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I Learn Library

A human library inspired by the stories in the film

Dare to Wear

By Jennifer Risa  |   From : Bangladesh  |   School : University Neighborhood High School (New York)

With one simple wrap, and a couple of basic safety pins, it takes me about five minutes to put on my hijab. Each day I leave my door with a different patterned hijab, after all if I can’t style my hair, then I can at least style my scarf. Walking down the street, as I adjust my scarf a couple of times, there is always this eerie feeling that at least one pair of eyes travel behind my back. By now I’m used to it, but as an eleven year old, I was drowning deeper than I had realized. Always wanting to be like my older cousin, Jannatul, who always beautifully wore her scarf with decorative pins, I couldn’t wait till it was my turn to wear a hijab. However, from the very first moment I stepped out the door with a scarf wrapped around my head, I faced on a whole new world of judgement and discrimination.

 

Every female in my family wears a hijab, so it’s only natural that as a kid I would want to wear one too. My first day of middle school was the day I was to wear a hijab for the first time in public other than to the mosque. My steps from then on were to be of an adult, I was going to go to middle school, I get to travel outside on my own and without supervision, and as a bonus I get to wear a hijab. When I got to school, I made friends, I established good relationships with my teachers, and my grades were exceptionally high. But what lied ahead wasn’t what I wished for, it wasn’t anything anyone would have wished for.

 

Throughout elementary school I was bullied and harassed for sometimes for being bengali, sometimes for being smarter than others, and sometimes because I lacked femininity. I wanted to create a change for myself when I got to middle school, I was prepared to seem less cultural, to not show off my intelligence, and to be more feminine. I was careful to avoid any confrontation and any judgement about what I said or did. But, I was oblivious to what was seen to the common eye. I was determined not to be intimidated by anyone, I was determined to fit in. Then the unexpected came, how was I not prepared for people abusing me of my religion, of my use of wearing a hijab. I was still so naive, how could I have not have seen it coming. Before I was judged on different aspects of my identity, but now for simply wearing my hijab, I was being judged as a whole on every action, word, or breathe I took.

 

A moment that I would always vividly remember, was back when I was in seventh grade. My middle school had shared the building with two other high schools at that time, so my school was only on the fifth floor. One day I had told my friends to wait for me downstairs after school while I go to the main office to retrieve some papers. After I had finished my job, I walked down the stairs by myself and found myself to be surrounded by a bunch of high school students. Like usual, my goal was to walk past them trying to be as invisible as I could possibly become. However, a tall guy had pulled my arm back and raised his voice, “Where are you going you little terrorist?” He and his friends laughed as my face felt hot with shame. I struggled out of his grasp and reached for the stairs, but another guy came towards me. With one move he jerked off my hijab and pushed me down the stairs, and he said as I clearly remember, “go back to your country.” Another girl laughed and told the guys to stop. What did any of them do that was so funny? I didn’t go back up the stairs to retrieve my scarf, I ran down the stairs while hot tears streamed through my face. I didn’t know what became of my friends that day, but I didn’t want to talk to them. I didn’t want to do anything. In the end is this all I’m worth?

 

That day was kept a secret for a long time, and I began to be more careful of my surroundings. I became overly cautious and depressed. I stopped wearing a hijab to school. I was afraid to be myself. I was already discriminated against, but to be attacked was on a different level. My cousin, Jannatul, came over for a visit once, while wearing her hijab with so many decorative pins. I asked her, “doesn’t anyone ever judge you for wearing your scarf. Don’t you ever feel left out or too different from everyone else?” My cousin smiled at me as she said,”Who said I ever needed to fit in?” What did she mean by that. Of course you need to fit in, you’ll only get hurt if you’re not accepted by others. It took me a while, a long while, like a couple of years to realize I was going about it all wrong. My cousin was right. Who was I to change myself for the pleasure of others?

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