A Conversation with Blair Imani Pride, Activism and Role Models.
We’re backstage at the Teen Vogue Summit and our new friend Jaime Marsanico tells us we have two minutes to prepare questions to ask the iconic Blair Imani, and what better time to interview her than on June first - the very first day of Pride month? Blair is sitting down with her friend Mars Sebastian of Do Something, decked out in a Videmus Omnia jacket, Louboutins and matching red lipstick, typing away on her phone. “Hang on one second - let me finish this Tweet”.
Written by Ramisha Sattar | Brought to you by Alt Philanthropy and Teen Eye Magazine.
Em Odesser: Can you do a sixty second description on who you are and what you do, for those who aren’t familiar with your work?
Blair Imani: I can do it in even less, thanks to Twitter. My name is Blair Imani, I’m a queer Muslim activist. I’m Black and also a woman. I’m focused on LGBTQ rights, Black Lives Matter, and education. My book Modern HERstory comes out in October, and is currently available for preorder!
Em: Our first question is actually about that! Modern HERstory focuses on rewriting history by highlighting stories of women and nonbinary people. Are there any particular stories that really stick with you?
Blair: Totally, the story of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson! Because trans woman of color are so sidelined in our movements, a lot of people don’t recognize that they are the reason we have these movements. Pride isn’t just about celebrating, it’s about building communities and building that space to then go into the world to fight for our freedom. We have to celebrate our wins, celebrate our struggles, and then go into the world, and really power through. Pride is a time of radical resistance and it commemorates the Stonewall riots that happened just within a couple weeks of man going to the moon. That’s what I talk about first in the book. How on one hand, man is going to the moon and that’s supposed to be like this progressive futuristic nation. But on the other hand, queer people are getting harassed in bars that are supposed to be for them. They’re getting pulled out into the streets and arrested. Police brutality is rampant. Racism is rampant. So it really shows the contrast of a lot of the story that we hear about America. Because we don’t hear the story of the struggle, we hear the story of man going to the moon - but these happen at the same time.
Em: How do you think we can remedy that dual history? The idea that there is this one overpowering narrative, like ‘White men have saved the world, but in reality everyone else is having a really shitty time’.
Blair: Yeah, I think that it’s definitely intentional. It’s a system of oppression, right? To go through life thinking that your community, your family, your culture never had a win. That Black people are only ever mentioned in the context of slavery and then we completely disappear after the 1960’s, like what the heck? So it’s difficult because how can you ask questions about what’s missing when you don’t really know what’s gone? And so with learning about her story, it’s really centering those stories that aren’t told. For example, a lot of people have had the moment where it’s like “Black people are just mentioned in history in slavery and that’s it?”. It’s just asking those questions. And now we have the internet so we can really start to look into these stories. Also, we have these special times like Asian Pacific American Heritage month in May. We have African-American Music Appreciation Month in June. We have Ramadan. We have Pride. If you need special moments to really lean into a culture to learn more, then do that. But also celebrate these stories throughout the year. I think that Modern HERstory will be a good first step because we bring so many different diverse people together whether they’re women, non-binary, gender nonconforming, transgender, LGBTQ, Black, Asian, etc. We obviously don’t have all the intersections because that’s impossible - we probably missed somebody. And I hope that Modern HERstory can be the first edition and that we can have Ancient HERstory, Neo-colonial HERstory, and more.
Ramisha: So going off of that, it is Ramadan and the first day of Pride Month! Do you have any queer or Muslim activists that you recommend our readers check out?
Blair: Definitely! Taylor Amari Little is really awesome. She’s created this space for Queer Muslims on Whatsapp with over 200 folks. And it’s funny because there was such an outpour of like, ‘I need this space!’, but it became so cumbersome that it was like okay let’s try to make spaces that are more specific to who we are. So there was a space that was for gender nonconforming queer Muslims, trans queer Muslims, Black queer Muslims, Latino queer muslims, and everybody in between. It really represented to me what the LGBTQ community is all about. We have so many different identities, but it’s also a time for us to come together, have our unique spaces, and then also have our more affinity based spaces that really speak to who we are and what we can do to support each other. I’m really excited for this Pride month because I hope that more folks will be inspired to come out. However, a reality for a lot of Muslims and people of faith in general is that you can’t come out safely - and that’s something that everyone should recognize. Don’t come out it it’s not safe for you. Celebrate yourself in pride, see these stories, go on social media and reach out to people who are like you. Recognize that it’s okay to be queer. There’s nothing wrong with you - there’s something wrong with the world.
Em: For sure! Also, it’s almost your one year anniversary of your Fox News appearance. Can you talk a little about that?
Blair: Sure! It’s funny because when people write speeches for me, which is a thing now, someone was like “...when Blair decided to come out,”. No, I did not decide to come out. It was on accident. I was there to talk about how countering violent extremism in the US has lead to over-policing Muslim communities, and pushing people even farther into the fringes. We’ve seen this with Black folks. We’ve seen this with the HIV / AIDS epidemic. We’ve seen this with many different communities. In fact, we’re seeing it now with detention centers for undocumented people. I was there to say that instead of alienating and isolating people, we should spend taxpayer money to make community spaces. But I couldn’t even say that because when I had said “Black people need safe spaces! Queer people need safe spaces!”, Tucker Carlson was like “You’re not here to speak on their behalf”. So then I was like “I actually am a Black Queer Woman,”. That was the moment when it hit me that I had just come out to the rest of my family, and the world. I think it really gave me a lot of power. It was really nerve wrecking but I’m glad that it happened because I got to connect with so many amazing people and I’m so glad to be out.
Ramisha: Do you have any goals you really wanna push for this year?
Blair: Yes, my book! I hope that I sell my book!
Ramisha: You will! Two buyers right here!
Blair: Inshallah! And not because I’m trying to make a ton of money off the book! That was never the goal; I didn’t even think it would get published. But because I think it’s so important to have role models in your life, whether that’s you becoming your own role model, or you having someone that you can resonate with because that gives you so much power! There’s of course structural inequalities, but people also go through a life of privilege because they have the representation to feel that they can do whatever in this world. So if you learn the stories of Raquel Willis and Kat Blaque, and you realize that this person is the same age as you, you can do this too! Hopefully it will inspire more people to get into the world of activism whether they start a movement, become a teacher, or do whatever, and get rid of the idea that you can’t.
Em: Yes for sure! Also, I think a big thing regarding activism in our generation is that people want to participate, they just don’t know where to start. If you could recommend three concrete actions people take to get involved, what would they be?
Blair: I would definitely say that you could sign up for Do Something. It’s an organization for young people ages thirteen to twenty-five. It’s the perfect space to get involved. They have a gun safety campaign happening right now leading into Pride which is especially poignant because June second is National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Another thing you can do is start to ask questions. When somebody says something that doesn’t seem right to you and you can challenge it in a safe way, ask. If a teacher is talking about American history and you don’t hear Black people brought up, ask about it! They are there to teach you. Try to start to subvert things in small ways. Also, believe in yourself. It doesn’t seem as concrete, but it is. I just did a presentation at the summit about being your own role model and if you can write things daily that you like about yourself on your mirror, by the end of the summer you will have a full list of things. If you repeat that to yourself every day, that will give you the confidence to really believe in yourself in this world that says you can’t.
If you would like to learn more about Blair Imani, you can visit her website here. Also, don’t forget to preorder her Modern HERstory!