On being “Cool” and Hijabi

So I’ve been feeling particularly “uncool” these days.   I’m not even sure I was ever really cool – but I’ve recently felt like I’ve hit an all time low in the “cool” category.   To be honest, I’m not even sure if it’s cool to even use the word “cool” anymore.  🙂  (What are kids using these days? ) *sigh*  I mean how cool can you actually be when half your day is spent sniffing diaper clad bottoms and asking your kids to lower their voices more than your elementary school librarian?  I don’t know – there’s just something distinctly “uncool” about being a parent.  You can’t be cool sometimes and not others (can you?).  You’re either cool, or you’re not, right??? Or maybe there’s a ratio of sort, like you have to be cool at least 50% of the time to ACTUALLY be cool?  But even then…I’d lose.  I spend too much of my day doing uncool things (I say this as my son quickly wipes his nose on my shoulder…ugh.)

Then there’s been a surge in these hijabi fashionista type blogs lately that really just heighten my awareness of how much effort many Muslim women are putting into being trendy/chic/cool – and how much I’m not.  I have to admit, on some level, I enjoy them…and I get the trend in working to create an American/Muslim identity (more on that in a bit).  The result has created an increasing number in online stores that cater to muslim women – which I love.   I love the fact that there are so many more options that allow a person to express themselves while still looking put together and maintaining a certain amount of modesty.  The hijabi fashionista blogs though – I don’t know, I’m a little torn.   For me personally – I love things that are aesthetically pleasing.  I have a love/hate relationship with fashion because some of it is instinctively, intuitively beautiful, and some of it isn’t (for me).  Price and brand names are secondary.  I can love something that’s $30 and $300 equally as much.  I just love art and I love pretty things. 🙂   But I feel like there are 2 sides to this fashionista phenomenon.  (And here’s where I’m torn.)  Part of me enjoys watching the art behind it all – seeing it all come together.   Then the other part of me feels like, much like the rest of American culture, it’s creating a standard that people (Muslim girls/women in this case) might feel they need to meet, and I honestly don’t have the energy to put in that sort of effort (nor do I want to, or want to feel like I have to).  And part of me feels like, there’s something distinctly “uncool” about working that hard to be “cool” and then having to tell people “hey look at how cool I am.”  It’s like being humble and going around telling people how humble you are.  That’s how I feel about being fashionable and “cool”.  You are, or you aren’t.  But going around telling people how “cool” you are just seems a little weird to me.  Few people are able to pull it off gracefully – but the ones that do are worth watching I suppose.

Anyway back to the emergence of the hijabi fashionista phenomenon.  At first I thought it was a little weird…and excessive (and in some cases I still think that) but the more I think about it – the more I get it.  In a time and place where most people look down on who and what you are (i.e. Muslim hijab clad woman in the West), having a great pair of shoes or a nice bag, or a super outfit helps level the playing field a bit – at least on a superficial level.  It’s something our culture tends to admire, and it brings you up a notch in some people’s eyes.  I get it.  White folks might find that distinctly shallow, and it is – but when you’re not on the receiving end of discrimination – it’s easy to make that call.  I didn’t really get how racist people were until I stayed home.  Through college and even after when I worked, I was surrounded by educated people.  It wasn’t till I stayed home and encountered people from more diverse walks of life that I realized – most people’s first impressions of me are:

  1. I’m a foreigner
  2. I don’t speak english
  3. I’m uneducated
  4. I’m forced to dress this way (i.e. wear hijab)
  5. I stay home because I have been forced to

I’ve actually gone to court – in a suburban area – and had the judge talk to me like I didn’t understand.   After thoroughly charming the prosecutor and basically getting off with no points and a lowered fine for a speeding ticket, I had to go before the judge. Rather than just ask me up front if I spoke English or not – he assumed I didn’t and spoke to me like I was an idiot.  The court officer thought the judge’s reaction was very amusing when I responded in perfect English.  But situations like this sadly occur more often than you would think.   At one of my first jobs I had a coworker approach me a few months after we became friends and tell me, “You know, I used to feel really sorry for you.”  I was like why – and her response was, “because I thought you were so oppressed.”  So I asked her frankly, based on what?

