Gender & Identity, Life

I’m tired of hearing you explain who I am to me

"Progressive views, no burka, simple name... Ah, yes, a moderate Muslim!"

He said, “It’s happened before, you know. The scapegoating? Irish, Japanese, German people… Americans always find a scapegoat, and then move on to the next one. Islamophobia is a passing phase.”

My mouth is ajar as I stare at the person before me. My eyes are fixed on strange string of statements now lingering between us, as I search my mind for the perfect semblance of words.

While I struggle to explain my offense, I take care to explain that I am a woman who seeks solidarity between all marginalized groups. I embrace difference while scrambling to find the sameness, in a world that has othered me since childhood.

And with that in mind, sir, your comparisons are reductive, not because Japanese internment wasn’t a tragic, ugly period of our history. And not because discrimination of immigrants wasn’t a significant problem.

But because the word “scapegoat” does not to encompass the systematic torture, killing, forced disappearances, propaganda, and globally accepted hatred of Muslims.

Would you dare tell a Black man that police brutality will eventually pass, just as slavery, apartheid, and the Civil Rights Movement, and to look to the Irish as an example?

Just because our history and the injustices against us have been buried by the media, does not mean you can take it upon yourself to bury my suffering into your idea of American history.

She said, “It’s a little pretentious how so many Muslims name their kid Mohammed. Considering he’s the leader of Islam.”

Forget that Biblical names like Jesus (Isa), Joseph (Yusuf), Mary (Mariam), and Gabriel (Jabreel) are common all over the world.

Forget the fact that every Muslim knows that the Prophet was not a man to be worshipped, but a messenger of a worshipped God.

While you’re at it, go ahead and forget the fact that despite your higher degree, you lack even an elementary understanding of my religion. Your conceptualization of a prophet you know by name and nothing else is worth nothing to me.

He said, “You might as well give up your religion, since you make up so many excuses not to fast.”

You’re absolutely right, college-educated peer, knower-of-all-things. Thank you for informing me that my Islamic obligation to not fast during my menstrual cycle or while traveling has all been a sham.

Thank you for reducing my religion to a series of meaningless actions.

I might as well go join a Qur’an burning party now.

She said, “I walked past a Palestinian wedding at a hotel this weekend, and I saw the three most beautiful Palestinian bridesmaids.”

I know that you mean to be kind. You want to connect with me somehow, you want to show me that you recognized a Palestinian wedding, you want to assert your admiration of these exotically beautiful women.

But would you want me to tell you I walked by a wedding and saw three of the most beautiful white women?

Then she said, “They must have been Christian, or at least non-conservative Muslims, based on the dresses they were wearing.” 

And how do you feel about my level of faith based on my outfit today?

Is your thought process based on your CNN-colored image of Arab Muslim woman, or based on the multitude of Muslims you have never met?

The ones who do not measure their faith by the amount of fabric on their bodies.

“No, really, they were so beautiful. Gorgeous, really gorgeous girls. I’ve never seen women that stunning.”

When I hear your exclamations, almost surprised at the beauty of the Palestinian bridesmaids, I understand that your vision of my country is muddled by a blur of black niqabs and shapeless abayas.

I want to ask how much you know about my country and its people. I want to ask how, as a woman of color, you would be so bewildered at the sight of conventionally attractive Arab women in tight dresses.

I want to ask if you will keep describing these women on this occasion, as if I have never been to a Palestinian wedding with Palestinian women more beautiful than myself, until I join you in your wonder.

I want to evoke the great Toni Morrison and say, “Yeah, but why so loud?

But I say nothing. In these situations I become too tired to speak. I’m tired from years of being tired. Exhausted from having to politely listen to respectable people, with their their good intentions and their fancy educations and their daily news apps, that make them think they have the authority to speak on anything and anyone.

And in these situations, I reflect on myself and which of my behaviors enable this mindset. Is it because I respect my peers and my colleagues, that they feel their uninformed opinions carry any weight in my mind? Is it because I am a young woman, that I am naive, and it is thusly appropriate for a grown man to provide an unwarranted analysis of my lived experiences for me?

Or is it because you had a Persian friend in high school that you just “get it?”

The more I age, the more I navigate the workforce, and the more I interact with professional, respectable people, the more I am made devastatingly aware that my culture is unseeable. Instead, what is made visible is a distorted image of my people that I no longer match.

Muslims, Arabs, Desis, African Americans, you name ‘em – we have all been homogenized, our nuances erased, our voices muted.

So much so, that even when I am standing in front of someone I am meant to respect, I turn inside out so my identity is distorted, even to myself, my voice completely muted.