“It is important to show up”: Masuma Khan on building solidarity in a fragile world

Written by Tracy Glynn on September 25, 2018

Masuma Khan speaking at St. Thomas University on Sept. 19, 2018. Photo by Maria Nazareth Araújo at The Brunswickan.

Dalhousie University student, Masuma Khan, wants people to show up for each other. A newsmaker in 2017, Khan delivered the keynote address at the NB Media Co-op’s Ninth Annual General Meeting on Sept. 19 at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

Khan opened her talk with a poem she wrote: “It’s time to talk about white supremacy, did I stutter? (…) while we’re still up with pain, you still slumber.”

Thrust into the limelight in 2017 when she successfully moved that the Dalhousie University Student Union not endorse the Canada 150 celebrations, Khan co-created a campaign called “Unlearn 150” to question the erasure of Indigenous peoples’ history that was implied by this celebration.

Elected to the Dalhousie Student Union on a platform of social justice and equity, Khan said that she was surprised that some of her constituents would not expect her to boycott the Canada 150 celebrations.

Pointing out the white fragility in the backlash she was receiving, Khan took to Facebook and wrote, “White fragility can kiss my ass. Your white tears are not sacred, this land is.”

Dalhousie University administration requested that Khan delete the post from social media, which she said she did but immediately regretted. “No one should ever not speak the truth,” said Khan.

Using the Dalhousie University Student Code of Conduct, a Dalhousie graduate student filed a complaint against Khan alleging “reverse racism.” The Senate Discipline Committee, which Khan is a member, reviewed the complaint and recommended sensitivity training and that Khan apologize. Khan refused to apologize.

When she searched for support on campus, Khan was told by a social worker that “reverse racism” existed. Dalhousie University eventually dismissed the complaint but refused to apologize to Khan.

Khan successfully ran for the Dalhousie University Student Union executive again in 2018 because of her desire to support all marginalized students: “students needed someone to protect them.”

Khan remarked that she is a settler on Mi’kmaq territory in K’jipuktuk (Halifax) and an Afghan woman whose family was also affected by colonialism. Khan shared that her grandfather had searched for the “most British place in Canada” because of how colonization had affected him. “Assimilation is incredibly real,” said Khan.

An articulate advocate against racism and Islamophobia, Khan said she is a threat because she is “a Muslim woman who has a voice and can speak English without an accent and can talk about Indigenous solidarity.” According to Khan, racists feel scared “when two of the people they don’t like hold hands.”

For Khan, building solidarity is about “showing up.” She said a megaphone and materials to make signs can be found in the backseat of her car. She spoke of the need for justice for Colten Boushie and Tina Fontaine and for solidarity with Mi’kmaq land defenders fighting Alton Gas in Shubenacadie. She noted the recent removal of the Cornwallis statue in Halifax as a positive step forward. Edward Cornwallis was the British Colonial Governor who proclaimed a bounty on the scalps of Mi’kmaq men, women and children.

To build resilience, Khan said we need to focus on community care. She said the recent focus on “self-care,” while important, can also be too concerned about the individual. “I heal through my mother, elders, community,” shared Khan.

Khan’s words struck a chord with the largely student audience, many of whom lined up after her talk to ask her questions and offer their gratitude.

With files from Sophie Lavoie.

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