Continuing from our last interview, Tadiwa talks with Naomi and Yasmeen of The Young Fadayeen about racism, privilege, and motivations for activism.
Naomi Toftner (@naomitoftner)
Tadiwa: What type of changes and on what scale are “The Young Fadayeen” trying to bring about?
Naomi: Racism is happening everywhere, but I think right now we are really focusing on America and we’ve protested the death of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and countless other victims who have not gotten media attention as well. We’ve protested the deaths of people who have died in the same city as we live in. We have mainly protested a police force that is incredibly unjust and have unfairly brutalized many civilians without any repercussions. One of our group members, Ni has quite a large following on Instagram and we’ve got a bit of followers on our Instagram from her so I think that she’s really let us reach quite a large scale. We are all pretty young, so it’s not like we can just get up and drive to any place a police shooting has occurred. We’re pretty much sticking to our own local area, but we’ve been able to reach so many more people because of social media.
Do you feel that modern societal beliefs need to be altered? If so, how?
To be completely honest with you I believe that American ways of viewing the world are archaic. We have people in congress who have been there for 30 years while the president leaves after 8 at the most. Additionally, congress men and women are pretty dang old. More importantly, Supreme Court Justices can be appointed for their entire life. I'm not saying it's a bad thing to be old. However, most of the people in power today were growing up in a world where colored people and white people had different bathrooms, water fountains, etc. These people lived in a world where it was totally normal for a black man to get hung, lynched, whatever you want to call it. It goes back to the era of slaves. White man owned colored men and women and it was normal to whip or beat one slave; a message to the other slaves to get back to work. In the 1950-60’s, it was also very common to lynch people of color. Groups like the KKK would do this to also send a message to other people of color. Now, I see that some police officers are killing people in cold blood. I think that the only difference now is the fact that it is a gun and not a noose. There are police officers in this country who are literally armed and dangerous, who are racist, and will kill for no reason at all. And the people who are ultimately supposed to protect us (Supreme Court Justices, Congressmen and women) grew up in a time where it was very normal to see a black man criminalized and killed because of his skin color. But that is not even where we need to begin or end the change in our beliefs. I could go on for hours about the fact that this is all based on the fact that since the American education system began, a wave of institutionalized racism has washed over the children of this country and they have grown to be racists. They have kids who don’t even see color until they get to school and they too, grow to be racist. And there are only few in history who break out and wonder, “Who writes history?” The privileged. History is biased and there are not many people who know that. I could go on and on but yes, most of our world needs to basically do a 180 with their belief system. Without the help of everyone, we’re never going to eradicate things like racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and so many other things that plague our world.
As an individual, what do you think you bring to the group?
As a lesbian, as a Native American, Jewish woman, I believe that I play an important role in The Young Fadayeen. However, I do know that I have never faced the same discrimination that my friends in this group have. I know the privilege that I have in my life because I can walk alone on a street and not be discriminated against because of my skin color. Although, I do know what it’s like to be discriminated against because of the fact that I “have cheekbones like a redskin” and “a kike nose.” I know what it’s like to be called a “f*ggot” or a “d*ke” or that I "deserve to die” because I have remained unwavering in my sexuality regardless of the fact that some people want me dead for it. Regardless of what I am and what I have been through, I simply want to help. I am outraged at the fact that America can let people of color die in cold blood, with no justice to follow their names. I believe the different ways in which I have been discriminated against have brought me to these moments in my life. However, I think that the fact that I can see what is right and what is wrong has led me to this place in my life. To protesting, to fighting with my family about what we see on mainstream news criminalizing the victims of police brutality, to staying up all night every time I see another hashtag. So what do I bring to this group? The fact that I will do everything in my power and in my privilege to help, to promote peace, and finally, to find the justice that the victims of police brutality deserve.
Yasmeen Houry (@https.yasmeen)
In a national context, where do the ideas of social supremacy, social oppression stem from, in your opinion?
I think different things contribute to different forms of American oppression. American racism, for example, ultimately stems from the slave trade. The only way for white people to justify slavery was to create the concept of race, divide us and concluded that human beings of African descent are inferior. I believe that American classism, sexism, colorism, ableism and other forms of systematic oppression ultimately come from capitalism. America was built upon this "you get what you deserve" ideology in which everyone is expected to work in order to be fortunate. I would have absolutely nothing against this if everyone in this country would be given the same opportunities. But it seems as though a white, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual male is the only person worthy of complete opportunity in America. I believe that no one is born with hate in their hearts, I think we're taught to hate. And I think it is our job to unlearn it.
As someone involved in socio-political activism, what words of wisdom could you give to someone scared of being judged on topics and issues that only apply ethnic minorities?
As an Eritrean-American Muslim girl, my mind has constantly been battling between gaining the approval of my more privileged friends and speaking my mind on issues that they either can't understand or refuse to. I've struggled with this for a long time and I still struggle with it to this day. I think something to keep in mind when focusing on issues that apply to ethnic minorities is to always be strong and firm in your beliefs while also being open minded. Don't let anyone shake your confidence or make you question your identity/beliefs, but try your absolute best to understand one topic through multiple points of view.
As an individual what do you think you bring to the group?
One thing that I always like to tell myself before going to protests or rallies is to get angry. I tell myself to turn my anger into something that can benefit this movement. I tell myself to never let my anger turn into hate, which can be difficult for me to do, and hopefully being in this group will give me the chance to tell others. Since this movement began, I would pace around my room and practice talking to an imaginary audience, as if I was delivering a speech. I would talk about different events that could benefit young leaders, I would imagine myself leading a huge rally, and then it would quickly turn into me trying to figure out how we could dismantle our corrupt government. Although I'm not looking to start a civil war, I do hope to share my ideas with other members of this group so that we can all empower and inspire other young activists and leaders in the future.