Today I’d like to feature a guest post by Lannea Russell of Peace Catalyst on an experience she recently undertook in an effort to walk for a day in the shoes of her Muslim friends.
I wore a hijab (headscarf) for a day last week. I’d been invited to participate in World Hijab Day by a Muslim friend, and I took her up on the friendly challenge because I don’t often get to walk in someone else’s shoes and expand my experience of the world. I’d worn a headscarf several times to mosques, but wearing it for a full day was a new experience. The week culminated in an event at a Denver mosque, where a warm community of women gathered for a potluck, door prizes, and a photo booth representing diverse hijabs from around the world.
My friends make wearing it look effortless and fashionable. It wasn’t for me. There was a slight wardrobe hitch in the morning when making a delivery, and I could feel the scarf slipping off. I could picture myself in an internet meme: “Wearing a Hijab: You’re Doing It Wrong.”
At the mosque I said to a woman, “I felt really hyper-aware of myself and surroundings when I was wearing the hijab. How do you feel when you’re in public?” She told me that as a lawyer, she is constantly aware of her appearance and wonders whether her clients will receive impartial treatment because she is representing them. “I want to be judged by my work, not by what I wear.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. Gesturing at her hijab, she said, “I want people to look at me as me, whether I am wearing this or not.”
Another woman shared with me, “I know I am an ambassador of something bigger than me, and I want to represent it well. I have to do everything knowing that people watch me.” I could resonate with that.
All the people I interacted with while wearing a hijab were friendly or at least neutral toward my appearance, and the ones I explained the reason to were very supportive and interested in learning more.
However, there was one incident.
I was driving (very carefully, not wanting people to think that Muslims are bad drivers) when I noticed the truck behind me was tailgating. I sped up and the truck did too. Then the driver pulled his truck around me, getting up on the sidewalk since there was no right turn lane and stared me down as he passed and zoomed around. Maybe he was just running late. But I know that if I wasn’t wearing a hijab, my reaction would have been annoyance. Wearing it, my reaction was unease and even a moment of fear.
At the mosque, I asked a couple women if they’ve ever been treated differently because of wearing the hijab. One of my friends, who uses a different (non-Muslim) name in her professional world, said that she once walked into a job interview and the interviewer’s mouth literally dropped open. “You’re…?” The interviewer stared very obviously from her resume, to her, back to her resume, and said her name. “Yes,” my friend responded, “that’s me.” “We’ll call you,” the interviewer said, and that was it. They never did. Another woman said that although she’s never been in a situation in which she felt afraid, she knows many people who have. A third told me that she is “randomly” selected for airport screenings. Every time she flies on a plane. “But I try not to think about these things,” she said. “I try to focus on the good experiences.”
So this is why I wore a hijab for a day. It made me take a good look inside and respect others’ experiences of the world a little more.
When have you tried walking in someone elses’ shoes? What was your experience like?