At a recent ‘fundraiser for refugees’ gig I attended, a middle-aged white woman, Jill, approached my friend and I to compliment us on our ‘turban styles’.
She proceeded to tell us about her friend with cancer who would love to learn such styles to help her feel better, aesthetically. Though this request was a little random in approach, my friend and I happily shared turban tips including YouTube links to which Jill seemed genuinely appreciative. We then casually added that we wear our head coverings as a type of hijab in keeping with our faith as Muslims. At this point, Jill’s smile formed a grimace. As she recoiled and stumbled for words, she muttered something along the lines of “my friend would rather not to be mistaken for a Muslim, so thanks anyway”.
The sheer irony of this moment struck me as Racism101. Here was Jill, attending an event at an establishment run by a Senegalese Muslim, featuring music played by an all Muslim West African ensemble, raising funds for refugees on Manus Island – many of whom are predominantly Muslim.. yet the visceral shock of incidentally admiring and conversing with actual Muslims, crossed her line.
This tired approach to humanitarian causes and minorities is grossly offensive. Jill’s behaviour exposed the fault lines for those saviours who see us as exotic fodder to be admired but never part of the struggle where real change occurs.
Please keep the hypocrisy of your ‘saving refugees’ tokenism out of our faces and stick to the banality of clicktivism where we dont have to actually deal with you.
PostReflection: a friend neatly summarised this exchange in an online comment:
“This is Jill. Jill wants the culture of the people without the people of the culture. Don’t be a Jill.”
Thanks, Dash Brookins (NJ, USA)