Sunday, April 21, 2013

Post-Race America - Nabiha Hashmi

            September 11th was horrifying to me as a child; I do not think I truly grasped the idea that when the building went down…people had died until I saw pictures of people jumping out of the building. I remember having countless nightmares of how I would escape a falling building. I remember I always thought I would never stoop to jumping out of the building until I heard the miracle story of one man who had survived the jump. I thought the most the attacks had affected my family was my uncle who was in the building next to the world trade center and from whom we were not able to get into contact with until late at night. But, I did not realize it would affect us any more than that…
  • that we would have to find my brother, Osama, another name
  • that we would have to explain why we followed a religion that promoted such attacks
  • that our family trips to Canada were lessened and our time at the border elongated
  • that I had to argue with my father to let me wear the hijab for he feared I might be victimized
            But, life is filled with surprises and positives to weight out the negatives. Post-racial America meant educated people who questioned perceptions and viewpoints and didn’t let the stereotypes fill their thinking. It meant…
  • we were talked out of changing my brother’s name by his preschool teacher who loved his name.
  • that when we explained our religion, it was in a safe space created by the community in an interfaith dialogue group.
  • that racial profiling was being recognized and questions like safety vs. civil rights were being brought up.
  • that I win every argument with my father so of course, I got to wear the hijab.
            Another positive I saw was that although there were hate crimes, we weren’t purposely being targeted. Maybe only at airports and borders and I was more than happy to give up my rights for the sake of public safety. I do not mean this in a sarcastic way; I honestly did not mind getting checked over and over. It made sense to me.

            The Simplified Complex Representations that emerged especially after 9/11 of these positive Muslim/Arab characters that were added into plot lines that still revolved around terrorism made it seem as if those characters were complex but actually they were creating simple binaries of what it means to be a good/bad Muslim/Arab. And I too was reflecting this in who I was as a person. As someone who publicly can be identified as a Muslim, I found myself questioning my ways based on how I thought everyone would judge me. I never spoke against anything the U.S government did (not that I knew much) and always felt the need to be extra vocal on my patriotism. I made sure to smile extra, not because I wanted to, but because I didn’t want people to assume that since I wasn’t smiling it meant I was oppressed and to add to the victim narrative trope. I felt the weight of my religion and those who follow it on my shoulders. I still do. I never questioned it; it forced me to understand my surroundings. It shaped who I became and it made me okay with the inferential racism and the race profiling that did occur around me.

            I, too, was assuming that there was a binary between a good Muslim and a bad Muslim and I was trying my hardest to fit into the good Muslim image. I did not realize I was doing these – I was so engulfed in this hegemonic thought. I, myself, started to essentialize beards and niqabs with an extreme version of Islam when it truly is not. The power of this discourse was that it made Muslims themselves fearful of portraying some of these stereotypes because of how much we internalized these conflations between the negative attributes put on certain parts of our religious practice. I think the best way to diminish this binary is by telling more stories - not only the victim story. I think the online world is a perfect place for images and stories of Muslims of all types to really get out there and tell their own story. It is by showing these multiple layers of a Muslim identity that the stereotypical Muslim image can be erased. 

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