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Back Off My Hijab!

8 07 2008


Somali Style: Orange Somali underskirt, red/black/gray/white print cotton Somali dress, orange/navy/white/baby blue cotton tie-dye large Somali scarf

Yesterday I had a really irritating experience, and where else can I vent about this sort of thing but here? I wanted to title this “Stupid White Women” but the truth is most white women I deal with are not really this bad. Really… I’m used to stupid questions, but this just went in a whole other direction beyond that…

It has been hot, and worse, very humid here the last few days. We had a massive storm last week that not everyone has yet recovered from and the humidity has begun to build up again since. This is nothing of much consequence really, when you consider the much more severe weather that others deal with, but here it is considered a big deal.

Yesterday I wore one of my cotton Somali sets. Not the one pictured above (that’s what I’m wearing today), but a black tie-dye set that has dark yellow and avocado green print. It is one of my favorite sets, partially because of the colors, and partially because it is the only matched set I own - where the dress and scarf are actually the exact same matching fabric. Sorry, I didn’t get photos of it because my camera was acting up all weekend and yesterday, and it wasn’t until last night that I realized it just needed to be charged.

So, to begin with, I will contrast the reactions I received. From ladies from the office from whom we rent, I was complimented. From a new interpreter (Arabic, Muslim, though hyper-westernized) who was in for orientation, compliments and questions about where I purchased it, because she works with a program at one of our local colleges that sometimes needs to showcase different styles and wondered if I had bought it locally.

Then, there was another (Spanish, “white” Columbian, but been here in the States several years; to be fair, she has always rubbed me and the Nica and our friends totally the wrong way because she is out of touch with the “common” Hispanic and pretty arrogant) interpreter, one who has been with us for a little while and who I had met on more than several occasions before she began interpreting for us because she is family to someone in the company. She has seen me in numerous different styles of hijab and she has talked to me on even more occasions. Yesterday, she came in while I was on the phone with another interpreter and hovered over me, which was annoying enough (especially since I have a very attractive and comfortable chair available in my office for visiters to use). Then, as soon as I got off the phone she started asking me personal questions:

- What an unusual dress

- Where did you get such a thing

- How do you wear it (I showed her that it was indeed a dress with a separate scarf wrapped over)

- Oh, so you pin it like this to keep it in place?

- Aren’t you hot? (Good heavens, it’s a SLEEVELESS cotton dress with a very loose draped cotton scarf over it - it’s probably MORE comfortable than what most people are wearing even when they are less covered!)

- Oh, it’s a Somali style? Are you Somali? (Um, really… I know you all are choking as you read that one, LOL.)

- Where are you from?

- But where are your parents from? (At which point I say, I am Native American)

- Oh, but where did your family come from before? (Clearly no idea what Native American means, so I say “I am indio”)

- Oh… so you said you have something for me tomorrow?

Now, the game of 20 questions (most of which shouldn’t even be asked in polite company, in my opinion) is laughable enough. But what made it all so much worse was that she was TOUCHING me the whole freakin’ time - poking, pulling at my scarf, ran her fingers across the hijab pin, etc. IT WAS CREEPY. And not in the way that some might be thinking - please believe me, it was not that at all.

But really, what part of keeping our hands to ourselves is so difficult? I have read Black women write about how they hate it when people walk up and start touching their hair. I understood that from the perspective that I could imagine how creepy/objectifying/exoticizing it must feel, but I have never before had such a comparable experience as I did yesterday.

Really, I’m tired of the “aren’t you hot” question. Yes, right now everyone is hot. It’s 85 degrees (F) and a 90+% humidity. Of course I’m hot, aren’t you??? But sometimes, I really just want to say “no, I’m not”.

And the “where are you from… no, really, where are you really from, like where are your parents from, well your grandparents then…” - SO OVER IT ALREADY!

But honest to goodness, whatever stupid ridiculous questions anyone may feel compelled to ask… at the very least, DO NOT TOUCH ME!!! I am not a cute fuzzy animal that begs to be petted. Nor am I an inanimate object that I can see why you would want to experience the texture of. I am a human being, for goodness sakes.

7 responses to “Back Offa My Hijab!”

8 07 2008

Jamerican Muslimah (16:31:03) :


I understand your pain. As a Black woman I’ve experienced it in relation to my hair (pre-hijab). Fortunately, I’ve developed “the eye” which let’s people know that they are not to touch me whatsoever. So, I haven’t had anyone trying to touch my hijab. BUT I’ve had the 20 questions. It’s so very irritating! I no longer tolerate the “where are you really from questions.” I challenge people about their assumption that hijab or Islam automatically equals ‘foreign.’ I don’t know about you but I also find the questions invasive. It seems like people feel entitled to get all of the answers even if it’s at your expense. UGH!!

8 07 2008

Aaminah (16:59:47) :

Asalaamu alaikum.

Ay, I was sitting at my desk, in front of the computer, trying to write out the appointments for her that I was sending her on for today, so it wasn’t as easy to give the “back off” look that I use anywhere else public (it used to be a joke in our old neighborhood that I had a look that even the hard-core thugs wouldn’t mess with, though the truth is I was pretty much respected on that side of town anyway). I swear, I know it’s not very gracious, but I really wanted to slap her hands off of me. The thing is, if it was a guy, I would have hauled off and hit him - hard, job or no (honestly, I cannot imagine any man being that stupid). But because it’s a woman, and her brother owns the company (and was close by where he would have heard/seen any scuffle), I didn’t feel like I could really do anything.

I agree with you, the questions are invasive and sometimes I really just don’t want to answer them. I mean, why is it anyone’s business? And it’s one thing when it’s genuine curiosity, but sometimes it’s just an inappropriate time/place, and other times I want to say “mind your own darn business”. But really, it was the touching that most bothered me. I do not want to be touched by just anyone, under any circumstances. And it’s just not necessary.

Lemme tell you, I am so ready for this “break” from work and all the ignorance I encounter.

8 07 2008

Omar (20:40:39) :

Have you sisters tried asking the questions to them within the same sitting? Maybe it would throw them off?

9 07 2008

Delux (03:56:06) :

I know *exactly* how you feel. ANd I bet if you had told her to knock off with the fondling she would have been shocked.

9 07 2008

Fatemeh (04:06:11) :

What is it about the touchy? I mean, asking is irritating, but it’s one thing. But just TOUCHING YOU?! SO. NOT. COOL.

9 07 2008

huda (12:30:21) :

ew. total invasion of personal space. I feel your pain.

I hate the 20 questions thing too. I used to feel compelled to answer questions. Now I am getting over that and throwing in a few of my own, why shouldn’t we grill them about their religion and ethnicity too?

It’s bad enough being in a heatwave and effectively expected to wear polyester (as per the vast majority of clothing on sale to hijabis and/or “generous” women), without the “aren’t you HOT?” comments too. I find that smiling cheerfully and saying “Well, it’s hotter in Hell and I don’t want to go there!” makes them back off p.d.q.

9 07 2008

HijabiApprentice (17:45:25) :

“Oh, but where did your family come from before? (Clearly no idea what Native American means, so I say “I am indio”)”

What a deeply ignorant person. What part of NATIVE do you not understand?! Oy. I get the 20 questions and sometimes I indulge and sometimes I cut the convo short. As for the touching I’m a victim of that too. Not usually the hijab but other cozying up that makes me feel weird sometimes.


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