“We have a primary organ of cognition, the heart that beats deeply within each of us,” said Imam Khalid Latif, university chaplain for New York University, executive director of the Islamic Center at NYU, and chaplain for the New York City Police Department.
On Feb. 1, Latif spoke at Franklin & Marshall College at Common Hour, a community discussion conducted every Thursday classes are in session.
In his talk, “Breaking the Melting Pot: Realities of Race, Racism and Religion in America,” Latif addressed racism in the United States as systemic and structural.
“Racism creates the environment and system of giving advantages to [some] people while simultaneously disadvantaging others,” Latif said. “Supremacy is not the KKK, it’s a mindset.”
In his role as chaplain for the NYPD, Latif attended the ninth commemoration of the Sept. 11 tragedies at Ground Zero. While there, he was stopped by security, who said they needed to check him “just in case.”
“Anti-Muslim sentiment is indicative and rooted in a deeply entrenched anti-blackness that our country is built on,” Latif said. “Our Civil War was not fought in the name of religion but had everything to do with race and ethnicity.”
“The realities of being detained, profiled, and surveyed I could tell you in deep detail.”
When he was stopped by security, a white woman, the mother of a victim of 9/11, interceded on his behalf. “She leveraged her privilege because it was the right thing to do,” Latif said.
Speaking directly to the audience, Latif said, “You might be the flame necessary to break out of this darkness that is hatred and racism.”
The chaplain urged those in attendance to look into their hearts and microaggressions and analyze the way they look at others.
“How you see someone isn’t indicative of who they are, but it can tell you something about yourself,” he said.
Latif discussed the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar. He recently traveled to a refugee camp in Bangladesh and spoke with many Rohingya Muslims who fled the genocide. They live in camps without clean water, adequate food, or medical facilities. As some told him their stories, he asked them what they’re looking for.
“I’m just looking for a safe place for my family,” said one.
“I want justice,” said another.
“We have to hear this with love. If you feel guilty right now, you’re making it about you,” Latif said. “You hear and understand the realities of others so you can see what you can do for them.”
How do you respond to systemic racism in the U.S., such as Islamophobia, and the cruelties of genocide in Myanmar? Latif stressed reflection, not just emotion. He encouraged the audience to listen, hear, and understand people of color in their communities.
“Organized people will always triumph over disorganized righteousness,” he said.