We’ve all been there. Quietly enjoying a cup of coffee at a coffee shop, studying or getting some work done while indulging in some delicious pumpkin bread. You see an older lady staring at you. She looks away. Weird, you think and continue to sip your coffee. She then approaches you. Oh, shit, you think, she’s going to ask me to leave the coffee shop because I’m making her feel uncomfortable. Then you try to think of a quick witty reply. You look up and she’s standing there smiling. “Hi there, I’m just wondering where you’re from,” she says and points to your hijab. Or even worse, she touches your hijab.
Bam. The typical where-are-you-from-because-someone-who-wears-hijab-can’t-possibly-be-American question.
I used to be one of those girls who would smile and reply back, “I’m from Egypt,” and answer her questions, politely. I would tell her, “Please, feel free to ask me anything, I love getting questions like these.”
Not anymore. I am damn tired of having to answer about my heritage to random strangers at the grocery stores, or while I’m working out at the gym or at the park with my kids. I am done having to explain to people that yes, I am from here. No, I don’t have to tell you where I was born or where my parents are really from and that I am welcome here. Damn right, I am welcome here, this is my country. Now I reply with, “I’m from here, where are you from?” Because these microaggressions that we faced on a daily basis are exhausting.
My fellow Muslim sisters who may disagree with me will say, no no, this is your chance to show them what Islam really is. Be kind. Tell them about yourself. Answer their questions about why you “wear that thing on your head” and smile it’s dawa! I understand people are curious. I understand people like to make small talk (never mind that I am an introvert and hate small talk). I understand people like to ask questions. But making the assumption that someone isn’t American because she’s Brown or has an accent or is not dressed in leggings, Uggs and a Northface sweater, is not OK.
Invading someone’s space with a million questions when that person is truly trying to enjoy some peace and quiet time alone with well-intentioned questions like these are exhausting. What’s worse is when someone is asking these questions and they reply with stupid things like, “Wow, I know someone from Pakistan, do you know her?” or, “Wow, you’re English is so good,” thinking that’s a compliment. Damn right my English is good, my undergraduate degrees were in English and Communication and my master’s degree was in Education. Why would you assume my English is bad? Because I’m wearing a hijab? Now if you’ve been working with someone for a long time and you’re curious where she’s from because she speaks a different language on the phone during her breaks, she can tell you if she’s a dual citizen or if she’s moved here when she was five from wherever.
So here’s a PSA: if you see someone who looks
like an alien different from you, don’t approach them and ask them where they’re from. Please, let them be. Let them enjoy their ice cream, or grocery shopping or even wait in the waiting room at a doctor’s office. And accept the fact that Americans are from all walks of life, and we’re a giant bowl of salad and not a melting pot.