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Dalilah Muhammad on Being a Black Muslim Athlete in America 

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Olympic Gold medalist Dalilah Muhammad broke a 16-year 400m hurdling record last week with a time of 52.20 seconds at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

The southeast Queens, New York native from Rochdale Village was celebrated days later by friends, family and local elected officials and received a proclamation for her accomplishments.

Despite the support, the current anti-Muslim and anti-black climate being perpetuated under the Trump administration has weighed on the Olympic gold medalist.

“As a black athlete in America, especially in recent times I’ve been seeing a lot of racism and it’s tough to say that,” said Muhammad. “I don’t think I used to as a younger athlete, but just recently I felt the tension more so than ever. It’s alive and well and these things are still happening.”

Muhammad, 29, became interested in track and field when she was 7 years old and grew up cheering on track and field stars like Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards-Ross and Lashinda Demus, the last American woman to hold the 400m record at 52.47 seconds in 2011.

The previous world record holder was Yuliya Sergeyevna Pechonkina of Russia, who clocked in at a record-breaking time of 52.34 seconds in 2003. 

Muhammad started to pursue the sport seriously after winning the 2007 World Youth Championships in Athletics in the Czech Republic while still attending Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside, Queens as a rising senior.

“That’s where I got my start,” said Muhammad. “That year I was the fastest 400-meter hurdler in the world.”

Her time attending high school in one of the most diverse locations in the world was something that she joyfully reflects on. But she also acknowledges that times have changed for the worse since she graduated from Cardozo in 2008 and finished her college career at the University of Southern California in 2012.

“Change needs to happen,” said Muhammad. “There have been negative comments about my religion. Being a Muslim athlete and black I’ve heard negative things outside the U.S. and just in general.”

Muhammad didn’t care to elaborate or give more attention to some of the negative comments she has heard about herself or her religion. But she hopes that people become more cognizant of the challenges black and Muslim athletes currently face. 

“I don’t know if people are unaware of the things that are being said; and if you are unaware you maybe think it doesn’t happen, but I want to put it out there that it is happening,” she said.

Muhammad says she isn’t entirely sure if the racial tensions in America and abroad are soley to blame for the hatred she’s faced, or if her success and the media are also factors.

 “Social media wasn’t in play when I was a younger athlete,” said Muhammad. “After you become well known, you also are going to hear more comments.”

 In 2016, Muhammad finished first in the 400-meter hurdles at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

She refuses to let the negative comments bring her down and is focused on the World Championships in September and the Olympics in 2020.

“We’ve done more strength training and distance training,” said Muhammad of her current training regimen that helped her with her current win. “We are going to be sticking to what we have been doing and try to do it better.”

The 2019 World Athletics Championships start Sept. 28 and end Oct. 6.


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