It is 2019, and because of the historical discrimination and oppression faced by minorities throughout the ages, we can all say that representation matters. We need to ensure that minorities from all intersections are fairly represented, in every arena. All of us are fighting for a voice, for a right to agency in the places we live in.
In my case, I’m speaking for minorities in North America. Living in Canada, I can definitely say that minorities need a bigger voice in communities that are supposedly built for everyone alike. Even in a big city like Montreal, there are multiple communities that are underrepresented, or even oppressed in one way or another, vocally or visually.
I work a lot with the Palestinian population in Montreal, through university and community work, and there is a lot that needs to be done to elevate our voices as much as others. People certainly are becoming more educated when it comes to Middle Eastern communities, and while it’s a great evolvement to be a part of, we need to ensure that we are capitalizing on this willingness to accept diversity, ideally by normalizing the signs and symbols that visibly differentiate us, and highlight the diversity of communities aplenty.
The presence of Muslim women in the hallowed halls of the United States Congress, the normalization of women of color in the very rooms where life-altering laws are debated and passed means that for the first time in history, the chambers of the U.S. lawmakers will accurately represent American society.
When I heard about Rashida Tlaib getting elected as a Democratic congresswoman representing Michigan’s 13th congressional district, I was indescribably proud. She is the first Palestinian-American to serve in the United States Congress. Tlaib and her fellow congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, who represents Minnesota, are the first Muslim women in Congress. We are truly living in historic times!
The presence of Muslim women in the hallowed halls of the United States Congress, the normalization of women of color in the very rooms where life-altering laws are debated and passed means that for the first time in history, the chambers of the U.S. lawmakers will accurately represent American society. This undeniably opens the doors, shatters glass ceilings, for girls like me. Girls like me visualize ending up in office, clearing the path for us to be like that now, and while we may still face an uphill battle, we rest assured that the trail has been blazed, and our voices have a chance of being a part of the most important conversations in society. We can have an opinion in the creation of laws that affect our everyday lives for eons to come. Girls like me can be exactly like Rashida and Ilhan now. It is finally happening. Female, Muslim, and Palestinian, with a voice in Congress. Truly amazing.
In particular, Tlaib deciding to wear the Palestinian “thobe” is an act filled with courage, and truly indicates her desire to stand up for her own identity. It is not easy for a woman, let alone a Palestinian woman, to do that in a country so fraught with discrimination.
I remember wearing a “thobe” to a Palestinian concert, and as a result, receiving a large amount of verbal harassment. I was not shocked, and this in itself is endlessly disappointing. The experience was humiliating, and saddening, because it seemed that no matter how progressive people pretended to be, this small act of dressing differently triggered fear in them, causing me to become a target for their vitriolic darts.
Whether we like it or not, North America is hotbed of racial biases. This is a place where a daily war wages against visible signs of diversity, or difference. Women get their hijabs pulled off for going about their business in public; they get guns pulled on them for little more than calling a bigot out for his racist discourse. Palestinian women in particular have a history of suffering in every explicable way. Being privy to this, and still choosing to wear her homeland’s national dress, in a historically homogenous, political space in congressional America is a powerful statement from Tlaib.
She is opting to normalize this simple sign of diversity, in order to depict North America for what it truly is: a myriad of communities in all it’s stunning diversity. This has been a long time coming, and I give major respect to Rashida Tlaib, because what she is achieving is not easy.
She expressed her excitement in an Instagram post, declaring her intention to wear her “thobe” to the congressional swearing-in ceremony, proudly dedicating the act to her mother. I can’t help but share her excitement, and enthusiasm; what a day for the visible representation of minorities!
Honestly, I hope this day marks the beginning of a new era: I hope to see more Arab, and Palestinian women being a part of any, and every North American scene that needs representation, especially in an arena as elusive and challenging as politics. In our society, representation matters, and change is finally occurring.
Edited by Manal Moazzam.