A Coptic Call for Solidarity

“On May 25, 2020, Minneapolis Police killed George Floyd about 150 meters (500 feet) from my home. Proximity shouldn’t matter in cases like this. We should be outraged by the brutal, slow-motion execution of an unarmed, handcuffed Black man by a police officer no matter where it happens, but the fact that it took place so near my home, at an intersection that was immediately familiar to me in the bystander footage, opposite a convenience store and a takeout restaurant that I frequent, makes Floyd’s killing all the more visceral. On May 26th I walked over to join the estimated 10,000 protesters who gathered to mourn George Floyd’s killing and demand justice for his family. Among the many signs I saw at the protest were several that read “Asians for Black Lives,” likely a response to the fact that one of the police officers involved came from Minneapolis’ sizable Asian American community. Later that evening I read contentious debates on social media about the prevalence of anti-Blackness in the Arab community and how we, the Coptic community, often participate – wittingly or not – in American white supremacy even while being its victims.”

Joseph R. Farag, Minneapolis-based Copt

As challenging as it can be to confront racism within our own marginalized and racialized communities, we must speak up. Our critical and loud introspection as minoritized groups are essential to combating racism both within and outside our communities. Therefore, it is profoundly disheartening that Coptic communities of North America have repeatedly fallen short of holding positions that are actively anti-racistto condemn systemic and systematic racist violence visited daily upon our Black neighbors and friends by the police and state. As Copts, we are better positioned than many to recognize the pernicious effects of state-sanctioned discrimination and violence. We know firsthand the consequences of being a maligned religious minority in our Egyptian homeland, with many of us immigrating in the hopes of living lives free from discrimination and harassment. When 28 mostly Coptic protestors were killed by security forces in the Maspero Massacre in 2011, and another 321 injured, we were justly outraged. When police facilitate, and even instigate, violence against Copts in Egypt, we are justly outraged. When avenues for justice are obstructed, we are justly outraged. And in North America, Copts too experience racism and discrimination. Yet, our silences regarding the systematic police killings of Black people in our newfound home of North America speak volumes.

But we are not merely passively complicit in anti-Black racism through our silence or abstaining from active anti-racism. Too often we are actively complicit, whether it’s our parents discouraging us from befriending and dating Black people, our aversion to Black neighbors, or even the contempt and condescension toward Black parishioners within our churches. Colorism pervades in our communities with aesthetic preferences for fair skin and straightened hair. Anti-Blackness also shapes our treatment of Nubians and other dark-skinned Egyptians, as well as members of our sister churches in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and Black Copts within our own communities. Colorism and racism within the Coptic community can be traced back to British colonialism and American cultural imperialism. In other words, systemic racism not only targets our communities, but it is so pervasive and endures to the present.

We must confront the fact of anti-Blackness in North America. Our justified objections to the persistent harassment, discrimination, and overt violence faced by members of our community in Egypt and North America should compel us to condemn the same when it happens to Black people. This is especially our responsibility as we become an integral part of the North American fabric.

George Floyd was going to the store. Breonna Taylor was in her own home. It should not have ended this way.

We are calling on Copts to stand in solidarity with Black people in North America by:

1. Communicating with our neighbors and customers instead of calling the police. We urge Copts to build relationships of solidarity and mutuality with Black people in our communities. Here is a resource, in Arabic and English, about alternatives to policing.

2. Educating ourselves on the history of racism and police brutality against Black people in North America.

3. Learning from and getting involved in anti-racism and anti-discrimination work done by the following collectivities:

4. Unearthing and critiquing our own anti-Blackness and internalized colonization, and understanding how it shows up in our daily lives. This includes believing and listening to Black people, including Black Copts and Afro-Arabs in our own families and communities.

5. Having difficult conversations with our family, children, and friends about racism, colorism, discrimination and police brutality.

6. Advocating for the redistribution of wealth in Black communities ravaged by displacement and government-sanctioned cutoffs from resources (homes, schools, water, etc.) One example of this is to support and donate to Black businesses.

7. Donating to organizations and bail funds to support protestors, as well as memorial funds for George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.

8. Demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Dreasjon Reed, Tony McDade, and for all the Black women, men and transgender people who have been unjustly murdered.


Authors

Joseph R. Farag, Assistant Professor of Arab Studies, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, Minneapolis, USA

Marcus Zacharia, Community Worker and Organizer, Ottawa, Canada

Monica Isaac, Community Worker and Small Business Owner, Michigan, USA

Miray Philips, PhD Candidate, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis/Washington DC, USA

Lydia Yousief, Director of Elmahaba Center, Nashville, Tennessee, USA

Carolyn Ramzy, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, Carleton University, Canada

Alexandra Estafan, Educator, Artist and Community Worker, Los Angeles, California, USA

Signatories

Safwat Marzouk, Associate Professor of the Old Testament, Goshen, Indiana, USA

Mary Fawzy, Researcher, Cape Town, South Africa

Michael Akladios, Founder, Coptic Canadian History Project, York University, Canada


Featured image is of the George Floyd mural in Minneapolis. Artists are Xena Goldman, Cadex Herrera, and Greta McLain and the photograph is taken by Lorie Schaull.


The CCHP is always looking for people to contribute to our digital initiatives. Please contact theCCHP@gmail.com if you would like to join or support the Project.

6 thoughts on “A Coptic Call for Solidarity

  1. Being anti-racist is a laudable goal. But your opening paragraphs conveniently omit the fact that oppression against the Copts in Egypt (over almost 2000 years and to this present day), which really represents the one, unifying, all-encompassing experience of discrimination faced by Copts, has nothing to do with the color of their skin? And was/is committed by those who share their skin color? And not just by those in uniform but also their neighbors? Just be careful of overly simplistic assertions…Every one, Copt or otherwise, should stand against racism, there’s no need to build on academic rationales not founded on reality.

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    1. I understand your frustration about the continuous oppression of Copts in Egypt. This statement though is not about the oppression of Copts based on their faith in Egypt. Also this is not an academic paper and the writes are not all academics.

      Important to mention that it’s deeply incorrect and baseless to think that everyone is standing against racism. Many people and institutions condemn racism while their systems are structurally build on racial profiling. That includes religious institutions including the Coptic Orthodox Church, government institutions, and cultures including the Coptic culture in North America. This statement calls for self reflection and honest exploring for our racism and internalized racism. It’s a call to start the road of learning and unlearning, for the future , for our common good as Copts in living outside of Egypt.

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  2. Thank you so much for writing this. It’s so important to educate ourselves and hold our community accountable. Already sent to some family members!

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