How Does Blind Outrage Lend a Helping Hand to Progress?
Marisa Sette, a white student writing in a publication on intercultural communication by the School of International Service, published a case study on the experience of a Muslim hijab-wearing woman in an American women’s studies class. AU’s Muslim Student Association did not seem to have read past the headline, and published an overdramatic, defamatory statement against Sette, writes an anonymous Muslim woman in response to a petition to remove Sette’s article, which has now garnered over 1,000 signatures.
As a Black Muslim woman, it is absurd to me that the AU Muslim Student Association is condemning an article which amplifies the lived experiences of Muslim women. The title is intended to grab you, maybe evoke some sort of reaction. But when you actually read “How Can You Be Feminist and Muslim?”, author Marisa Sette clearly illustrates the struggles of a hijab-wearing Muslim woman at various American institutions.
This leads me to believe that the MSA had decided to take the headline at face value without reading through the article, because in no way is Sette is spewing Islamophobic jargon, or white supremacist language (as some wrote in the petition to take down her article). This blind outrage is harmful not only to the Muslim community, but to the allies who genuinely want to help and create a conversation.
[Read: “How can you be a feminist and a Muslim? Confronting multiple identities: A Case Study”, AU School of International Service, Case Studies in Intercultural Communications, Vol. 1, Issue 1]
Public high schools and universities are tough settings to fit into when wearing the hijab, which is why I stopped wearing one during my sophomore year in college. I grew up in a conservative Muslim family surrounded by a tight-knit Muslim community. In my community, and in my private Islamic school, we were always reminded that we were beautiful for being Muslim, that our scarf represented our modesty and love for Allah. The hijab is a symbol of empowerment in the community.
However, outside the Islamic bubble, the feeling of love towards the scarf quickly dissipates, and I was left to fend for myself. Before I decided to stop wearing my hijab in my sophomore year of college, all I could remember were the looks, the glances, and the stares. I was always uncomfortable, and the only time I felt welcomed was around other people of the same faith. I became hyper-aware of my appearance to other people, and my love for my own faith diminished in light of my insecurities as a result.
Sette’s article tells the story of Sadaf, a Muslim hijabi who tries her best to thrive in the environment that she’s in. She’s a resolved Muslimah because she doesn’t waver or cave from pressure around her; she continues to wear her scarf despite the looks and sharp language from others. Her story, like mine, resonates with many Muslim women like myself, as Sette’s article is about how people only first see her as “the Muslim”—a branding that many Muslim women are uncomfortable with because of the insecurities that come with being a hijabi. For many that grew up in a post-9/11 America with the pressure of that restricting identity, you are only defined by how you look, not by how you think or what you do. Sette clearly iterates this central idea in this case study, using the example of an ignorant classmate of Sadaf’s who suggests it is impossible to both a feminist and a Muslim. So why are people deciding to sign a petition to take down an article that only tries to create a dialogue of an accurate telling of a Muslim woman’s story? Because a white woman wrote it?
[Read: “Statement About Marisa Sette’s Publication: How can you be a feminist and be Muslim?”, American University Muslim Student Association]
Sette frames the article on the unconscious biases and uninformed stereotyping by Sadaf’s classmate, directly opposing the notion to which her headline points—the notion the MSA accused Sette of presenting.
Sette narrates Sadaf’s struggle with the cold looks from her classmates, in high school and in college. In a university women’s studies’ course, a white woman asks her, “How can you be a feminist while being Muslim?” in reference to her headscarf, which many Westerners with a shallow eye see as nothing more than an indication of oppression. “Such a question brought back the negative experiences of her past and the importance society placed on her claiming a singular identity,” Sette writes. “The question reiterated to Sadaf the blatant need for her to be defined in a static manner that signaled oppression.” Sette frames the article critiquing the unconscious biases and uninformed stereotyping by Sadaf’s classmate, directly opposing the notion to which her headline points—the notion the MSA accused Sette of presenting. “What societal institutions, norms, or values could have contributed to the development of the unconscious bias of Sadaf’s classmate?” asks a following discussion question. Thus, I am inclined to suggest the MSA never read Sette’s article in full because their statement is framed as if Sette herself was the one criticizing Sadaf, rather than Sadaf’s uninformed classmate.
Our society wants to push non-POC writers to write POC characters more accurately. Sette has clearly done a good job at this, by only using actual Muslim experiences as the base for her piece, so why are people rallying up in arms to silence her? In this case study, Sadaf is a black belt in karate and a feminist, both of which are familiar to the Muslim community, but she tends to first be profiled as “the Muslim girl,” rather than the nuanced woman who participates in regular activities like her peers. This is a very real struggle for many Muslim women, but must we discount Sette’s sensitive, informed, and considerate telling of this narrative because she is a white woman? In choosing to go down this route and judge Sette’s article by its headline, the MSA has made it clear they would choose shallow outrage over mutual communication and understanding.
This publication exists to foment difficult, oftentimes uncomfortable conversations. To simply write the case study off as white heroics because of Sette’s personal identity is polarizing and diminishes her actual intentions.
Sette’s article on Sadaf was published in “The Case Studies of Intercultural Communication,” which illustrates different narratives similar to Sette’s story; issues of identity, language, and discrimination. This publication is clearly intended to generate dialogue based on the experiences of people from a diverse background, as stated in their mission statement which reads, “We look forward to developing our collection of cases to expand and share the lived experiences that frame our intercultural dialogues and inform our development of realistic cultural empathy.” This publication exists to foment difficult, oftentimes uncomfortable conversations. To simply write the case study off as white heroics because of Sette’s personal identity is polarizi