Ah, spring, when a young college student’s fancy turns to activism.
Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve been inundated for the past several months with images in your feeds of passionate protests and counter- protests, walks and marches.
The people involved in these sorts of things – contrary to what the media sometimes shows – like to smile. If you ever plan to attend, be prepared to have sore cheeks for hours to follow and maybe don’t bring up the fact that your entire social media presence revolves around self-deprecating humor. After all, successful protesting is centered on empowerment, and empowered people don’t joke about self-combustion.
You might be surprised to learn that I, too, have dabbled in the art of peaceful demonstrations and my fair share of posed pictures with Refugee-approved Starbucks cups.
I, too, have witnessed the powerful transformation brought about by the deep, emotionally-fulfilling experience of working with large groups of people for a common noble cause. I’ve learned some important things along the way. Although, none are as personally jarring as my realization that if I attend such an event in small- town Mississippi, I’ll likely be the only hijabi there.
When anyone is the only anything anywhere, they become the token version of that thing.
Now, I’m making it a point to be more optimistic in 2017. So, even though this realization makes my mind wander back to my horrifying days – of being the only hijabi in my elementary, middle and high schools – I’m going to try to focus on the positive. Believe it or not, there are benefits to being the token hijabi.
First, if you stop breathing (as so many of my classmates were concerned I’d do when I wrapped my hijab too tightly), you’ll receive immediate medical attention because everyone’s already staring. Second, when they ask you outlandish personal questions preceded by the inevitable “I’m not trying to say anything, but …” you can answer in any way you want. It’s like Tinder trolling in person! Obviously, this one doesn’t necessarily hold true in the midst of a protest. For one thing, people at protests tend to not antagonize their fellow protesters and are generally quite apt at searching the web for answers to the more obvious questions.
One thing I’ve noticed about protesters is that they tend to be quite nice – if, sometimes, in backhanded ways. There’s nothing quite like walking by a group of boys and hearing the words “Middle Eastern” and then “yeah, but she’s pretty though,” or being told, “You’re the best Pakistani speaker/ writer/organizer I’ve ever known!” By someone who only knows you and Nawaz Sharif.
Still, all in all, I quite enjoy exercising my American right to complain, and I can think of no better time than now, when so many things I care deeply about have been threatened, to do it. If there’s one upside to the political upheaval we’ve experienced in these past few months, it’s my realization that there are a lot of good, passionate people in this world who refuse to go down without a fight.
And that’s something I’d “swipe right” on any day.