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.
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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.

Cover Image Credit: Hartis Mustaya Pratama / Unsplash

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'As A Woman,' I Don't Need To Fit Your Preconceived Political Assumptions About Women

I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

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It is quite possible to say that the United States has never seen such a time of divisiveness, partisanship, and extreme animosity of those on different sides of the political spectrum. Social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are saturated with posts of political opinions and are matched with comments that express not only disagreement but too often, words of hatred. Many who cannot understand others' political beliefs rarely even respect them.

As a female, Republican, college student, I feel I receive the most confusion from others regarding my political opinions. Whenever I post or write something supporting a conservative or expressing my right-leaning beliefs and I see a comment has been left, I almost always know what words their comment will begin with. Or in conversation, if I make my beliefs known and someone begins to respond, I can practically hear the words before they leave their mouth.

"As a woman…"

This initial phrase is often followed by a question, generally surrounding how I could publicly support a Republican candidate or maintain conservative beliefs. "As a woman, how can you support Donald Trump?" or "As a woman, how can you support pro-life policies?" and, my personal favorite, "As a woman, how did you not want Hillary for president?"

Although I understand their sentiment, I cannot respect it. Yes, being a woman is a part of who I am, but it in no way determines who I am. My sex has not and will not adjudicate my goals, my passions, or my work. It will not influence the way in which I think or the way in which I express those thoughts. Further, your mention of my sex as the primary logic for condemning such expressions will not change my adherence to defending what I share. Nor should it.

To conduct your questioning of my politics by inferring that my sex should influence my ideology is not only offensive, it's sexist.

It disregards my other qualifications and renders them worthless. It disregards my work as a student of political science. It disregards my hours of research dedicated to writing about politics. It disregards my creativity as an author and my knowledge of the subjects I choose to discuss. It disregards the fundamental human right I possess to form my own opinion and my Constitutional right to express that opinion freely with others. And most notably, it disregards that I am an individual. An individual capable of forming my own opinions and being brave enough to share those with the world at the risk of receiving backlash and criticism. All I ask is for respect of that bravery and respect for my qualifications.

Words are powerful. They can be used to inspire, unite, and revolutionize. Yet, they can be abused, and too comfortably are. Opening a dialogue of political debate by confining me to my gender restricts the productivity of that debate from the start. Those simple but potent words overlook my identity and label me as a stereotype destined to fit into a mold. They indicate that in our debate, you cannot look past my sex. That you will not be receptive to what I have to say if it doesn't fit into what I should be saying, "as a woman."

That is the issue with politics today. The media and our politicians, those who are meant to encourage and protect democracy, divide us into these stereotypes. We are too often told that because we are female, because we are young adults, because we are a minority, because we are middle-aged males without college degrees, that we are meant to vote and to feel one way, and any other way is misguided. Before a conversation has begun, we are divided against our will. Too many of us fail to inform ourselves of the issues and construct opinions that are entirely our own, unencumbered by what the mainstream tells us we are meant to believe.

We, as a people, have become limited to these classifications. Are we not more than a demographic?

As a student of political science, seeking to enter a workforce dominated by men, yes, I am a woman, but foremost I am a scholar, I am a leader, and I am autonomous. I refuse to be categorized and I refuse to be defined by others. Yes, I am a woman, but I am so much more.

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It's Hard To Stay Friends With A Kavanaugh-Lover, But It's Possible

Or hater.

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If you don't have your head buried in the sand these days, it's impossible not to realize how viscerally raw most people's political emotions are. And unless you live in a bubble, you likely have friends or family who have very different political beliefs with you. If you want to cut off those relationships, read no further. But if you view your relationships more T. D. Jakes style—"I like to see myself as a bridge builder, that is, me building bridges between people […], between politics, trying to find common ground"—then play on.

Before beginning a conversation with a politically-differing friend, put yourself in their shoes. Ask yourself: what aspects of their life might have influenced them in this way? Accept that you just don't know what their experiences have been like. Maybe your gun-supporting friend had her house traumatically burglarized when she was quite young; maybe your friend who believes the government should solve all our problems was only able to get hot lunches at school because of government aid. View it as a thought experiment if you will: imagine a sympathetic reason (rather than a judgment-worthy reason) that your friend has this differing viewpoint.

We have two ears and one mouth. Ask them questions and then genuinely listen. As humans, we often listen to respond, not to understand. Try to understand without demonizing or judging your friend. David Livingstone Smith, author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others, said that when we dehumanize or demonize others, it acts as: "a psychological lubricant, dissolving our inhibitions and inflaming our destructive passions. As such, it empowers us to perform acts that would, under other circumstances, be unthinkable." Try to accept that your friend's point of view—no matter how much you disagree with it—is (in their eyes) just as valid as your own. Your goal is to listen first, persuade later, argue rarely (or never).

It's not about you. Your friend's support of Kavanaugh's confirmation to the Supreme Court means just that: they think he should have been confirmed. Or if they are angry that he got confirmed, it means just that: they think he should have not been confirmed at the time. Use our earlier thought experiment: perhaps the supporter found fault in the accusations against Kavanaugh or genuinely viewed it as a false accusation, and (whether that happened here or not), we can agree a false accusation is concerning. It doesn't necessarily mean that they think the assault he was accused of is okay—perhaps they think any form of sexual assault is utterly appalling and should never be tolerated, but just didn't happen here. Your friend's view is not personal to you, no matter how personal it may feel.

There's a difference between supporting a politician and supporting an action. If your family member voted for Trump, that doesn't mean they support his personal behavior. (If they DO—that's a different story.) It's like watching Lady Bird (great movie) and someone saying that means you think all children should treat their mother like Lady Bird treats hers. The two could be equated but aren't necessarily. Have you ever gone to the theaters and seen a movie that had elements you didn't agree with or like? The same can be said for politics.

If it seems appropriate, when they are done sharing and seem receptive to conversation, share why you may disagree with them. Times to NOT share: if they are angry or closed off. (Observe both their words and their body language. If their voice was raised or their arms are crossed, not the time.) If they just shared something vulnerable with you (eg. they are vehemently pro-choice because they've been assaulted and got an abortion), now is not the time.

Remember, your goal is not to argue, but to listen and then to persuade. If they're not in a place where they can listen to you being persuasive—then let it go and try again some other time.

When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. However—sometimes you shouldn't always maintain these relationships. Politicians your friends support don't necessarily fully reflect who your friends are, but political views are an aspect of who they are. To use the above analogy: when you see a movie at the theater, you are supporting it. Even if you disagree with it and warn your friends away, you still paid for the ticket.

And sometimes you don't. Understand when you need to disengage. It's okay to have some things you can talk about civilly and rationally and some things that you just can't. If my friend thinks communism is the way to go, for example, I am able to speak respectfully and rationally about it. But if a person tries to support child abuse, I absolutely cannot have a conversation with them where I try to understand where they're coming from and listen to them without telling them how wrong they are. It's okay to have some topics that mean so much to you that you can't engage with all of them or respect every differing point of view.

When you win, be gracious. And lastly, if you supported Kavanaugh, your friends who opposed his quick confirmation are crushed right now. It's okay if you think that's silly or not a big deal. But go back to the first point: put yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if some political issue you felt really strongly about was dealt a crushing blow? You'd want the people on the winning side to be gracious, or try to understand, or at least not rub it in. Maybe you didn't like how the situation unfolded, but your guy's in now. Think of the golden rule and be kind to your friends who are struggling with this.

Just remember:

"Be sure when you step—step with care and great tact. And remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft—and never mix up your right foot with your left."
Dr. Seuss.

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