Columns / Discourse / Featured / March 1, 2017

The F-Word: Wearing a teal headscarf is not activism

I speak on this issue from a global lens. I wore the hijab, long manteaus, long pants and closed shoes, under the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran, since I was 6 years old all the way until I was 15, when I came to the U.S. My experience with the hijab was that of compulsion and force and started long before I started wearing it myself, in the images of my mother and the hijabi women I saw everywhere. The oppression I faced was in wearing the hijab regardless of choice, while the oppression many hijabi women in the “western” part of the world face is in their marginalization because of their choice. This is to clarify my stance on the oppression hijabi women face in comparison with my own background and imposed marginalization.

I want to start the conversation on the problematic nature of the hijab solidarity movement that took place on campus on March 1 by bringing up a dreaded discussion on cultural appropriation. I would like to pose a question that may encourage readers and participants of this act to think about this issue in a new light: when has it ever been custom to appropriate someone’s struggle in the name of solidarity?

If you’re having a hard time answering this question, keep in mind that appropriating the trauma, emotional burden or even physical characteristics of a survivor does not make you an activist. Neither does replicating the image of masses who have been victims of genocide. So why is it suddenly appropriate to take this approach when it comes to the hijab when as a general statement, appropriating or recreating someone’s struggle or source of marginalization has never been an acceptable way of standing in solidarity? Probably for the same reasons some folks think it’s okay to get henna tattoos: because people who appropriate despite being fully aware of the problematic nature of their actions do so under the impression that their non-oppressive intent will not have an oppressive impact. This impression could not be farther from the truth.

I am certain that there are people out there, who have had personal experiences with the hijab who will tell you it is not appropriation if you wear it regardless of your lack of personal, religious, or cultural connection to it just like there are Armenian people who will tell you it is okay with them if you wear Armenian diadems if you are not Armenian, but the input of a subgroup of a marginalized community in favor of your privileged actions does not, in any way, lessen the impact of your voice, speaking over people you are trying to stand in “solidarity” with.

Wearing a headscarf, calling it a hijab, walking around campus and trying to justify your appropriation to folks who explicitly tell you what you are doing is not okay, does not make you an activist. It makes you ignorant. And if you feel otherwise, take this column as an invitation to make your “activism” less prone to interpretations of ignorance.

Eden Sarkisian, Discourse Editor
Eden Sarkisian ‘19 was Discourse Editor for The Knox Student from May 2017 to June 2019.

Tags:  F-Word feminism hijab Hijab Day islamic club solidarity student activism

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Mar 02, 2017

Hey, Eden. I understand your story and the experience you have shared. I think there is a fine line between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. Everyone wearing the hijab had came to an event and dialogue, hosted by Islamic club. We learned about the modesty about the hijab and as well as listening to experiences regarding Muslim students on campus who chose to or not to wear it. I think it would have made more sense for you to attend the dialogue or the debrief or even speak to someone from Islamic club because they addressed these issues. Islamic club meets tonight at 9 to debrief more about the hijab, you are welcome to come.

Mar 02, 2017

This is the problem with Knox College. Give the wrong people a voice because they addressed this at their “Hijab” talk. Same talk that you weren’t present at!!!!

Mar 03, 2017

Eden, I respect your opinion. However, your tone makes it harder to listen to you. While you claim these people are culturally appropriating, they all did it to support and educate other students on Islam. As a woman who grew up in the Middle East, you felt oppressed. But Muslim culture varies from country to country. It is clear this event was voluntary and in support of Muslim students on campus. It was not intended to appropriate any culture, but bring a light to a subject that is pertinent in modern society. Especially in Galesburg, where in another article women who where the hijab feel unsafe walking. Many of these women stepped outside of their comfort zone to make a positive and lasting impact on our campus.

Mar 03, 2017

Bothersome that the person writing this article did not even attend the event and clearly missed the whole point that Islamic Club was trying to promote. There is a difference between cultural appropriation and appreciation and I think that this needs to be looked at here in the authors case. Very rude and looking for a reason to find these peoples ACTIVISM WRONG and calling them ignorant even though they took appropriate steps and went to an Islamic Club event so that they COULD BECOME EDUCATED ON THE SUBJECT OF THE HIJAB.

Very disappointed in this and TKS. Do better.

Mar 05, 2017

whether you disagree or agree with this article for you to say “very disappointed in this and TKS. Do better,”
you are completely disregarding this writer, Eden’s perspective/experience/feelings etc. If you promote freedom of speech, which I am
assuming you SAY you do since you’re even taking the time to read TKS, then you shouldn’t make statements like that.
You in your freedom have the right to say it (& that is fine,) but at least realize that this writer is using this as an outlet to express her feelings just as these people came together in the club to explain their perspective/experience/feelings. In order to promote ACTUAL freedom of speech (not the freedom of speech which most campuses are promoting which is more along the lines of “disagree with me and I’ll SILENCE you” (which seems to be what you are encouraging TKS to do–silence people who have opposing opinions) don’t discourage it with such statements as yours. & personally take time to think about how you can have conversations with people you may not necessarily agree with, by first humbly listening to where they are coming from. A hard feat in itself but a worthy one.

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