Portraits of the (In)visible: Examining the Intersections of Race, Religion, and Gender for Black Muslim Women in College
Griffin, Kimberly A.
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Although anti-Islamic sentiments have existed before 9/11, the past 15 years have brought about a distinct set of challenges for Muslim Americans, ones that have seldom been explored within the context of college campuses. Further, higher education scholarship has not addressed diversity among Muslims and the reality that students facing numerous forms of oppression often have unique challenges negotiating their multiple identities. This project recognizes the distinct subjectivities of Black Muslim women, examining how they navigate college at the intersections of their racial, religious, and gender identities. Through the qualitative methodology of portraiture and a Black feminist lens, this dissertation utilizes Patricia Hill Collins’s matrix of domination to present portraits of four Black Muslim women, focusing on how they make decisions about which of their identities to embody throughout their undergraduate years. Data were collected between October 2016 and March 2017, the months leading up to and following the 2016 Presidential Election. As such, this study’s primary contribution lies in uncovering how contextual influences shape the college experiences of students from marginalized backgrounds. More specifically, findings from this study reveal the significance of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s notion of the decisive moment as well as how Erving Goffman’s conceptualization of impression management can be used to explicate Black Muslim women’s resistance. As it relates to the decisive moment, or the specific time in which an artist is able to capture a snapshot of a broader image, participants discussed how political discourse about each of their social groups (e.g., Black, Muslim, woman, immigrant) shaped their campus interactions. Additionally, the decisive moment galvanized participants to fight against racial injustices. Relatedly, participants engaged in impression management, employing strategies to resist stereotypes related to one or more of their marginalized identities. In particular, participants intentionally performed their racial and/or religious identities (e.g., through wearing a headscarf, being vocal about racism) as an act of resistance. Overall, findings illuminate issues of power and privilege in different spaces, including the Muslim community, the Black community, college campuses, and the U.S., thereby disrupting narratives of universality among those who identify as Black or Muslim, within higher education and beyond.