The following is guest post by Kieta Iriarte-Amin, founder of Mpolo Business Solutions.
Mpolo Business Solutions provides virtual business support to nonprofit organizations, entrepreneurs, and solopreneurs.
My heart was heavy on November 8, 2016. My children followed the 2016 presidential election because even at nine and fourteen, they understood the outcome would affect their lives. My husband and I have never hidden the realities and responsibilities that come with being Black, Muslim, and Female. The election of Donald Trump reinforced those lessons.
Rania, my nine-year-old, became especially excited with comparing Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. She attended the rally for Bernie with her father when he visited Baltimore earlier on in the 2016 presidential campaign. Rania couldn’t wait to see the election. She was excited for the possibility of the first woman president. Like other families around the nation, we watched the election results in real time. Around midnight, disappointed and defeated, we sent the children to bed.
Because Rania is nine, she only remembers a White House with images that reflect her own household. The images included an African American husband and wife with their two children who recognized and combated racial stereotypes daily. How do I tell her that “he” was officially the winner. When she woke up that morning and saw the look on our faces, the answer was apparent. She shed a tear of disappointment and then began to question the election process she held so close.
Having the ability to sit back and reflect is a luxury many cannot afford. As angry as we are, we had to take emotion out of the scenario and start making intergenerational changes. We cannot fit in a box that was not designed for us.
Based on the platform that Trump ran on, we knew what was to come during his presidency. We knew that we would become invisible once again. Being Black, Muslim, and a Woman in America is like having three strikes against you without being invited to the game.
How do you live in a world where your livelihood is threatened every day? How do we protect our children from prejudices?
Police brutality, Black Lives Matter, Tiki Torch Whites, Muslim Bans, immigration issues, North Korea, women’s rights, pay equity, income discrepancies, digital divides, and gentrification. We are living in a state of stress.
In order to help her cope with her stress, I explained to my daughter the concept of Sabr, the Islamic virtue of “patience” or “endurance," or more accurately "perseverance" and "persistence." I explained that this virtue is a verb. We have to actively pursue Sabr. As upset as we are now, how can we use that anger to affect permanent change. As we patiently wait for him and his administration to leave office, what can we do now? I had to turn that question inward.
What was I doing to combat systemic racism, classism, sexism that go beyond “his” election as President?
That past year, I interviewed for dozens of jobs. During the interviews, I would receive comments about my hijab, about being over qualified for the position, or encounter interview panelists who struggled to pronounce my name. I even received and accepted a job offer but was quickly fired because the owner said I didn’t think like him. These interactions made me feel powerless. The livelihood of my family and my success was determined by stereotypes and overtly sexist managers. This is when I decided to become an entrepreneur. My method of active resistance would include starting my own business and helping other women of color do the same.
Being a Black, Muslim Woman, you’re defined by others. Stereotypes and judgements precede interviews. Applications and resumes are overlooked because of strange sounding names. Judgements are made from hiring managers by zip codes on resumes. The only way to combat these stereotypes was to create my own space.
After the election, I made a commitment to myself and my family to be visible. I got professional headshots, increased my social media presence, developed an email marketing plan, and wrote grants and proposals to increase funding. I also began working with Impact Hub, a co-working space in the middle of Baltimore City where I hosted an Iftar during Ramadan and co-hosted a weekend long Muslim arts expo called Art of Ramadan.
One core principle of Islam is helping others. My small business helps entrepreneurs, small business owners, schools, and small nonprofit organizations. Helping others become financially independent through owning their own business is my mission. How can women and children stop the cycle of financial abuse if they are never taught how to become self-sufficient?
We have to take steps to be more visible in the communities we work and live in.
Since the election, my children have started their own businesses. They have attended meetings with me, worked in a co-working space, wrote business plans, participated in fundraising events, mentored other youth, spoken on social justice issues, and learned budget principals that they can pass to their children.
So how have you patiently persevered during uncertainty? Do you get upset and let emotion take control or do you reflect and think about your God given skills and using those skills to affect positive change?
Like other working mothers, aunties, sisters, and daughters, it is impossible for me to separate my professional, personal, and spiritual lives. I pray that this is a letter to other brown girls who have a voice but have never been given that opportunity to use it.
The ICJS Entrepreneurs Lunchtime Series (ELS) brings together local entrepreneurial leaders to discuss the role that religion and ethics can play in building healthy communities. In this initiative, the ICJS will contribute the perspectives of local Jews, Christians and Muslims to the public conversation about religion and ethics in Baltimore. Each contributor represents her or his own opinion. We welcome and lift up this diversity of perspectives.