I am homeschooling my oldest daughter and February is black history month. We've been going to the library and choosing books. I let her choose her own books. She chose a book about Frederick Douglass and a book about Abraham Lincoln and one children's book about a cotton picking slave. We've been talking about slavery and the idea that people can be treated like property. We talk about history since slavery was abolished in our country. We talk about racial bias and discrimination. We talked about different forms of discrimination. We talked about how discrimination thrives when it is tolerated. We talked about how sometimes discrimination is overt, but sometimes is quiet and insidious. We talked about how it isn't gone. Some people live in fear even now.
And then I knew. I want to do this. It is not OK with me that some of my neighbors live in fear.
I need my kids to see that it is not enough to disapprove quietly in your home. This tiny and safe act is barely more than quietly disapproving. But it is visible. And my kids would see. We are not people who allow discrimination. Maybe we don't know how to fix it, but we won't tolerate it. And that is not nothing.
I read criticisms of hijab solidarity. You cannot lay claim to an understanding of oppression just because you wore a symbol for a day. That is kind of like the Romney thing (remember?) when he told America that he understood poverty because he ate ramen and used an ironing board as a table.It is nonsense and it is offensive. Also, many Muslim women do not wear the hijab and some even see it as a symbol of oppression.
I will not claim any insight into an oppression I have not experienced. That voice is not mine and if you are not already listening, you should be. There are first hand experiences all over the place. Whether for themselves and their friends or for their children or even the children themselves, the voices are there and you should be listening.
As a Catholic, I am familiar with a disagreement about whether a veil is a symbol of faith and/or humility and/or femininity or a remnant of a patriarchal iteration of the faith. I do not have any opinion at all about whether or not Muslim women should wear the hijab beyond this: it is not a choice which should be influenced by fear.
I chose to wear the hijab.
I worried about what to wear. Was my attire going to reflect a culture I couldn't claim? I put on bland, grey, modest clothing which wasn't going to reflect anything at all. Then I found my favorite scarf. But I worried again. Can any scarf be a hijab? Are there rules? Is my French floral thing all wrong? But, I had committed and that is what I had.
I didn't know how to put it on, but youtube has a million tutorials. I watched several, and then I played with the scarf until it framed my face. Is my hair supposed to be fully covered? Tight around the chin or no? Apparently, there is a thing called a hijabi pin. I didn't have one and I couldn't find a safety pin, so the wrap is looser than I liked.
I was self conscious about my face. I am not usually. But, wrapped, it felt on display. My eyes are not symmetrical and my teeth are crooked. I noticed every blemish and wrinkle. I put on make-up. Not much, because I am still me and I just don't know much about make-up. Just lip gloss and mascara.
I ventured downstairs where the kids were waiting and ready to go outside. I was all worked up in my head. Were they going to ask? What would they ask?
But they didn't. My two year old told me, "I like your lips."
We went outside and all the sudden I wanted to run back in. What would my neighbors think? What if I ran into someone I knew? What if a stranger asked me questions? What would I say?
Fully clothed, with more covered than I am used to, I felt naked. I felt exposed. I felt like I was showing something personal which perhaps I'd prefer to keep private. Why? What was I showing? My own faith was as neatly tucked away as it generally is.
I realized that I was afraid, fairly or not. I did not expect to encounter any rudeness in my area, but I didn't even want to see questioning eyes. I picked up my head and I smiled.
In the end, I was not out for very long. It was strange and harder than I thought it would be. I felt like a coward.
I will probably do it again and maybe I will get more comfortable. Maybe I will even get better at scarf oragami.
It is a tiny act. But in my house, it is a beginning of a discussion. It is a quiet but visible choice. We will not tolerate religious bigotries.