From White Racism to Islam: Meet Imam Shane Atkinson

This American working-class white, Shane Atkinson, was raised in Jackson, Mississippi, in a family steeped in white supremacy.

Yet, his love for the Afrocentric 80s hip-hop has bumped him into a Muslim family that changed his life forever, North Carolina Public Radio reported on July 15.

“They asked ‘Are you Muslim?’ And I think that’s the first time I really thought about it. I said, ‘Yeah, I think I am Muslim,’” Atkinson recalls when he had yet to formally convert to Islam.

His deep interest in the religion and to the Afrocentric movement starkly contrasted with the narratives he heard growing up among his white racist community.

“My parents might let a racial slur slip out in traffic … I can remember being a small child and repeating what they said, and them telling me, ‘Don’t say that’ … They didn’t tell me that it’s wrong to say that word … They just said ‘Don’t say that word,’” Imam Atkinson recalled.

After turning away from the parental domination, Atkinson started to explore Islam in the following years. He made the decision to convert to Islam after almost ten years of personal exploration.

As time went on, Atkinson came to understand that he would have to reconcile the racist culture in which he was raised with his new anti-racism faith. That quest led him to start a Facebook group called the “Society of Islamic Rednecks,” which he envisioned as a space for Southern white Muslims.

Through his new Islamic society, he worked to excise the influence of white supremacy and misogyny from their culture. The Facebook group became a hub for more than a thousand converts like him scattered across the American South.

The idea of an Islamic, anti-racist re-envisioning of Southern white culture attracted the attention and support of historically-black mosques, many of which had undertaken a project of cultural reinvention decades earlier.

Those mosques who also used to be Afrocentric and xenophobic provided Atkinson a space to host workshops and discussions, both for the Muslim community as a whole and for a smaller group of white converts.

Atkinson now serves as assistant Imam at two of the historically black mosques in the Triangle that supported his efforts: Ar-Razzaq Islamic Center in Durham and As-Salaam Islamic Center in Raleigh.

According to 2016 study by Pew Research Center, around 500,000 people converted to Islam between 2010-2015. It’s a fact that Islam is growing rapidly in the West.

In the US alone, the number of Muslims has risen dramatically, from about 10,000 in 1900 to three million or more in 1991 (some authorities say 4.5 million).

In America, the majority of Muslim converts are African-American (a third of all Muslims according to most authorities), but there have also been significant numbers of Anglos to convert as well, many of them well-educated.

Some examples like Imam Atkinson is Ibrahim Douglas Hooper who is an American Muslim convert. Hooper is the National Communications Director and spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He was born in Canada to a family of European ancestry and migrated to the US after converting to Islam.