To The Boy Who Yanked Off My Hijab

To The Boy Who Yanked Off My Hijab

I don't mean to sound bitter, but to be honest, I am.

It's been eight years. And since then, I've learned that ignorance and discrimination are two sides of the same coin.

It happened in sixth grade after gym class. As we were walking back to the locker rooms, I heard you and your friend snickering behind me. Then, I felt a whoosh of empty air behind my head as you pulled my headscarf off. A week later, in front of your mom, two gym teachers, the vice principal and the school counselor you said it was because you "just wanted to see what was underneath."

My hair was underneath. You saw my hair — black, curly and pinned up in a bun. Then you saw my face, turned around, confusion morphing into shock and then a livid expression. I reached out to grab you by the collar, and looking back, it's almost comical how two guys nearing 5'7" stumbled back from a girl who stood barely five feet tall and wore bright pink scarves to school. In that moment though, you looked scared, and the only thing running through my head was, how dare you?

I already knew what to do. I had already been cautioned: if anyone ever tries to hurt you, tell the teacher. So I mustered up my courage and told, except that the gym teacher didn't think it was a big deal and said, "Tell me if it happens again, and I'll talk to him about it."

I thought, well, maybe it wasn't a big deal, but I still felt oddly betrayed, because all I wanted was an apology — an admission that he had done something wrong which hurt my feelings. This was just the first of many times that adults in school would turn their back on me. I would learn later on to never trust counselors or teachers, to always approach the person in the highest position of power or else no one would care what happened to me, whether it was a small form of discrimination or life-threatening bullies. But in this case, I thought my teacher would knew best, so I didn't mention it to her again.

I let the story slip in Spanish class the next day because it was still on my mind. My Spanish teacher's reaction was instantaneous, "That's horrible! Did you tell the teacher?" When I shared my gym teacher's response, my Spanish teacher exclaimed, "Oh no, that's not right." I felt relieved. Here was an adult who understood how I felt. She could tell me what to do!

Except that she didn't either. She just repeated, "That's not right. I hope that doesn't happen to you again, sweetheart," and began class.

Clearly no one thought this was a big deal, so I was unprepared for the severity of my family's response: "He did what?! Did you tell the teacher?"

A flurry of visits to the vice principal's office and several days later trying to find you (because you had taken a few days off, it turns out), fast forward to the beginning of next week where we stood outside the gym surrounded by a quintet of adults. You stood next to your mom, an esteemed Spanish teacher at the school and a sweet lady who knew how to apologize for something she did not do or appear to understand at all. But I didn't want to hear your mom apologize. I wanted to hear it from you. We all stared, the vice principal gesturing vaguely in your direction as the silence grew.

"I'm sorry," you mumbled, eyes glued to the floor.

You then handed me a crumpled up note and turned away.

Maybe if it had just been you and me standing there, if the vice principal hadn't clapped his hands together to "call it a day," if the counselor hadn't ushered me to the side right after to assure me that I could always "confide" in her (as if I already hadn't before I confided in my parents) and if the gym teachers hadn't strolled right back into the gym with you trailing behind, I would have said: "That's not a proper apology. Look up. Look at me. Look me in the eye. Tell me, what exactly are you sorry about?"

But I didn't, because we were only 12 years old. I didn't know to stand up for myself. I didn't know adults can be just as clueless when it comes to situations like these — that whether it's a quintet of school officials or all 430 white members of Congress, ignorance of other cultures and religions comes in many forms.

That was the first day I was forced to understand, no matter how well-meaning someone may be, ignorance cuts just as deep as the knife of discrimination. Whereas discrimination is a slap to the face, publicly humiliating and openly unfair, ignorance is a stab in the back, because it is naivety that stems from an uncaring heart and an empty mind. Ignorance is as easy as shrugging and saying, "Well, that's too bad. I'm sorry that happened to you," and turning away without a second thought. Ignorance is comfortable and easy. It's sitting on your couch Sunday nights, laughing at late night shows gone politically rouge or tweeting about Trump's latest fiasco and then going to bed without a single proactive thought in your brain — ready to wake up and go to work the next morning to chat about it with your coworkers over a cup of coffee.

Ignorance is as seemingly innocent as a 12-year-old kid scribbling onto crumpled notebook paper, "I'm sorry I took off your hat thing," as if it constitutes as an appropriate apology, as if that's what his mom meant when she said he spent all weekend "researching your 'culture.'"

I don't mean to sound bitter, but to be honest, I am.

I'm bitter because I have to to be OK with your half-hearted apology.

I have to be OK with the fact that you nor any of the adults standing there with us had thought to ask me what it felt like to have my hijab yanked off as if it meant nothing, as if it were nothing more than a decorative piece of cloth that just happened to be on my head.

I have to be OK with it, because we are still living in a world where ignorance is acceptable when it's nothing more than a lazy version of discrimination. The inability to express a genuine interest, no matter how perfunctory, in the identity of another is a lack of empathy — the very essence of humanity.

