In Boston, my Somali friend and I scarfed down fried pickles and crab legs and chatted about good food, Islam, and being a woman in America. We then ordered these huge desserts that we could barely finish just because.
“Ohh, let me see the photos from your trip to London,” she exclaimed.
I hunched my shoulders and pulled out my phone. “If you must,” I replied because, well, ya’ll know I’m extra.
I swiped over to the photos that I took for this independent Muslim designer, Buno Designs, who makes these bomb handmade kimonos in the UK. The photographer was Parisian and a hijabi and so sweet. And even though I was dead tired from flying overseas, I had approximately thirty minutes to rush to the shoot. I was totally surprised that they had come out so well.
The waitress had returned to the table with our bills and came up from behind my friend who was admiring the photos.
“That’s you?” The white server asked.
“Yes, it is.”
“You a model?”
I raised a brow. “Yes.”
“May I?” My friend handed her my phone. She swiped right, seemingly puzzled by the photos I took. Every once in a while, she’d glance at me then back at the photos. I waited for her to say something off the wall. She finally handed the phone back.
“Where were those taken?”
“London,” I said modestly. “I had a few modeling gigs there.”
“You model with that on?” she pointed to my scarf. “All the time?”
“Yeah, I model with my hijab on.”
Becky crossed her arms over her chest trying to figure out how someone like me could model, how someone my size and my religion could be living that kind of life that she had been told was only for thin, white women. She couldn’t figure out how to compare me to the Muslims she’d seen on CNN. The ones who were very Middle-Eastern or very extreme. Confusion was written all over her face.
“Where are you guys from?” She followed up with her interrogation tactics. This was a quite common question from her kind. She was expecting the Middle-East, because clearly there are noooo other kinds of Muslims anywhere in the world.
“I’m African-American Muslim,” I said with a smile.
My friend replied, “I’m Somali Muslim.”
“Oh.” Becky nodded then after an awkward pause she said, “Those photos are really nice.”
I yearned to reply: I know. But I said thanks instead.
I knew she wanted to pry more into our lives but had other tables to wait. Or maybe she got the very real feeling that her delivery was all wrong and that her presence was annoying us. Whichever one it was, her mind was doing complete somersaults as she walked away. She’d just been taught a lesson on stereotyping.
But this incident got me to thinking about hijabs and why we wear them. And how others perceive a girl in hijab. A girl whose visibly Muslim af.