As any hijabi knows, going out in public in a veil can be a very interesting experience. Whether it is stares, glares, or downright discrimination, our open religious observance is often greeted in less than pleasant ways. Yesterday, however, really exceeded my expectations. Mainly because what happened was so strange. Sadly, it was also the sort of thing I was raised to want to do.
I have a broken foot. For now I have to wear a huge therapeutic boot and hobble around on crutches. That in and of itself makes me draw attention but add a headscarf and long clothes to the mix and I draw unrelenting stares from all sides. Last night Hubby, Mother, and I went out to the supermarket. As I was being stared at and ignoring it, I rounded the corner to enter another isle. An older couple was rounding the corner and coming towards me. They both looked me up and down, snickered, and then the woman said to me very loudly, “God bless you! In Jesus’ name, your foot be healed!”. I stood there with my mouth open and tried to decide whether to laugh, cry, scream, or give her a sermon. In my indecisiveness, I ended up walking on feeling bewildered. I walked away thinking about the issues hijabi women face.
Somehow, wearing overtly religious attire makes other people think that we are wanting to invite debate, or discussion, are fair game for verbal attack or harassment, or even in the most extreme cases that we are fair game for murder. The critical truth to which many Americans are oblivious is that putting on a headscarf does not mean removing our human rights. It means only one thing: we put on a headscarf. That’s it! It doesn’t even tell you to which religion we adhere. It doesn’t tell you our nationality or race. It doesn’t tell you about our personalities or whether or not we are oppressed. It doesn’t tell you about our political views. And it never means we welcome harassment.
It is no secret that American society is overrun with micro agressions towards various minorities; African Americans, Muslim Americans, Immigrants, Women, LGBTQ individuals, and religious deviants are common victims. In my case, I don’t fit into any mainstream expectation of what religious observance should look like. My husband and I speak Portuguese and he is an immigrant. So we are minorities in our own right and suffer microagressions a lot. And what that unidentified women in Aldi’s did was a micro aggression. She assumed I was Muslim (I was wearing attire which ninety-nine percent of Americans assume to be exclusively Islamic), and carried out her own sort of proselytizing in a way that left me feeling ashamed, unempowered, bewildered, and embarrassed. It is something that happens regularly because of my headscarf.
A microaggression is defined as, “a subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.” Why, you ask, does what the loud blesser lady in Aldi’s did, qualify as microaggression? Because it was well disguised as a blessing. Who turns down a wish for healing right? But truthfully I never asked for it. I didn’t want to discuss religion right then and she never asked if I did. She never asked my permission to perform her religious ritual over me. And by the way – I used to be that same yelling-blessings-in-public brand of evangelical. What she did is a religious ritual considered to hold much power to draw the other person to salvation. That she did it over me in the grocery store, and without my consent, was a violation of my privacy and a huge disrespect to me. Furthermore it furthered several toxic stereotypes. To name a few: all veiled women are Muslim, all Muslims need/want to be proselytized (colonialism much?), and religious attire means the religiously attired wants to tint all their interactions with overt religious references.
I don’t know if relating this experience has helped anyone. I hope so! I am aware that a large chunk of my readership is composed of veiled women. I’m sure many of you have experienced microaggressions, outright harassment, or maybe just some odd things have happened to you because of your outspoken form of religious observance. Feel free to leave a comment! I would love to hear from you. God bless you! Peace xx