"That's just disgusting!" said the well-dressed, seemingly educated man, laughing at my Hijab as he approached me on a busy NYC street this past Saturday. What I wanted to say in return was: "What, your face?!"
But I did not. Of course not!
Instead, I conjured up the sweetest little smile I could possibly give him and said "thank you", as I continued on my way to go where I was originally headed.
This was not the first time I had heard a bigot trying to feel better about his existence at the expense of others, and I must say, I am sure it will not be the last. However, something happened in that moment that has never happened before and it changed everything. It did not happen when I was told to "go back where I came from" at a supermarket. It did not happen when I was followed on the streets of Ann Arbor by a persistent young man addressing me saying, "Yo Osama's sister, I'm talkin' to you, where's Osama?" Neither did it happen in a full lecture hall at the University of Michigan, when a classmate asked me, "Do they make you wear that thing at home?" It did not happen any of those times.
Those who are my "friends" on Facebook know there is a 2-sentence quote describing me on the "About Tuba" section of my profile: "There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me." (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice)
Whenever I have encountered such blatant racism, I have cranked up my courage a notch (or ten) and made a conscious decision to be stronger in my conviction to prove the stereotypes wrong. However, this time around not only did I grow stronger in my conviction to prove these bigots wrong, but I grew stronger in my conviction to have others join me in this quest. (I'll have much more fun this way.) In that moment, I decided that every person who has an encounter with any sort of racism and bigotry should know that they are not alone, their story is just as important as the million others out there, and there is no room for intimidation. None!
Going back to the man who sought to intimidate me this past Saturday by calling my proud Muslim identity "disgusting", I guess I should thank you. You have helped me realize there is something disgusting out there, but it is not I. It is your ignorant mind, and "That's just disgusting!" I know not whether this message will ever reach you, but I want you to know that while you thought your purpose was to discourage me in that moment in time, the actual purpose you have served in my life is to empower me to empower others.
I have decided to write, to speak, to discuss about our experiences and how they shape us as individuals. I have decided to share, to inspire, and be inspired. I have decided to fight back with a weapon the size of my fist – my heart – and pump some energized blood that would mobilize not only my body into action, but also the bodies of countless others who have stories to tell and experiences to inspire us with. Whether you are Arab, Asian, Black, Latino, White, female, male, Muslim or not – your voice of reason needs to be louder than the hateful rhetoric spewing all around us in this increasingly bigoted world of ours. So speak up, stand up, and fight back! The world is yours to take back. What are you waiting for?