  1. I am working (hence this job)
  2. I’m educated (and I was in the process of working on a graduate degree)
  3. I’ve traveled (certainly more than she had)
  4. I have friends and I go out
  5. I have interests I explore
  6. I have my own car/money, etc.

So I asked her, what part of my life do you find oppressive.  That I cover?  – well, that was my choice too.  So what’s left – and she had nothing to say.  She’s like, “I know – I just assumed when I first met you that because you were covered someone was making you do it”.   People see hijab as hard, and it can be hard at times (and not always for the reasons people think – it’s sometimes harder being on the receiving end of pitying or judgemental eyes than wearing long sleeves on a warm day).  But if you believe in something – you do it.  If you don’t believe in it, then it’s a non-issue, but you don’t make assumptions about a vegetarian because you feel it would be too hard for YOU to give up meat – even if you thought it was the craziest thing in the wold.  You respect the vegetarian for their choices, whether you agree or not, and you move on.  Parenting is hard, but you don’t find people telling a parent – “Well…this is really hard and stressing you out and you’re just not that good at it, so, just give it up.”  No, you keep working at it because although there are many many hard days, there is a joy and a personal journey that helps you learn more about who you really are, and who you want to be -that comes with choosing this path. People who make certain decisions for themselves do so  because they find a comfort or benefit in them, even if it’s hard at times.  Most things that are good for you or those around you aren’t easy (anyone who watches what they eat and exercises will tell you that).

Anyway, it’s safe to say that, if you are dressed well, people tend to have a better impression of you (hijab or not).  In our case – it helps our cause on some level.   People are already a little scared of you and less likely to approach you if you look different.  Moms generally don’t approach me at the playground.  I have to make the first move most of the time.  If you have a great pair of shoes or a nice bag in common – it melts the ice somewhat.  It makes you approachable – however superficial that may be.   It sends out an “I’m westernized” vibe – which is sad because many of us were born here or raised here our whole lives and western culture is a huge part of who we are.   Anyway, it’s tough being openly Muslim sometimes – so you do what you can to increase your appeal and confidence – whether consciously or subconsciously.   And this is just one way to arm yourself in a culture that generally doesn’t accept you with open arms.  I just think it’s sad that Muslim women have to work so hard to prove they are “normal” and just like everyone else.

The sad part is, even if you are deemed “cool” for managing to match your scarf to your outfit (which I never understood why that was such a big thing – people match their tops to their pants every day without getting a big pat on the back) – people assume you are the exception rather than the rule.  It’s a fortunate mishap that you happen to be someone worth liking and engaging – because that’s not what Muslim women are really like.  Your efforts become a reflection of you exclusively and never translate into something larger.  You don’t become a representation of what a Muslim woman is or can be – you become the exception to the rule.  Never mind that all my Muslim female friends are college educated and more often than not have a graduate degree.  Never mind that the median income and the average level of education for a Muslim American family is higher than that of the average middle-class American.   Never mind that most of our mothers are college educated professionals  (so education is not just a product of our generation or living in the West for that matter).  We come from a line of women where education was and still is deemed necessary.    But what people see in the media about who Muslim women are becomes their status quo – and you, in all your “coolness” are just a pleasant exception to the rule.  Don’t get me wrong – the Middle East and Muslim countries are plagued with issues.  But so are many poor third world countries, especially those that have suffered at the hands of colonialism.  They have a long way to go on all fronts, and unfortunately women bear the brunt of that burden – whether it’s sex slaves in southeast Asia, rapes in Rwanda, or the sexual harassment and women’s rights in places throughout the Middle East.  The Middle East just happens to get more media coverage than everyone else.

