Blair Imani is a newly prominent Black American Muslim activist fighting for racial equality and women's rights.

Her activism was put on a national platform after her arrest in 2016 during a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana after the death of Alton Sterling. She also was a key organiser for a vigil that honoured the fallen police officers of Baton Rouge this past summer. Despite the attention that she received after her arrest, Blair Imani has been an activist all her life and is no stranger to resisting the powers that be.

Growing up in Southern California she and her family experienced a projected sense of 'otherness', because of the lack of diversity in their community. She found her voice in speaking up for and defending her younger sister who has autism, against students and even teachers in school. Activism is also a part of her family due to the fact that her uncle Vernon was a member of The Black Panther Party and she attributes her strength, wisdom and guidance to him as well as the support from her parents.

In recent years, Blair Imani has done some amazing things for herself and women of colour. She is the founder and Executive Director of Equality for HER, a non-profit outlet that focuses on uplifting the voices of marginalised members of the femme spectrum while also creating awareness on global issues affecting the femme community. She also serves as a press officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. I caught up with Blair to discuss the current political climate and the resistance it has incited, as well as what our country needs to acknowledge and atone for in order to move forward.

***

A lot of people are taking note of the fact that the resistance is being led by women, what does the women-led resistance mean to you?

I think for me the reason why that is, and I think the reason why all resistance has been led by women, is that men benefit so much from society. There is race, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia, but men largely benefit from a patriarchal society so there is not so much incentive to push back against that. As for women and the reason as to why white feminism is such a problem is that for women there is that deep inequality that affects me as a woman directly, but at the same time you have white feminism where they benefit from the system of white supremacy so they are not going to push back.

For Black women and Muslim women you either stress yourself out or beat yourself down dealing with shit or you fight back and I feel like that is part of life. You can not just exist in a society that is destructive to you without significant consequences, because I have the support system of people who support what I do and because I have a work environment that is supportive what I do it is my duty then to lead that and to help move that forward and I think that the women led resistance is just the world, that's the history of humanity. If you want to go back to the story of Genesis and kind of going against what you're told to do and being punished for it that is the story of womanhood period.

At the #ADayWithoutAWoman rally, Linda Sarsour talked about the perception that society has about Muslim women being meek despite the fact that many of the women calling for social change are Muslim women. Do you ever experience any shock from people about your activism because of your religion?

I think if my identity could be bifurcated in that way where I was a Muslim woman one day and a then a Black woman the next day, most people realize that I am a Black woman and that is a different perception. Linda Sarsour is Palestinian, so she does not have that perception from an American standpoint where Palestinian woman are perceived like Black women where they are violent, arrogant, uppity, all those different coded words we use to describe Black women and I have that baggage on a daily basis, of course we are going to pop off that's who we are that's our nature.

As a Muslim woman I derive so much power from the perception that I am meek and mild, the perception that I am quiet and that I am soft spoken so it's really beautiful to be able to surprise people in that way because I feel it gives me a strange credibility that I am going against what is perceived of Muslim women by also just being myself. I do think that as black women we don't let bullshit just happen and that is not a bad thing even though society perceives it to be and for Muslim women it is the same way. I think it is just kind of whatever way that society has pushed these stereotypes and characteristics and these stereotypes onto us, if we can find a way to push up against that it is resisting and being yourself.

You know I cry sometimes when I'm upset, If I am in a fight or arguing with someone I am going to be crying at the same time and I think that in addition to the perception of my religion it is able to give me a different perception. So many of the things that I was denied just being a black woman were afforded to me as a black woman who wears a hijab. There is also the consideration of colorism because I am a fair skinned black woman so I have a different experience of almost everything and also I am a convert so sometimes in the Muslim community converts are sometimes fetishized because you were not always Muslim so you are new to this and so that's sexy and that is appealing. There are a lot of factors that I have not experienced that maybe Linda Sarsour has experienced but I think across the board that whenever we are disrupting or upsetting people's perception of us it's a win towards liberation and social change because we are not the boxes society puts us in.

Your Organization Equality For HER is based on the importance of inclusion, diversity, and breaking down barriers. You have gotten a lot of recognition and created some exceptional partnerships, what are some more things you plan to accomplish with the organization?

Well I just first want to say wow! I never thought it would get to this point. The way that it started was my mom and I were having a very lively discussion about my realization that oh my goodness I'm in these feminist spaces that are racist, what the heck? Granted this is me growing up in Southern California seeing the world through rose colored glasses and being shook. Like how can you be oppressed but also oppress other people? That is actually how oppression sticks around.

