Here’s How I Embraced My Uniquely Black Muslim Identity
Editor’s note: Behold, the ethereal voice of our own, Binta Kane Diallo, ringing proud and true, saturated with that evergreen #BlackGirlMagic:
In 5th grade, my fellow 10-year-old Ecuadorian immigrant classmate said that I was “as black as the desk.” They say that people will forget what you said, they will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. In my case, 18 years later, I still remember what she said, and exactly how she made me feel: worthless. This was the point in my life when I realized that being black was not okay.
As a child, I was quite aware that my identity was unique. I was usually the only black, female, Muslim kid with braids, and immigrant-African parents. I was black, but I was never “their kind of black”. Too American for the “real” Senegalese and Gambian kids, too African for the African-Americans, and too black for the Muslims.
So where did I belong? At a time where movies featuring the beauty of Africans, like Black Panther, did not exist, I found my solace in writing, and seeing myself within Marvel comic book characters. I was able to tell myself that what others may find strange in me, was more beautiful and powerful than they could ever know.
If I was never told that my blackness was devalued, I would have never ended up where I am today.
Now, as a first generation, Senegalese and Gambian-American woman in my mid-twenties, I am more comfortable in my skin, and very grateful that GOD chose me to be exactly who I am. If I was never told that my blackness was devalued, I would have never ended up where I am today. I now work at an organization called IMAN, the Inner-City Muslim Action Network in the Arts & Culture department. Here, I am able to bring my complete self to work, and build relationships with people from a variety of rich and diverse communities. Most importantly, I have a sense of belonging. Here, I am not “the other”.
Every year, we host an Artist Retreat that brings together creatives, organizers, and scholars in-community for a few days of reflection, reconnection, and rejuvenation. This year, someone heard me singing and next thing I knew, I was prompted to get on the mic in front of 60 people who identified as artists. I instantly flashed back to an 8-year-old me trying to sing a Whitney Houston song and getting laughed at. After that I never wanted to sing for anyone again.
Back to reality. In the moment, I empathized with Eminem’s character in 8 Mile, B-Rabbit. My palms were literally sweaty, knees weak, arms were heavy…you know the rest. I felt so vulnerable and exposed, yet I somehow summoned the courage to sing. After I finished, I took a deep breath, opened my eyes, and was embraced by an energy and overwhelming love, the likes of which I had never experienced before; unfiltered acceptance.
My community uplifted me; they really saw me. I could have not imagined overcoming my fear without my community.
Alhamdulillah, after the retreat, I started to remember who I was before the world told me who I should be. A creative portal opened; the song lyrics started flowing in. I wrote a song entitled “Black Women.” I was inspired by people who are comfortable with who they are beyond all of the adversities.
Within my own lyrics, I thought about my mother: “We get the work done and bare kin.”
Former First Lady, Michelle Obama: “Never underestimate our worth.”
And Serena Williams: “Yes, we got big lips and got curves, you think we’re angry and absurd, but there’s more to us then you have heard, Black women go!”
I shared my song at IMAN’s farmer’s market, and the way that the audience received my art gave me a sense of empowerment and belonging. I was able to take ownership of myself, my gift, and committed to build a diverse, inclusive, and inspirational platform. I posted the video on Facebook, and in a matter of weeks, it got over 3,200 views. My community uplifted me; they really saw me. I could have not imagined overcoming my fear without my community.
I urge you to be that encouraging person for someone else. Instead of highlighting arbitrary differences, we must see our gifts and power in each other. It’s important to affirm others by seeing and acknowledging their gift, because we do not always see them in ourselves. Sometimes, it takes someone to shed light on our light.
Learn more about Binta and her journey here: