Today Ali and I will answer some questions about our social experiment we called "Facing Prejudice," where Ali dressed up in a Muslim hijab and visited various locations in our city to see how our community treated Muslims.
Do you think the social experiment was successful?
Ali: I do, because we got responses. We got to see how people reacted to differences.
Emily: I think the social experiment was definitely successful. I learned a lot by seeing how people treated Ali when she was wearing the hijab. I'm always very careful to never appear prejudiced, but now I realize that even avoiding someone to try not to appear prejudiced can be a form of prejudice in itself! After our experiment, I had to realize the level of prejudice our community still has against Muslims. From now on, if I ever see a Muslim woman, I'll definitely make an effort to smile at her and greet her. I'll also try to raise more awareness about the prejudice within my community.
Did the experiment change the way you view prejudice?
Ali: Yeah. I'm Hispanic, so there's sometimes prejudiced people against me. I don't like it when people are prejudiced towards me and I don't want to be prejudiced, but I think all of us have prejudiced moments at one point or the other. We need to realize [that]. I wouldn't have thought avoiding someone would have been prejudice. If I ignored someone, it would probably be because I didn't want them to think I was judging them, but in reality, by completely ignoring them like people did to me, I was being prejudiced because I was treating them differently.
Emily: Definitely. I always thought of prejudice as someone treating another person with hateful words and condescension, but I never really thought of prejudice as someone avoiding someone else. There are a lot of forms of prejudice and all of them are hurtful and need to end.
So do you think there is prejudice towards Muslims in your community?
Ali: Oh, yes. Very much! You could tell that the moment I entered any place. You could really tell it in the Sonic line. Even in Christian bookstores, which is sad.
Emily: There is definitely still prejudice against Muslims in my community. Like Ali said, when no one would stand in the same line at Sonic as Ali, that showed a lot about how people in our community feel about Muslims. Yes, there are some high emotions surrounding Islam and terrorism, but Ali was a young teenage girl. She was smiling and acted friendly towards everyone around her. Muslims are still people and deserve to be treated like anyone else.
How do you think your community should change the way it treats Muslims?
Ali: I don't think we should treat them differently [than we treat each other], because they're still people and they still have feelings. They might believe something differently, but they still feel the looks and I'm sure they're still hurt by them. I was hurt by them, and I'm not even a Muslim. I was hurt by how people just kind of stayed away from me and didn't even smile at me. I mean, I'm still a person.
Emily: I wish everyone in my community would just smile at Muslims. Don't avoid them. Don't whisper openly about them. Don't nudge each other when you see them. Don't glare at them. Especially when the Muslim in question is a teenage girl who's probably dealing with self esteem issues, just like any other girl. Even if you're not a Muslim, just be friendly to everyone. Treat everyone equally.
Were the reactions what you expected them to be?
Ali: In a way, yes. I mean, I expected people to be kind of rude and [to] get some looks, but I think they exceeded my expectations, because I wasn't expecting people to move lines because of me. I was expecting some looks, but I wasn't expecting so many. I thought [people] would still smile at me.
Emily: No, they actually weren't. I didn't expect all of the nudges and stares and glares. And I absolutely 100% did not expect people to refuse to stand in the same line as a Muslim girl. That was ridiculous. I suppose I thought my community wasn't very prejudiced at all. In fact, I was a little worried that our experiment would turn up nothing because no one would react to Ali in her hijab. Boy, was I wrong. I kind of wish I wasn't.
Were the reactions of the Christian community what you expected them to be?
Ali: No, no, not at all. I expected more reaching out attitudes, evangelical attitudes, and [I was] kind of excited that I was there so they could lead me the right way, and I got completely the opposite [response].
Emily: Definitely not. I didn't expect the people who worked at Lifeway to entirely ignore Ali. I wasn't expecting anyone to stand up and start witnessing, but I expected more smiles and friendly greetings. After all, like St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words." He also said, "It is not fitting, when one is in God's service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look." He was a wise man. Perhaps those workers should hang some of his quotes up on the wall to remind them. If I had been a Muslim girl curious about the Christian faith, the attitudes of the people at the first Christian store we visited would have made me want to run for the hills. I was more impressed with the attitude of the cashier at the second Christian bookstore we visited. Her response to Ali was more what I expected before we began the experiment.
Will you treat Muslim women differently after this experience?
Ali: I will. I almost feel like a hypocrite because I was so mad that people weren't looking at me or smiling at me, but I do the same thing. Whenever I looked at Muslim people, I wouldn't look at them for too long because I was scared that they would think, 'Oh, yeah, she's judging us,' but in reality, if I completely avoid them, that's worse!
Emily: I definitely will. I've met a few Muslim girls in the past and I don't feel prejudice or dislike towards them at all, but I'm going to be sure to deliberately smile at every Muslim woman I see from now on. Being avoided is an awful feeling.
Did you enjoy wearing a hijab?
Ali: No. It's not a loose scarf! I hated it. It was really bad at first, but I kind of got used to it, but I just felt really tied up. It's very uncomfortable. I couldn't even move my neck much, and then if I did, I would be nervous about messing [the scarf] up. It was constricting.
Emily: Obviously, I didn't go out in public in the hijab, but when I was practicing how to tie the scarf, I wore it around the house for a little while and could hardly stand it. I know the hijab is something girls must have to get used to, but I thought it was extremely uncomfortable and constricting. I felt like I could hardly turn my head or bend over without having to fuss with my scarf. I also felt hot and stuffy after wearing the hijab for very long. I didn't enjoy wearing it at all.
Do you think teenage girls are too young to wear a hijab?
Ali: In a way, yes, but I guess it's up to any girl's maturity level. Most young teens, I doubt it. Maybe sixteen. I think it could have a damaging effect on their self esteem.
Emily: I think it's up to the individual girl, but I think pressure should not be put on a young Muslim girl to wear the hijab while still in high school. Girls in America have to deal with peer pressure and self esteem problems without having to face stares and dirty looks everywhere they go.
What have you learned from this experience?
Ali: I learned that I am kind of prejudiced because I know what my reaction would have been towards Muslim women and it's not how I would have wanted. And it's funny because I wouldn't have thought about it, but I am [prejudiced]... well, I was.
Emily: I've learned how much prejudice exists within my community. I never realized how much prejudice there actually was. This experiment also helped me empathize with Muslim girls, more than I ever have before.
Did this experiment make you want to attempt other social experiments? Do you have anything in mind?
Ali: Oh yeah! It pushed my curiosity to test people. I would like to dress up like a homeless girl, but that would be more risky. I want to see people's reactions and how they treat [the homeless]. I think, in a way, I expect them to treat a homeless girl worse than they treat Muslims! A lot of glares and rude comments, maybe. At least we didn't get any rude comments [when I dressed up as] the Muslim girl.
Emily: Most definitely! I love experiments like this, and I'm always thinking of situations I would like to test out on people. I love to see reactions. In the future, I'd like to disguise myself as a teenage mother and see how people treat me, either by dressing up like I'm pregnant or borrowing someone's baby for the day. I also might like to test some boundaries and see how people respond to interracial relationships, but that's just an idea still burrowing in the back of my mind. We'll see if it ever happens. :)
Do you have any social experiments you'd like me and Ali to try?