I have to come to terms with this, and I also have to forgive you. We were only 12, and all you and I knew was to follow the example of the adults around us. But now we're adults. So even if you don't remember, even if you don't really care, please understand just one thing: just as there's no justification for discrimination, there is no excuse for ignorance.

Popular Right Now

Will Enough Ever Be Enough?

Yet another school shooting in America, still nothing done. We are dying.

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018: We are all heartbroken to hear about another school shooting.

At Great Mills High School in Maryland, a 17-year-old male is pronounced dead at the scene after shooting two other students and a school resource officer. Just before their first period started, at 7:55 am, Austin Rollins shot one male and one female student with a handgun before being shot by the school's resource officer. While the 16-year-old female is in critical condition, the 14-year-old male is currently stable. This is the 17th school shooting in 2018. That's 17 days out of the past 80 that parents have gone to bed with their children in body bags as a result of gun violence.

I don't care what political party you associate with, gun violence is completely out of control. I am a registered Republican and completely agree with stricter gun laws. Learn the difference between a gun ban and sales control. Concerned citizens are not trying to take away your guns, but are trying to take away the rights from those that are risks.

Could you imagine legally having to send your child to school but never coming back? You've packed their lunch, maybe with a special note, and gave them a kiss before they left for school, not knowing that it was their last. No matter where we go, we are not safe. We can't go to malls, movie theaters, schools, or even churches without having to worry if it will be our last trip. Our homes, our places of worship, and our schools are supposed to be the places where we feel safest and, instead, our children are filled with fear. Instead of focusing on the political views that divide these groups, why don't we focus on what unites us? Why don't we focus on protecting our kin?

Everyone has had an opinion on the walkouts that have been happening around the country. Everyone has had an opinion on the 17 minutes of silence for the 17 children lost in the Florida shooting. I've seen people disgusted that Nickelodeon had 17 minutes of broadcast cut because it "interrupted the only program [I] let [my] children watch".

If your child was shot at school, you wouldn't have to worry about what programs they watch, but rather where to bury them and how to afford their memorial.

I've seen people saying that it's no wonder that Millenials are dumb. They "find any excuse to cut class". Have you thought about the fact that they are genuinely worried about going to school?

Personally, I've experienced both a shooting scare at my high school and a bomb threat at my college. I shouldn't have to worry about my life ending. I'm legally forced to go to high school and get an education or I'm putting myself into a lifetime of debt to get a degree.

We are all too young to stress about gun violence. Our school years are supposed to be the times our of lives, but they're being wasted on worrying about dying every day.

Rest in peace to all of those who have lost their lives in shootings, not only this year, but always. Hopes, thoughts, and prayers go out to their loved ones. One day, we will unite and find a solution.

We need to work together and forget the labels of parties and cliques in school and look out for one another instead. There is no kind but mankind.

Cover Image Credit: Boston Herald

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

The Republican Versus Democrat Stigma Needs To Slow Down

We Need To Be Individual Again

We as a society have developed an unnecessary need to place people in a specific party based on what could be a single value out of many. This is a letter for those who do not define themselves as one or the other; for those whose values range between conservative and liberal, for those who feel the unfortunate pressure of society to choose one even though your values do not fit just one.

The political parties at one point generally just meant “these are my basic beliefs, so this is the candidate I will vote for because they most closely represent them.” Party affiliation was harmless. Republicans and Democrats could get along fine, differing opinions not getting in the way of relationships and alignment. More importantly, you did not have to be part of a specific political party to be an active member of society. Your opinions and principles were yours.

Over the years following the last two election races, political parties gained a much more significant and defining meaning in our lives as individuals and as members of society. There is a newly developed stigma behind political opinions. You are almost pressured to feel one way or another about every single topic. If a majority of your values are of the conservative agenda, you must be a heart-and-all Republican. In contrast, if you are more liberal-leaning you are docked as a set Democrat. We as citizens are being labeled according to what may be a few hard-values. And dishearteningly enough, can be ridiculed for what we value. Even if you might not value everything the same as your determined party.

There exists those of us that hold values from both parties. It is possible to value women’s rights and also value a traditional marriage. It is possible to be a gun owner and also active in keeping children safe in school. You do not have to just submit to every belief of one party. You can value aspects of different parties and still be a functioning member of the American society. Do not let the looming obligation to declare yourself as strictly one or the other. You do not have to pretend you agree with everything Democratic or everything Republican; you can have your own values. And you should. Our society is messed up in the way that values are pushed on citizens. We are meant to be free individuals with our private values.

It is not fair to those of us who value different things. Not every American is a to-the-bone Democrat or Republican. It is possible to hold liberal beliefs as a conservative person. And Vice-Versa. We need to stop labeling one another as one or the other, conservative or liberal. We need to stop silencing each other because we have differing views. We need to accept not everyone is perfectly one party, and diversity exists. Open mindedness exists in Americans, despite the seemingly growing generalizations. We need to be able to agree to disagree on certain topics.
Cover Image Credit: LexiHanna

Related Content

Facebook Comments