Written by Lexi Alexander.
Shortly after the the U.K. voted for Brexit and hate crimes rose to unprecedented numbers, I began receiving messages from hijabis (Muslim women who choose to wear the traditional veil “hijab”) asking me if I could post some self-defense videos.
I had previously posted videos based on requests from women on Twitter. For example, the mother who told me that her daughter had been pinched in the butt by a grown man in public and wanted to know what she should do if it happens again:
Or the actress who was raped by a guy she rented an AirBnB room from, who wanted to know what to do if someone gets on top of you:
So the request from Hijabis wasn’t unusual and I gladly obliged:
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Part 1 of Hijab self-defense. We did this almost all morning and I think this is the most effective one. For the record, my hair got pulled so much I have a major headache now. So this is not some dumb joke, it's assault and inhuman. If you do this to someone, you have no heart or soul…you're just a shit. tweet
While goes without saying that I would prefer to never have to receive another self-defense request again because racists and misogynists have stopped acting like savage pigs, some members of the human species refuse to change.
It came as no surprise to me that the first video request I received was from a hijabi on the day we found out America voted in a racist and self-admitted sexual assault perp into the highest office. But it didn’t stop there. I have received hundreds of messages from all kinds of fearful women, a good 80% from hijabis asking me what else they can do and what type of weapons they should carry.
For those people who only know me as a filmmaker and also those who automatically assume that a woman can’t possibly know anything about personal safety or self-defense (yes I see you in my Twitter mentions) rest assured I know what I’m talking about. I will not list all my titles and qualifications here, but I will tell you that I used to do this for a living. As a matter of fact, the first job I had in the U.S. was teaching hand-to-hand combat to an organization that I am sure you are familiar with:
I have taught self-defense and personal safety for many years worldwide and would probably still be had I not believed that I could improve the world by telling better stories.
I have received hundreds of messages from all kinds of fearful women, a good 80% from hijabis asking me what else they can do and what type of weapons they should carry. tweet
Now that that’s out of the way, let me tell you a little bit about the safety pin campaign.
As far as I understand, it was never meant to be a “hey-look-at-me-fixing-racism” campaign. It was created as a signal for people most vulnerable to hate crimes, so they can identify people willing to help, similar to the #IllRideWithYou and #IllWalkWithYou campaigns.
If you think even for a minute that none of us in the personal safety world considered the fact that it could be abused by exactly those people we’re trying to protect hate crime victims from…you are arrogant and unhelpful. We have more than thought this through and, speaking for myself, I not only analyze every safety tip I post a hundred times over, but I also consult with other personal safety professionals to make sure I have thought of every scenario.
But thank God for white American men who post hot-take think pieces—half of the crowd who would have liked to wear the safety pin are now confused about the sincerity of the campaign.
I asked a friend of mine from England if there had been a similar backlash like this in the U.K.. She forwarded me a couple of similar pieces, written by—yes, you guessed it—men.
What you publicly hear about hijabis getting attacked is only 1/16 of the number of attacks actually committed against them. tweet
Now even women-of-color are jumping on the bandwagon, because somehow a campaign that started as “emergency-assistance-offered” has been misinterpreted into “I’m-wearing-a-safety-pin-to-fight-racism” campaign.
Come on people.
I know everybody is riding on raw emotions this week, but this is inexcusable.
What you publicly hear about hijabis getting attacked is only 1/16 of the number of attacks actually committed against them. I have young Muslim girls sending me messages, telling me about how and when they were assaulted, but begging me not to tell anybody. When I ask them why they won’t share this with authorities or family members, they explain that they will lose all personal freedom if their family, especially male family members, find out. No more trips to the mall or to a friend’s house without a family member in tow (and before you start saying anything about patriarchy in Islam, I will remind you that there are thousands of photos posted on the web of angry white Dad’s posing with a rifle next to their daughter’s prom date…so please, spare me).
Are there other marginalized groups under attack now, who won’t be helped at all by a safety pin? Yes, absolutely. I am mortified for Black people who now have to fear an even more empowered, racist, deadly police force. I promise you, I will fight on your behalf as much as I will fight for anybody who is now at a greater risk. Unfortunately, I can’t do that with self-defense videos or safety pins because neither will be effective against racist cops with guns.
I am also mortified for my Muslim family members and friends who are now worrying about being banned from entering the U.S. or even getting deported.
Not all of the threats we face can be solved with safety pins and it certainly is not a tool that will help fight racism, but the people who are endorsing it for personal safety never claimed that.
I’d like you to consider not ruining something that could help this one, vulnerable group just because some people misinterpreted its meaning or because it doesn’t help the much greater danger you’re facing. tweet
Imagine: you are a 14-year-old hijabi girl climbing a subway car when you turn your head to the left and spot a group of young, loud white men already giving you dirty looks, so you turn to the right and there you notice a group of eclectic strangers, 3 of them wearing safety pins—two of them adult women.
Chances are pretty high that those three people are not secret Nazis who went through the trouble of getting safety pins to commit premeditated assault. Could it happen? Yes. But the chances of that happening are much slimmer than our hijabi girl getting hurt by the vile boys to her left (and yes, I can’t believe I even have to lay this scenario out, but it’s not going to help anybody if we pretend that this is not the world we live in right now).
I’d like you to consider not ruining something that could help this one, vulnerable group just because some people misinterpreted its meaning or because it doesn’t help the much greater danger you’re facing.
We are all afraid. But we cannot be ruled by fear or we will certainly lose this fight.
This article was originally published on Lexi Alexander.
Lexi Alexander is a former World Kickboxing Champion, United States Marine Corps Combat Instructor and stunt woman. She currently works as a television show director for CW’s show Arrow and was an Oscar-nominee for her short film, Johnny Flynton.