Sonia Marcella Martinez had only been an Uber driver for five months before her first instance of discrimination took place. In a horrid series of events, Sonia met Rene Hunter on a Facebook group called Uber Women’s Driving Network. “[Rene] asked me how I could even drive if I was Muslim,” Sonia told Coming of Faith in an exclusive interview, “I told her that in America, you’re allowed to drive. In response, Rene told me that she was blocking me.” After that, Sonia received a screenshot from the Facebook group administrator of a conversation between the administrator and Rene. In it, Rene Hunter put her bigotry and Islamophobia on full display. She allegedly complained that the ride-sharing company “allowed” a Muslim driver to wear a headscarf, which she mislabeled as a “berka.”
This woman is trying to get me fired from being an Uber driver because she doesn't like that I'm Muslim and I wear a headscarf when I drive. Please share.
Sonia was scared when she initially saw the complaint. She told Coming of Faith, “I didn’t want Uber to deactivate me if it’s my right to wear a hijab and drive, but I was still concerned. What would happen if Rene got a hold of someone [bigoted] in Uber who happened to deactivate me?” She shared the screenshot with the Facebook group Muslims are not Terrorists, in hopes of getting solidarity from others who might understand her situation.
Sonia was completely floored when the screenshot of Rene’s bigotry went viral, spreading like wildfire across Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit and various women’s forums. “It was shocking, actually,” she shared with Coming of Faith. “I didn’t think it would be this big. As a Muslim woman, I feel helpless at times. People think we’re weak, but I’ve gotten messages telling me to be brave and to keep driving.” In part, the story has pushed other Muslim women to share their stories: One woman, Leilah Abdurahman, shared that she also received Uber and Lyft cancellations, that she suspected were motivated by prejudice and Islamophobia. Visibly Muslim, she still continues to drive.
Throughout it all, Sonia keeps her head up high. “I always encourage hijabi drivers to go out and try driving for Uber,” she told Coming of Faith. “I’ve continued to drive for Uber even in the midst of everything.”
For Rene Hunter and her Islamophobia, karma has not been kind. People across the web have shared Rene’s personal information, workplace and employer’s contact details. Dozens of users shared images of the messages they sent to Rene denouncing racism, as well as complaints sent to her employer in North Carolina. Others submitted outraged reviews to her employer’s pages. As a result of the backlash, she has deleted her Facebook and Twitter accounts, and her employer disabled reviews and comments on their websites. And with good reason. Some gems from her Twitter include the following:
In the meantime, Sonia is continuing to move forward. “I just want to raise awareness that this sort of thing happens. People have to be educated about our constitutional rights – which include freedom of religion. It’s protected for us, and should continue to stay that way.” She’s planning to attend law school, in order to make a positive impact on society.
Rene Hunter’s driver status with Uber is currently under investigation by the company.