My friend and I both actively participate in self-care plans that have an element of challenge. We decided to raise the bar – for one week she would take off her hijab (head covering) and I would put one on. When media reports of intolerance grew we had second thoughts. Friends and family showed both support and opposition to the plan and eventually we decided not to discuss it with them any further and go forward.
Day 1- I felt hot and awkward as I looked in the mirror wondering what this white girl was doing in this costume. I looked foreign to myself. My lack of Muslim faith, conviction, and purpose were very visible to me. Was it also offensive?
I spent the day noticing everything and everyone with a new caution while remaining aware that I could “just take off the scarf” and my fears would instantly vanish and be replaced with my perceived sense of safety.
Day 2 – I was greeted at the post office by two young women who “loved” my scarf. They were sweet and boundariless as they asked if I was religious or battling cancer.
Two young men in cowboy hats caught my attention at a store as they joked and rough housed. I waited for them to go in and then cautiously avoided them. I felt paranoid, judgey and afraid.
Finally – my massage appointment. The therapist asked if I was wearing hijab, then promptly reminded me that taking off my clothes with a man who was not my husband was frowned upon. I reminded him there was a sheet and headed back to the room.
Day 3 – I stopped to get coffee and smiled at the woman working hard to make me feel accepted and welcome. She noticed my scarf and commented how nice it would be to not worry about her hair.
I stopped by a convenience store where I was met by the clerk who I had seen a hundred times before. This time she informed me that the restrooms were for customers only.
Day 4 – is the day when I help facilitate a yoga class for seniors. These multicultural worldly ladies had no qualms asking why I was wearing hijab and how was it going? One participant who arrived late , “thanked God” aloud when she learned I had not become a Muslim.
Day 5 – the teller at the bank showed no recognition as she too shared her wish to wear a scarf and not have to mess with her hair. She also shared that her partner was a Jewish woman.
Day 6 – I was getting my “I’m gonna do me” confidence back and was ready to go to a restaurant locally known as a hub of intolerance. In the car I felt feisty and ready. Once inside I felt triggered, uneasy and tired – I couldn’t eat the chicken.
Day 7 – I reflected on my week. I thought about basic human nature. Do we extend our best self to those who look like us and then either overcompensate with or alienate those who don’t?
I recalled, the times when I am the only white person in a group of people of color and it feels tangibly different than being the only hijab/covered person in a group. While wearing the hijab/being covered, I sensed the fear of others because I was perceived to be different and it caused me to be afraid. Years ago I had adopted the philosophy of “What you think of me is none of my business.” It served me well. Today, I realize what a privilege it is to not have to worry about others perceptions and opinions.