Taleb: American and colorless

Nardine Taleb, Columnist

The first day I wore the hijab, I was 16 years old. I stood in front of the mirror, arranging a scarf I’d bought from Target around my head with my fingers, so confident I could hardly recognize myself. I didn’t know what I’d be up against. First, my parents wouldn’t be so excited, contrary to popular thought. They would be extremely afraid for me because my scarf made me more visibly Muslim, and therefore, a target. Second, I’d be up against family and friends who just couldn’t understand why I’d want to look more Muslim—I was born and raised an American. There was America in my voice and in the way I walked and dressed. Why did I want to look so foreign? And third, I’d be up against discrimination.

I questioned how the idea of putting the hijab on came to my head. And now I realize that I felt the freedom to dress the way I wanted because of my American beliefs. My fearlessness stemmed from the ideology that everyone has the right to live the way they want to, as long as they are not hurting others. Our right to our own way of life, our right to freedom of decision—and certainly of dress—is what makes America great.

All of those ideologies were put into question the night President-elect Donald Trump was announced the winner of the 2016 presidential election. I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel that a lot of people had an identity crisis. Suddenly America did not look like the melting pot our sheltered communities convinced us that it was. The home that I’d embraced my whole life was not embracing me. It made me think: What will it take? What will it take for me to be considered American?

I would have to strip everything that deviates from eurocentric standards. American novelist Toni Morrison writes in her article “Making America White Again”: “Here, for many people, the definition of ‘Americanness’ is color.” She calls whiteness a “unifying force.” I would add onto that. I would say that any external thing added onto that white skin – a hijab, yarmulkes, turbans—sets us apart from that unifying force. And if you look at the cover of magazines, most models and actresses are light skinned. If they aren’t naturally light-skinned, technology takes care of it for them. If you want proof, search up “beauty”—all images are of “perfected,” cream-colored women.

American novelist Ralph Ellison says in his book “Invisible Man”: “Why, if they follow this conformity business they’ll end up by forcing me, an invisible man, to become white, which is not a color but the lack of one. Must I strive toward colorlessness?” I don’t mean to offend anyone who has white skin. I don’t think that being white means being “colorless” or “plain.” But I do think conformity does mean those things. Without diversity, without the hijabs and the yarmulkes, the different languages and journeys and stories, America is colorless. America is plain.

Nardine is a 20-year-old Muslim woman who is afraid of fear itself.