My mom was like, why don't you do something to change it, and I was like well what would I change about the women's liberation and the feminine identifying folks liberation movement? Well I want it to not define what womanhood is and I just feel like that was so much at the core, and not require you to identify with womanhood to be a part of it because womanhood as we understand it in the United States is White, middle class, young but not too young. It has very specific parameters, it's Christian, and it has so many factors weighing on it and at the time I was none of those things. I was Christian but I felt like it excluded so many people, the womanhood in America is also cisgender, it's also straight, it wants and husband and those things are totally fine but it excludes so many people.

So I wanted to create a space where that idea of womanhood exists but it also is not centered because it is center everywhere else, like we just did this Women's History Month series and I was on the plane setting up the series for publishing and this woman sitting next to me asked was there only one White woman in the series and I was like oh yeah I guess so and she asked me why and I was like, well we know so much about really amazing White women but we are kind of sleeping on the women of color, gender non-conforming, trans women, non-binary and people who depart from that idea of what 'womanhood' is and that is not my job because I am very confident that there will be a whole series that is entirely White and sure enough there is article after article saying things like '5 women you should know' and they are all White women and it is a saturated market. So I am trying to look at where can we improve, where can we push the envelope; where can we change the narrative. So I am creating partnerships and with my whole team we are creating content that speaks to a wide variety of lived experience and uplifts people because I think my biggest barrier in actualizing who I am was thinking "oh I can't do this because no one who looks like me has done this in the past" and I don't want any kid or any grown person to feel that they can't be amazing because it's not for them.

What has creating a platform for people of the femme spectrum shown you about the importance of representation?

Really representation is everything, representation does not mean that change is happening but it is so much. For example, people always say that Obama's win was symbolic but even if it was just symbolic and no good or policy change came of it, which is not true, but if you can recall that picture in your mind of that boy with the curly hair touching his hair and being wowed by the fact that he could see it feel it and it was real, that picture gives me chills because I grew up not thinking that was a possibility. I was not the kid thinking, oh I'm going to be the president because that was not for me, so the feedback we get of people saying, 'wow your story is like my story and my story is different and you made me realize that's ok' just makes me realize that there is so much potential in humanity and we are cutting it off because we don't let people live.

In the past you have spoken about the valid frustrations that people of color and other marginalised people feel about their issues now being public concern despite being disregarded for so long, what are some steps we can make to move forward and began to heal those neglected wounds?

I was at a panel talking about those frustrations and a woman asked, "can't we just get over it?" and I said no we can't just get over it because that is what happens with every instance of oppression that has ever happened to us. That's like you grow up your whole life telling people that the roof was leaking on you every time you went to sleep and that you could not sleep because the roof was leaking on you and they say that you're ridiculous, and then they decided to remodel their house while you're off at college and despite the fact that the situation affected you deeply you've moved on from it but now that person has to go sleep in that bed and it's raining and the roof leaks on their face to which they decide oh let me go fix it without calling you up and telling you that they believe you. You can't just be told your whole life that you're ridiculous and that what you say doesn't make sense only for people to turn around and be completely on board with it, that's incredibly traumatic and I think that's what people are going through with the recent developments around Ferguson. We were screaming about this at the top of our lungs, we were getting criminalized and being visited by the FBI in some cases for thinking and feeling this and so it is so legitimate.

I think that before we move forward we need to deconstruct people's willingness to sign off on the fact that it's a problem now. You need to look at your anti-blackness, your misogynoir, your homophobia, your transphobia, and all of these things realizing that you contributed to it because you did not care before and so you can't just be like well I care now. If we are going to be in a healthy constructive movement relationship, then we need to look at our biases and we need to work on those biases. We can't just pretend that they do not exist because that dismisses people's feelings and lived realities.

What has your activism shown you about yourself and your own source of strength?

I have learned that I am so good at multitasking. In college it's different because you're expected to be all over the place doing ten different projects but I learned I had my 9 to 5 job and I also had Equality for HER and I am running those two at the same time. I learned that some part of me feels I don't deserve a break and that I should just be burning the candle at both ends. I learned that when something upsets me it makes it impossible for me to do my work and I need to reconcile first, and I think that is why I ended up protesting in Baton Rouge because I could not do my 9 to 5 and just not care so I had to go and settle that and be there.

I have also learned what support looks like and how I don't need to be in charge of everything. It is so much about learning about myself in fact when people tell me whatever I did was so powerful and inspired them I think wow because I think it is so selfish that I am in these situations where I am learning so much about who I am about what leadership is and improving process constantly. I have instant feedback; If I mess up and it gets on the timeline I am going to hear about it immediately, it is also tiresome and labor intensive but it is also a very unique situation and so I feel very blessed to be where I am and I never thought that I would be this religious either. Me saying blessed, I was a full on atheist when I was in middle and so it has just come full circle.

To learn more about Blair Imani and Equality for HER, you can visit her websites: blairimani.com and equalityforher.com