I cannot deny the great deal of privilege I have been afforded as a white person. Regardless of whether I should or morally would, I COULD deny my father’s homosexuality, my low socio-economic background, my French-ness, and my faith as a Muslim. It is possible for me to portray myself as a white cis/straight middle-class average-to-good-looking English woman.
Of course, I deliberately have chosen to assert my Muslim-ness, and take every opportunity I can to remind others that I am LGBT-affirming, live with a mood disorder, and have experienced economic disempowerment. I think it’s important, I think it’s valuable and, most importantly, it is my choice to do so.
For many Canadians, identity is not a matter of choice. A person of colour or someone living with a visible physical disability does not have the choice whether or not they will be pegged as “different”. They live as “different” on a daily basis.
I’m 1/16th Irish and 15/16th French-Acadian but that’s grossly irrelevant to most people. If I chose to identify with my Irish descendants, no one would bat a lash. Yet someone who is 15/16th Irish may not be considered so if he/she is 1/16th Black or South Asian. Why? Because their identity will be imposed onto them based on what is visible, well, to white people.
This is something that has become increasingly apparent to me while in relationships with non-Muslim South Asian men. The conversations were many but invariably what has often come up was the discomfort of being pegged by strangers as authoritative/oppressive Muslim men, something strangers did not do to my white dad, his white partner or any of my white friends. Because white people, even when Muslim, are much less “threatening”.
This might come off as “self-hating” to some, but I am proud of my Acadian (French-Canadian) and Irish roots – this is not about “hate”, it’s about acknowledgement! My ancestors — and heck some of my current family members — have supported and continue to support deeply problematic racist policies and turned a blind eye to injustices that didn’t affect our French-ness or our Catholic-ness. This was and *is* a problem that needs acknowledgement.
While I acknowledge my privilege and respect my partner’s feelings, I have to admit it is sometimes a difficult balancing act doing so while wearing hijab. Conversing on the topic, my partner has admitted that the accusatory looks and frowns have made him “feel like a shitty brown person”. He supports me in my personal choices to wear hijab but, in a society that strips me of my agency (because “oppressed Muslim woman”), he is silently defined as an oppressor and abuser, something that is difficult to shake off.
This has caused me to rethink and renegotiate hijab. While I believe we need to eradicate the hijab all-or-nothing, I am well-aware that removing hijab part-time will discredit me as a hijabi and even as a Muslim in the minds of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
While my partner has made it clear that he will support whatever decision I make concerning hijab and my body, I have recently decided to sometimes remove hijab, especially to accommodate family politics, small town gossips and initial contacts with SOME friends. These events are rare and only serve as an initiation process but, for the sake of full honesty and maybe to bring about dialogue, I have decided to write about this.
It *is* MY choice and God knows my intentions best, but I do hope that some of you will be brought to reflection about the intersection of race, Muslim-ness, women’s agency and the toll of negative stereotypes.
Peace and blessings.