While most comments at this institution were reserved for private discussions, the college experience as well as my time in Johannesburg, South Africa provided an opportunity to understand what literally annoyed people about my Hijab. While in Yeoville, a hybrid inner-city/suburb of Johannesburg, I was approached by a man who was intent on liberating me from not only my gender oppression, but from my racial confusion. Apparently, 'I am not free' in Hijab and Islam is not an African religion. I had committed not only the ultimate sin of embracing a faith that 'forced' me to be modest; I had chosen a faith that had no roots in Africa. Let's not bother with the contrary historical facts, as that is the least of our concerns.
What I found of the utmost importance in this monologue (yes, because I was unable to get a word in edgeways) was that he conceptualised my channels of freedom via the ritualistic removal of my Hijab and his penetration or sexual conquest. I never knew that my freedom toolbox included an instruction guide - I will keep this in mind.
As he continued to speak in a series of poorly phrased insults, I realized that this was no longer about gender oppression or black authenticity; it was about the politics of accessibility to certain bodies. He repeated almost in a hypnotic fashion, 'I cannot see you… I cannot see your essence'. In wearing Hijab, it was his argument that I was making myself inaccessible to men, and particularly to him. Choosing to place myself off the radar was not a choice I could exercise.
In fact, I was required to make myself available and accessible to his gaze as well as the gaze of other men. Thus, the crime I had committed was not one of accepting my subjugation as a Muslim woman and 'confused African woman', but of refusing to situate myself in his myopic discourse of liberation that ultimately puts me at his mercy. If I was mistaken in this assumption, it was further validated by a number of men in Johannesburg and in America who have told me similar tales of my inaccessibility, as a reason why I should not wear Hijab.
They started with a narrative of genuine concern for my oppression and devolved into a shallow desire for a free pass to accessibility. It was not always about what was said, but the delivery of these diatribes. In many of these situations, these men used aggressive and paternalistic tones. They attempted to silence me by raising their voices. They worked to discredit my line of defense by telling me I did not know enough. Most of all they were surprised that I was able to put together a sentence and to give as well as I was given. It was a reminder that the covering of my head is not a covering of my mind or my mouth.
HT: my hijab = my *diamond* crown