Bilal ibn Rabah was a trusted companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Bilal’s father was a slave and Bilal had no option but to work as a slave. When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) announced his prophethood, Bilal converted to Islam. When his slave master found out that Bilal had accepted Islam, he started to torture him. Bilal would be dragged through the streets of Mecca and children would mock him. When he refused to renounce Islam, he was spread eagled on the hot Arabian sand and whipped and beaten. He continued to refuse to renounce Islam so as a punishment a hot boulder was placed on his chest. The news of the treatment of Bilal reached the Prophet (peace be upon him) who sent one of his companions, Abu Bakr to negotiate his emancipation. Bilal then became a very close companion of the Prophet who appointed him to the treasury. Bilal had a very melodious voice and the Prophet (peace be upon him) chose him to recite the call to prayer (adhan).
One day, Bilal had an argument with Abu Dharr, another companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him). During the argument Abu Dharr called Bilal the “son of a black woman”. Bilal was hurt and went to the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Prophet (peace be upon him) addressed Abu Dharr and said, “You are a man who still has ignorance in his heart.” So, using the skin colour as an insult is against the teachings of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Fast forward a few years and we see the Prophet (peace be upon him) deliver his last sermon. In this the Prophet (peace be upon him) says,
“There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab, nor for a non-Arab over an Arab. Neither is the white superior over the black, nor is the black superior over the white — except by piety.” This shows that racism has no place in Islam.
Fast forward and we see Martin Luther King say, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Fast forward to 2020 and we see people use phrases such as “whiteness in brown bottles”, coconut, choc ice etc which makes me think that people who use this and similar phrases still have ignorance in their hearts and that MLK’s dream is still to be realized.
As far as I am concerned, using this and similar phrases
- Means the person has no argument to make and is resorting to ad homs
- Means the person isn’t a good role model for children. How can they stop a child uttering a racist phrase if they themselves are basing their attack on the skin colour?
- Makes the person using them a racist
We can’t fight bigotry by becoming bigots ourselves. We can’t fight racism by being racist ourselves. As educators it is our duty to challenge the use of phrases like whiteness in brown bottles so that one day people won’t have ignorant hearts, will treat everyone the same and MLK’s dream will come true.