Doha News interviewed Qatar based author Layla Saad, who is a speaker and teacher on race, identity, leadership, personal transformation and social change. We discuss her work including her internationally best selling book ‘Me and White Supremacy‘ and her life in Qatar.
Layla Saad is a New York Times Best Selling Author, wife and mother of Kenyan and Tanzanian decent.
Though she was born in Cardiff, Wales, she grew up in Tanzania, England and later moved to Qatar with her family in 1999, all while watching her ethnicity, nationality and religion shape who she is.
While growing up in the UK, Layla struggled with her identity. She attended a Roman Catholic school where she was always the ‘only Muslim’, the ‘only black child’ and very much felt as ‘the other’ for a long time.
“Society reinforces messages that say you are not the norm,” Layla told Doha News.
“What I’m enjoying about where I am in my life now is reclaiming the different parts of myself that I thought were wrong, bad or not beautiful – like my hair, my skin my features, my shape. All of these things that didn’t fit into Eurocentric beauty standards were places in which I soon recognised that I tried to make myself smaller.”
As Layla pursues anti-racism work she is also decolonising and questioning her own internalised anti-blackness and the way in which she sees herself. This is a journey that many people of colour experience coming from countries that have been ruled by colonial powers.
But the turning point in Layla’s career was the moment that inspired her to write the article ‘I need to talk to spiritual white women about race’.
The viral letter was triggered by the ‘Unite the Right Rally‘ in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, where hateful scenes of neo-Nazi’s marching the streets while displaying vitriolic unadulterated hate for people of colour emerged.
This was followed by the #meandwhitesupremacy 28 day instagram challenge that Layla created to encourage people to exercise critical thinking around race in a bid to showcase how race and white supremacy is a part of our every day lives and not just something that black, brown and indigenous people experience. “White people are also being impacted by white supremacy and enacting it too, the challenge helped them finally see it,” she says.
Her journey soon led her to launching her very own podcast, conveniently called Good Ancestor Podcast.
“Being a ‘good ancestor’ is being clear about who you are, what your values are and what contribution you want to make to this world – how you hold yourself internally and the healing work you do so that you don’t pass on the same wounds you inherited,” she notes.
“It’s deep work that informs how you walk through this earth and move through this lifetime, choosing actions and behaviours with the full understanding that you exist as a person who people are impacted by.
“Whether you have a public platform or not, everyone is impacted by you when they come into contact with you, and having full consciousness of that should be reason to be intentional about how you show up in this world,” she adds.
Earlier this year, outrage over the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and many others triggered a global conversation on anti-black racism with particular focus police brutality. This, naturally pushed academics, activists and writers like Layla to the forefront of world news.
“I noticed myself burning out and spiralling towards exhaustion. I had to sit with myself and remember why I’m doing this work,” says Layla, noting this was all happening during a global health crisis, too.
”At the beginning of the book I have a conversation around self care, support and sustainability because this work is going to bring up a lot of different emotions for people,” she adds.
Layla’s hard work bore fruit last month when she was recognised for her work in British Vogue’s: 40 activists currently shaping the future and giving us hope.
“Books have longevity and last beyond lifetime. In generations from now I want people to say my book completely changed their outlook and made them show up differently, this is literary success to me.”
“Beyond the best selling accolades I treasure that I have created work that changes people’s lives and will influence how people show up for generations to come,” she says, referencing the the Islamic concept ‘Sadaqah Jariyah’ which means ‘charity that continues even after death’.
Just like Layla, her book, ‘Me and White Supremacy’ is bold.
“It was important for me to be plain and direct. We have to name it and say what it is and how it impacts our society and the way that we think. If you get upset by hearing those words how can we have a real conversation?” she asks.
Following on from the success of her debut book, Layla is currently working on The Young Readers Edition of Me and White Supremacy, which is designed for children of all races aged 10-14 years old.
It’s a tool that aims to help children understand white supremacy and be able to have conversations with each other about racism in a way that is healthy and can create change.
“Often children of colour are having conversations about race from a young age and children with white privilege are not having these conversations until they are adults,” she explains.
“I want to help empower a generation of children who are willing to have these conversations with each other from a young age so we can have a better world.”
“It’s important to know who you are and the history you have inherited from your ancestors, whether it be pain, privilege or resilience, and to identify what your positionality is now.
“In doing so, white supremacy is no longer just seen as a terrible thing that happened to people long ago and we realise that we are all in this together.”
Anti-racism work is neither short-term nor surface-level, and requires lifetime commitment and a lot of heart, Layla tells Doha News.