Friday before last we awoke to the news of the massacre in Aurora, Colorado. Even though my heart was breaking for the senseless murders, I like many of us who identify as Black, held my breath and hoped and prayed that the killer was not Black. That he or she did not look like me. Later I found out, after perusing quite a few blogs and Twitter feeds that many Muslims had the same anxious moment. Both Muslims and Black folk are so stereotyped and maligned in the media that it has almost become second nature for us to wish, most times even aloud, that we hope the perp is white or at the very least does not look like us. Because looking like us in this social mediated “post-racial” very racial age means looking like a thug (ie. Trayvon Martin) or looking like a terrorist (ie.Shaima Alawadi). And everyone knows thugs and terrorists are always guilty. The Hoodie to Hijab movement was born out of these two senseless murders and I thought the significance and symbolism couldn’t be stronger and more complicated and more misunderstood.
I have quite a few friends who are Muslim, but only one of my homegrrrls wears a hijab. Earlier the same week of the “Dark Knight” murders she had taken to Facebook to vent about a fellow Muslim, presumably a friend, not knowing she was also a Muslima. “How could this be,” she wondered. “I wear a hijab, I’ve prayed with this woman and we’ve fasted during Ramadan together!” You see my grrrl wears a hijab, recognizes Ramadan and is not shy at all about her faith, but she is also an avid biker, an up and coming major photographer, she talks about the power and passion of love on her Facebook page, she takes trips, many alone, and she has no problem giving her opinion. So as a slight to her, maybe unconventional, stance as a Muslima her “friend” played slick. She acted like she never knew they were of the same faith despite, or maybe inspite of, my homegrrrl’s hijab.
I started thinking about the hijab and how it informs and liberates, but how it can also constrain and malign. So many assumptions and expectations of what it means to be a hijabi are projected on young women, who for the most part CHOOSE to publicly acknowledge their faith through their dress. It just got me thinking about freedom in the face of stereotypes. How power is lodged in the seams of prejudice.
I recalled some pictures that comrade Yasiin Bey shared with me of two hijabis with boards—one a surfer the other a skateboarder. I loved these images so much that I asked to have copies. They were empowering to me and I’m not even Muslim. I understand, however, and full-heartedly believe in the power to revise notions of beauty, femininity, and Blackness. I saw that these sistren were revising notions of what it means to be hijabi. In the NY Times two weeks ago Ayesha Nusrat said as much in her piece, “The Freedom of the Hijab.”
“As an extension of my personality and identity, it instigates me to challenge the misconception that Muslim women lack the bravery, intellect and resilience to challenge authority and fight for their own rights. Every time I see my reflection in the mirror, I see a woman who has chosen to be a rights activist, who happens to be a Muslim and covers her hair incidentally.”
That same Friday of the massacre, incidentally marked the first full day of Ramadan. So in the spirit of Ramadan I write this and ask you: When you look in the mirror who do you see? What type of woman (or man) do you see in the reflection and does your reflection echo the freedom of your spirit to be who you want to be?
This post is dedicated to Laylah, Thembisa & Bashir.