Anyway, I guess with age – I’ve started to feel a little more comfortable in my own skin – so the idea of working that hard to prove something to someone  – I just don’t know that I have it in me.  Maybe I’m lazy.  Maybe I really don’t have it in me to be “cool”.  ( And I know on some level there is a price to pay for not trying harder. ) But for fellow Muslim women – I feel like it can sometimes be a dangerous line to walk.   Becoming a slave to something – in this case fashion and/or stuff, I think it’s important to ask how empowering becoming a slave to anything (metaphorically or otherwise) is – and constantly remind ourselves (me first and foremost) that moderation and coming back to a middle ground is key.  My worry that in the quest for “cool”, the end result becomes less about art and beauty and more about subconsciously pleasing others and striving for acceptance in a culture that may not be ready or willing to whole heartedly accept you – and honestly – how empowering can that really be?

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The Atlantic: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All

Very candid and interesting read…

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can-8217-t-have-it-all/9020/?single_page=true

“It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.”

Racist Hunger Games Fans Are Very Disappointed

Here is the link to the original article. http://jezebel.com/5896408/racist-hunger-games-fans-dont-care-how-much-money-the-movie-made.  My own comments can be found below.

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So…can we discuss this a bit?  I feel like I’m losing sleep over the fact that people like this exist.  Since when, in present day “civilized” society, has it been “cool” to be a racist?

Being Muslim…. I’m kind of used to this sort of things towards Muslims. It’s currently socially acceptable (although still sad and sickening) to publicly make racists comments about Muslims, but I sort of put it in a box.  Thought perhaps it was the exception rather than the rule.

I THOUGHT we lived in the 21st century, where race lines are blurring.  Religion – sadly still a cause for divide and tension…but with race I assumed (wrongly) that progress was being made.

If you haven’t read this article – read it.  Forget about the fact that these people clearly didn’t read the books if they have any doubt that these characters weren’t white.  Their limited literary comprehension aside – the blatant racism is MIND BLOWING!  This is a good, beautiful, innocent little girl – for people to have such a negative response to a GOOD character, solely based on race (or perceived race)…it’s really demented, and makes me worry about the direction society is moving.  I don’t know if people feel comfortable behind the guise of social media – but EVEN if someone in this day in age was racist, I thought they would have at least an ounce of shame or reservation before making such a proclamation publicly (even if only out of fear of other people’s scorn).

Here are just a few of the comments made:

“…when I found out Rue was black, her death wasn’t as sad.”

“why did the producer make all the good characters black.”

“EWWW Rue is black?? I am not watching.”

“Why does Rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie for me.”

Check out the article for more…sadly…there are a ton of stomach churning comments – and this about a fictional character, who happens to be an innocent little girl.  It makes me wonder how people would react to real people, real tragedies, and real oppression directed at a white victim vs. a black, hispanic, middle eastern, southeast asian, etc. victim.  The reality is, I think the lack of response to those sort of circumstances are ultimately because, white blood is just worth more in many people’s eyes – and oppression will continue to exist – and to thrive –  in the meantime.

Lowe’s: 3 Facts About The Muslim Consumer That Should Scare The Crap Out of You

Maybe other companies can learn a little something from this fiasco with Lowe’s

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http://saadmalik.net/marketing/lowe%e2%80%99s-3-facts-about-the-muslim-consumer-that-should-scare-the-crap-out-of-you/

by Saad Malik

If you haven’t already heard, Lowe’s recently decided to pull their advertising from TLC’s “All-American Muslim,” a new reality show about American Muslims living in Dearborn, Michigan, due to backlash they received from a conservative Christian group called the Florida Family Association.

The result? A whole lot of pissed American Muslims.

Although I don’t watch the TV show or shop at Lowe’s, I thought I’d give you what I see as the 3 most important facts about the American Muslim consumer that should concern Lowe’s as a mainstream company.

