Throughout this month, I've been writing about the social experiment my best friend and sister Ali and I created to test the level of prejudice our community holds against Muslims. Ali dressed up in a hijab and visited a few different stores in our small Texas city. She received both dirty looks and smiles. While there were a few acts of direct prejudice towards Ali, there were one or two acts of kindness as well.
One of the most fun parts of Ali's disguise was showing it off to our friends and family. Like I've said before, Ali is Mexican, not Middle Eastern, so it was quite funny to see the looks of shock on the faces of people we know. "She looks so Middle Eastern," they would say over and over.
Even as Ali's best friend and someone who sees her for several hours each day, it was hard for me to wrap around how Middle Eastern Ali actually appeared when she wore the hijab and "Muslim" clothing. I even joked around that I felt like I was hosting a foreign exchange student from the Middle East whenever Ali wore her hijab in public.
Right before Ali and I left the house to visit Lifeway Christian Store, we noticed that my eleven-year-old brother, Luke, was at home. We decided to show off Ali's disguise.
Now let me tell you an interesting story about Luke. For some reason, he won't admit that Ali doesn't look white. Perhaps in his mind, admitting that Ali is Mexican makes her seem like less of his sister... we aren't sure. One day, when he was eating lunch, Ali and I approached him. This was around the time when the idea of our social experiment was first coming into existence, so Ali and I had been discussing whether or not she could pass as Middle Eastern. "Luke," I asked casually, "does Ali look Mexican to you?"
For the hundredth time, Ali is Mexican. 100% Mexican. She looks Mexican because she is Mexican.
Swallowing hard, Luke glanced at Ali and then down at his hands. He seemed worried and embarrassed. "Emily, how am I supposed to answer that?" he finally said, his cheeks flushing bright red.
Ali and I spent the next fifteen minutes laughing. The appropriate answer would be yes. Of course Ali looks Mexican! Her birth family is from Mexico.
We were eager to show Luke what Ali looked like dressed up like a Muslim. Who knew how he would respond? Sure enough, as soon as Luke saw Ali's clothes, a sheepish grin came over his face. He couldn't stop staring at her, but he wouldn't say anything.
"Does Ali look Middle Eastern to you?" I asked, trying to stifle my laughter.
Luke hesitated for a long moment, looking at Ali and then back at me with an unsure expression etched across his face. "I'm leaving!" he finally announced before walking hurriedly away. He still couldn't admit that Ali looked different from us. My little brother never ceases to bring a smile to my face.
My mother's reaction was everything we could have hoped for. She was amazed and made Ali turn around in a full circle, hardly able to believe her own eyes. "You don't even look Hispanic like this," she said incredulously. My younger sister Amy couldn't stop giggling.
After Ali and I finished visiting various stores in my city, we decided to drop by our friend Rebekah's house. Rebekah had just undergone major knee surgery and was still confiscated to a bed, so she often was bored and lonely. We knew she could use some cheering up. A huge smile came over her face when she saw Ali's costume. "At first, I thought, 'What does Ali have on her head?' And then I realized what it was... You guys are amazing!" Rebekah said, laughing. We spent the next thirty minutes showing Rebekah how to properly wrap a Muslim hijab. Everyone should learn a skill like that at some point.
The moral of this post is... if you ever want a great conversation-starter, then all you have to do is dress up in a hijab and see how your friends and family respond. The reactions are always priceless.