Ela has asked that we spread her message. I am honored to do so. Her original post is at imperfectwriting.tumblr.com
I went to the mall, and a little girl called me a terrorist.
My name is Ela. I am seventeen years old. I am not Muslim, but my friend told me about her friend being discriminated against for wearing a hijab. So I decided to see the discrimination firsthand to get a better understanding of what Muslim women go through.
My friend and I pinned scarves around our heads, and then we went to the mall. Normally, vendors try to get us to buy things and ask us to sample a snack. Clerks usually ask us if we need help, tell us about sales, and smile at us. Not today. People, including vendors, clerks, and other shoppers, wouldn’t look at us. They didn’t talk to us. They acted like we didn’t exist. They didn’t want to be caught staring at us, so they didn’t look at all.
And then, in one store, a girl (who looked about four years old) asked her mom if my friend and I were terrorists. She wasn’t trying to be mean or anything. I don’t even think she could have grasped the idea of prejudice. However, her mother’s response is one I can never forgive or forget. The mother hushed her child, glared at me, and then took her daughter by the hand and led her out of the store.
All that because I put a scarf on my head. Just like that, a mother taught her little girl that being Muslim was evil. It didn’t matter that I was a nice person. All that mattered was that I looked different. That little girl may grow up and teach her children the same thing.
This experiment gave me a huge wakeup call. It lasted for only a few hours, so I can’t even begin to imagine how much prejudice Muslim girls go through every day. It reminded me of something that many people know but rarely remember: the women in hijabs are people, just like all those women out there who aren’t Muslim.
Please help me spread this message. Treat Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Taoists, etc., exactly the way you want to be treated, regardless of what they’re wearing or not wearing, no exceptions. I don’t know that the world will ever totally wipe out prejudice, but we can try, one blog at a time.
As I quoted in my post about John Howard Griffin, as a black man Griffin recorded experiences that were hauntingly mirrored by Ela’s words: “I got off and began walking along Canal Street in the heart of town… I passed the same taverns and amusement places where the hawkers had solicited me on previous evenings. They were busy, urging the white men to come in and see the girls. The same smells of smoke and liquor and dampness poured out through half-open doors. Tonight they did not solicit me. Tonight they looked at me but did not see me.” (From Black Like Me).
Ela said, “The mother hushed her child, glared at me, and then took her daughter by the hand and led her out of the store.” She had experienced her own version of “the hate stare.”
Ela said, “It didn’t matter that I was a nice person. All that mattered was that I looked different.” Griffin reported that he discussed his project with the FBI before beginning. He asked them, “Do you suppose they will treat me as John Howard Griffin, regardless of my color – or will they treat me as some nameless Negro, even though I am still the same name?” The response: “You’re not serious, one of them said. “They’re not going to ask you any questions. As soon as they see you, you’ll be a Negro and that’s all they’ll ever want to know about you.”
50 years later, and we have made so little progress. Huge honor to Ela for taking her own journey into a different culture and bringing to light the prejudices and fears that still plague us.
The Old Wolf has spoken.