cloth I chose to drape around my hair.

I didn’t have a strong, Black Muslim with smooth dark skin on the cover of a magazine telling us girls that it was OK to be Muslim and boisterous in America. There wasn’t any Asian Muslim on the news with her fist raised in solidarity with the Muslim Women movement or any plump African Muslims on the show Friends showing girls that they can in fact be more than a housewife, more than a statistic, more than an all-black-wearing person who could dominate primetime TV and still be true to her religion and grace.

Fast forward. We still don’t see enough representation of non-stereotypical Black Muslims in the media. What they feed us is Arab-looking, usually thin-and-on-the-European-appearing-side Muslims. They show us lots and lots of Islamic rebels and terrorists. They give Islam the face of evil, Arab-speaking, black-wearing aggressive people. When in reality, Muslims come from all walks of life. Good and bad. Kind of like real human beings. I mean, because don’t we all have some kind of vice?

And in no way is this a bash essay. You know, for the trolls out there. What I’m speaking is the truth, unfortunately. When I notice that electronics companies, large clothing retailers (in the U.S. and abroad) and the news only feature a small segment of the Islamic population — as if those few are the poster children for Islam — makes me mad.

Hello??? Black Muslims exist. Hispanic Muslims Exist. African and Indian Muslims exist. So why aren’t we seen? Heard?

Why am I beating this topic with a bat? Well, because every day I’m reminded of the stereotypes people think of me when they meet me in person. Imagine you didn’t know me. If, prior to meeting me, another friend told you that I was a fat, Black Muslim from Detroit. Yeah, I’ll wait.

People have told me that I speak very well to be from Detroit. Since no one in Detroit is educated. Duh. People have asked me if my husband was old and if my prior marriage was arranged. Because, as a Muslim woman, I can’t pick my own spouse. I’ve gotten told that I dress “so well” for a fat girl. Because all fat girls are sloppy. I’ve gotten by a White man that he’d never seen a “Black Muslim” up close before. Because the media hides us from society. People have asked me if my husband beats me. You know, since all Muslim husbands beat their wives.

The list of public ignorance goes on and on.

This is why I speak out on behalf of underrepresented and marginalized groups. Why I write for different companies for free, hoping that this one is the next big thing. Why I model my fat, Black body for the world to criticize and rejoice. Hoping that one day, I will no longer be that anomaly that I once was seen as, but to be something more, a learning tool for others to be inspired by and spread the message that Black Muslims do exist. And that the revolution has started.

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