Fact #1: There’s 7 million of us with a spending power of $200 billion

“Two-thirds of Muslim households make more than $50,000 a year and a quarter earn over $100,000. The national average is $42,000. Two-thirds of American Muslims have a college degree, compared with less than half of the general population.” – The Economist

Estimates of the American Muslim population vary from 5 million to 7 million, with Muslims active throughout society as entrepreneurs, doctors, engineers, lawyers, educators, athletes, and musicians.

Studies from the past few years suggest American Muslim’s have an annual spending power of $124-$200 billion just in the U.S. alone. This is similar to the Hispanic market in the early 90s, which today is worth a whopping $1.2 trillion (a punch in the face for any company who ignored it then).

Fact #2: Our highest expenses are in housing & housing services

As I was going through the Executive Summary of DinarStandard’s recent study, “American Muslim Market 2011: Business Landscape & Consumer Needs Study,” I came across something that tickled my fancy.

According to DinarStandard, when consumers were asked, “How does your household budget breakdown?” the highest expense category was the housing and housing services market, estimated at $33 billion in 2010, followed by food and education.

I’m no expert, but that sounds like a scary number for a company who’s primary market sector falls under housing services.

Source: DinarStandard, American Muslim Market 2011: Business Landscape & Consumer Needs Study

Fact #3: We just need a little bit of empathy, man

Here’s the fact of the matter: Muslim consumers want to engage, but they feel ignored.

In September 2010, Ogilvy Noor conducted research into how American Muslims were feeling about brands and businesses that they interact with today. This study titled, “A little empathy goes a long way: How Brand can engage the American Muslim Consumer” reveals the following:

  • 86% of American Muslim Consumers believe that American Companies “need to make more of an effort to understand Muslim values” but at exactly the same time they are feeling largely ignored by American brands.
  • 98% feel that “American brands don’t actively reach out to Muslim consumers”.
Source: Ogilvy Noor, A little empathy goes a long way: How brands can engage the American Muslim Consumer

Here’s where it gets real juicy:

“This despite these consumers showing the potential to be an extremely loyal customer base, with over 80% saying that they would prefer to buy brands that support Muslim identity through promotion and celebration of religious festivals, for example. And it’s not just that these are great consumers to have on your side — it’s also that they can be potentially vastly damaging to have against you. When faced with a brand that has offended Muslims, almost 99% of consumers said that they would stop using it, 65% doing so even if the available alternatives were not
as good. “

Lowe’s, if you’re reading this and want to know how you can earn back the loyalty you’ve lost in the past few days from American Muslims, here’s a break down by DinarStandard from the results of the 2011 American Muslim Consumer Advocacy Survey that should help you.

Source: DinarStandard, American Muslim Market 2011: Business Landscape & Consumer Needs Study

Conclusion

Lowe’s, it’s not easy to please everyone, we get it. But it’s time to get real. American Muslims are young, educated, and have a serious purchasing power which will only grow for the years to come. As Ogilvy Noor put it, a little bit of empathy goes a long way.

Until then, we know who’s going to get some serious street cred…

via @uncleRUSH

P.S. For those of you who don’t know, I’m one of the organizer’s of AMCC, an annual conference which focuses on understanding and marketing to American Muslim consumers. I encourage you to check out the website and reach out to the team if you’d like to learn more.

Book: Mornings in Jenin

This book should be required reading for everyone.   For the average American, it’ll humanize the Arabs and the tragedy that is Palestine, in a way you’d never expect – the “other side” to an often one-sided story.   A side that the media has completely neglected.  You will cry for their suffering, for their humiliation, for their loss.  To lose your family- your parents, your siblings, your husband, your children…to lose your innocence as a child, and your dignity as an adult – it’s beyond compehension.  And yet it exists.  Not just in Palestine, but in many places across the globe.   You’ll be engulfed in shame for being so quick to judge and malign.   For looking away.  For denying the horrors willingly- willfully, while supporting the oppressors in their ongoing oppression.  In many ways, it’s reminiscent of what happened to the Native Americans.   Forced off their land, oppressed, killed and years later, living out their days on reservations (arguably the modern-day euphemism for glorified refugee camps).

