These days, writing about being a Muslim woman and [insert trending topic/Donald Trump here] is exhausting. Straight up, exhaustion seeps into my very bones every time I have to answer to someone’s questions about how life’s like being Muslim/woman/Arab/other/immigrant/whatever. Emotions bottled inside me with the exception of an occasional outburst on Twitter, it’s part of my day to day life.

But there’s one thing that pushes me beyond silence. There’s one thing that aggravates me to no end, the tears welling up in frustration every time I push through the incident.

Everyone yearns to belong, to be a part of community. To feel wanted, accepted, allowed. No matter who or what or where we are, it’s universal across the board. It’s the one thing that stands true no matter what. So what happens when you rip that away from someone? What happens when fear, hatred, anger, or apathy kick into play?

Simple: As a Muslim woman, as a visible Muslim, as a woman of color, as an other, I am not allowed the community everyone else belongs to. It’s shown to me in carefully nuanced moments, revealed to me in the way I’m carefully left alone in the middle of a crowded subway car, shown to me in the way that a crowded table quickly evaporates when I sit down, just trying to get some work done.

[bctt tweet=”I can sit here and pretend that it doesn’t affect me, but hell. It does. “]

I can sit here and pretend that it doesn’t affect me, but hell. It does. It hurts in a way that can’t really be explained, a loneliness seeping into my bones, painful every moment it happens – even though it’s been happening for years. It still finds me at home, tears falling in defeat.

I still remember how it felt when the kids in my class stopped considering me one of their own. I didn’t know why back then. I didn’t understand how things could go from hot to cold in the span of a day.

Years passed. I got older. The world was less innocent. And throughout it all, I found my belonging to the community around me ebbed and flowed with the foreign policy sentiments of the nation. With positive news came big smiles, rushed greetings during the morning commute, warm feelings, and people grabbing the seat next to me during rush hour.

With negative news came silence, isolation, alienation, and a perpetual empty seat next to me. With negative news came the reality that I had to take a deep breath in the morning before I headed out, fixing my hijab in the mirror and silently pumping myself up to be the fullest self I could be, no matter how the people around me treated me.

Sometimes, I’d falter. Exhausted by the micro-aggressions and side-eye, I found myself stripped of my loud self, my voice, the laughter that so easily bubbled up from within me. I felt dulled, a mirage amidst everyone moving about on a day to day basis, unaware that they’d just broken me a little bit more with their implicit phobia and fear.

[bctt tweet=”I refuse to stop laughing, and I refuse to be anything but my full self.”]

These days, more than ever, surrounded by hateful rhetoric, crimes against women like me, and the uncertainty that I’ll return home in one piece, I find myself fighting against being cowed down by people’s hatred, fear and aggressions. I refuse to give in to the way visibly Muslim women are othered, attacked and disallowed their space in community.

I refuse to stop laughing, and I refuse to be anything but my full self. I still find myself struggling on the days I hear about yet another hate crime, but there’s no way I’ll be defeated by the bigots. It would give them too much satisfaction.

I am everything they don’t want me to be. I am myself. I am human. I am Laila.


  • Laila Alawa

    Laila Alawa is the CEO and Founder of The Tempest, a leading media company where the world goes to hear the stories of diverse millennial women. She is also the host for The Expose, a weekly podcast tackling tough topics with snark and wit. Her work has been mentioned in The Guardian, BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, Mashable, Color Lines, Bustle, Feministing, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. She's also appeared on Al-Jazeera America, BBC World News, NPR, and Huffington Post Live.

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