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Tue, Oct. 23rd, 2012, 08:15 pm
pastwatcher: Wearing a hijab for a few hours

I have a new motto: "It might be good for you to walk a mile in someone else's shoes, but you should ASK before you take their shoes."

Check out the Tumblr discusion, here. That Tumblr, "Oppressed Brown Girls, Doing Things" is very good, and among other things satirizes white feminist attitudes towards brown women. Apparently there was a young white non-Muslim woman, who wore a hijab for a couple hours (with some friends) because she heard from a friend that hijabiis get mistreated. She was shocked by the results of their social experiment, and now she's trying to draw as much attention to it as possible. I'm guessing this is USA but not sure.

I dunno if it's a bad idea to do such an experiment for your own education; I would certainly ask around first. But then if you make a big story, all about you? Without talking to any hijabiis about their experiences? Without bothering to seek out activists, writers, and resources for supporting Muslim women (with or without hijabs) near you?

I don't even know how much of the problem is the individual actors, and how much is a mainstream culture that somehow thinks "social experiments" are so cool that a white non-Muslim should be the mouthpiece for Muslim women of color. I've seen it before, though--crossdressing cis people speaking for trans people, people using blackface, a guy gets a book deal because he pretended to be gay for a year (and needed "protection" from being hit on in bars), ...

And people wonder, why do Others angrily say "hey! You took my shoes without asking, and now everybody thinks you're so important for wearing them"?

From the Tumblr conversation:
Please note, they’re always trying to find out if PoC are telling the “truth” and when we are, they’re SHOCKED. Not at our experiences, but simply that we were telling the truth.

We’re all liars until a White person also tells them, or they pull a stunt like this, and even then, it’s only an isolated incident, isn’t it?

Wed, Oct. 24th, 2012 02:07 am (UTC)
blaiderunner

I don't even know how much of the problem is the individual actors, and how much is a mainstream culture that somehow thinks "social experiments" are so cool that a white non-Muslim should be the mouthpiece for Muslim women of color.

Isn't it all of the above? For some reason, appropriation is a really hard thing for white liberals to grasp. I think it's the arrogance of thinking they're "so much more progressive" than the other guys - the ones who barely listen to those White people who come back with stories like this, let alone the PoC who experience them first hand.

Wed, Oct. 24th, 2012 06:28 am (UTC)
wiped

i think the problem - in addition to the other problems you identified, such as non-muslims making this all about themselves and trying to speak for muslims - is the very idea that a white non-muslim can understand what it's like to be a hijabi muslim woman simply by wearing hijab for a few hours, or even days or weeks. this comes up in the comments on the tumblr, too. it is an entirely different dynamic to wear hijab for the many reasons that muslim women do, or to wear hijab as an experiment. and there is a whole different set of experiences that come with wearing hijab and also: being a person of color, having a brown family, having a muslim name, or in a word: actually being muslim that are not captured by a white woman tossing a scarf over her hair and heading to the mall.

as for asking around before one performs an 'experiment' like that, i don't think asking and getting permission from a token hijabi should somehow validate the 'experiment.' the experiment is fundamentally flawed and all of the problems still exist even if some hijabi woman gives it the green light. at my university (in the US), the muslim student union had an activity where they encouraged non-muslim women to wear hijab for a day or a week (i don't remember which) and see how it felt. the fact that it was initiated by muslim women didn't make it any less dumb, problematic, or counterproductive. there are tons of muslims and brown and black folks who act as native informants for racism and white supremacy, and asking them for permission or advice is not always helpful.

Wed, Oct. 24th, 2012 08:36 am (UTC)
pastwatcher

"there are tons of muslims and brown and black folks who act as native informants for racism and white supremacy, and asking them for permission or advice is not always helpful."

That makes sense, and you're right, my "ask around" would often be taken to mean "look for someone to give you permission", so that was careless of me to say. I actually meant "seek out a range of perspectives, particularly critical and/or activist ones". At which point, hopefully, someone would make you (general you) really think about what is the purpose of such an experiment, how much you would be missing, and how you could learn and act more productively.

Edited at 2012-10-24 08:46 am (UTC)

Wed, Oct. 24th, 2012 09:08 am (UTC)
naath

I support the right of anyone to cover their hair for any reason; but writing about it on the internet like covering your hair suddenly gave you a tremendous insight into the lives of Muslim women is another thing entirely.

For one thing loads of Muslim women have written about their experiences (online and in books); applying a little google to the problem one can find many Muslim perspectives on the issue of Being Visibly Muslim In Public which the authors have chosen to share. I don't understand why people react with so much more empathy to a white girl writing about a brief experiment than to a Muslim woman writing about her whole life; racism I guess.