On a fundamental level, it’s not about taking sides.  Not really anyways.  It’s about humanity.  The humanity that exists on both sides.  And it’s about losing one’s humanity – for both the oppressor, and the oppressed – by denying the rights that make us all human. 

In an odd way, it also made me understand the plight of the Jews and their desire to survive, although it doesn’t excuse the path which they have taken, any more than it excuses a Palestinian “terrorist” acting out of desperation.  It made me realize the sheer ugliness and brutality of war.  What the Jews endured in the Holocaust…it forced them into survival mode, and their desperation to survive has given them tunnel vision.   Life becomes about living by any means necessary.  That’s what desperation does.  I fault the world and the Zionists for taking advantage of that after World War II.  Dangling a carrot in front of people who have endured what no one should endure.  Telling them, “You can have a home.  You can have a life – a future.  Here are the keys to the kingdom – just make sure you clean house – regardless of whose house it is.”  

If it’s between them surviving and the Palestinians surviving…they chose themselves – and anyone in their shoes would probably do the same.  How else could anyone do what was done to the Palestinians, and find the logic to justify it in their heads and hearts?  That is the only way I can even try to rationalize how someone can allow such oppression because I can’t imagine anyone with any conscious watching idly as it happens.  Not ONLY allowing it – but condoning it, supporting it, being a part of it.  I just can’t wrap my mind around it.  But then again, I live in the security of my own home, with food and water, and safety.   My days are comparatively uneventful.  There’s work and school and dinner.  Breaking up fights over toys and making sure my kids brush their teeth.  I have not experienced war or oppression.  I don’t know what it’s like to have another human being knowingly take the life of someone I love.  I don’t know, and I pray that I never will…

War breaks people, and so, despite my anger at Israel for chosing themselves at the cost of others, I don’t know what anyone else in their shoes would have done.  I blame the world for letting it happen though.  For standing on the sidelines.  Heck, for making it happen.  You can’t right the wrong of the Holocaust by allowing another tragedy take its place.  Maybe Arab blood is worth less in the world’s eyes…maybe that’s why it’s ok.   But peace can’t exist where oppression lives. 

For me, I’m just heartbroken.  I think about how characters remind me of relatives and family friends.  There is so much I recognize that I can’t help but think my poor brothers and sisters – they are like my family.  They could BE my family.  What if this were me…my family, my children…my life.  I can’t even begin to fathom.  Between this, and the last book I read, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” I can’t swallow how this is a reality for so many, and how the world keeps on living in oblivion – sheltered, comfortable, selfish.  I’m humbled, and embarrassed and my heart aches, more so because of how easily the world looks away or casts blame as a way to alleviate any responsibility on themselves and their conscience.  Here in the US, we rarely see the other side – and I think most don’t care too.  Knowing means a conscience ill at ease.  It means a responsibility being placed on you to do something about it. 

Anyway, I highly recommend this novel.  Not because, Palestinians are good, and Israelis are bad.  I recommend it because you will see life, and love, as well as the humiliation, desperation and pain of other human beings that have been denied for so long.  You will see yourself in some of these characters, and you will mourn them.  You will learn what desperation drives people to.  You will learn that people aren’t born hateful and angry.  They are born like you and me.  They laugh and love and dream..and you learn how the circumstances of their existence shapes them.  What it means to lose one’s honor and dignity, the humiliation of not being able to protect and provide for your family.  The constant struggle.  The frustration.  The realization that circumstances won’t change and the desperation for change, any change.

Needless to say,  I pray for peace, not just in Israel/Palestine, but everywhere.  Oppression is an ugly thing – it only brings out the dark side of humanity.  No good will every come of it.  Good can’t grow where poison lives.