The Problem With Being The First “Hijabi” At Something

Written By Ahlam Abdelkader

Disclaimer: In no way am I bashing or dissing Noor Tagouri. Also, in no way am I defending Vogue magazine’s mistake. The purpose of this post is to argue against an objective.

In the recent issue of Vogue magazine, Libyan-American journalist Noor Tagouri was featured, only to have her name mistaken for Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari. As common as it is, it sucks that mass media does not fact-check people’s names. However, I personally do not feel bad for that. I feel bad for Noor Tagouri because she is so caught up on being “the first” hijabi at something without truly seeing her cause.

Tagouri claims, “I have never seen a Muslim woman in hijab in the pages of Vogue.” Supermodel Halima Aden and political fashion blogger Hoda Katebi were featured before her. It’s like Tagouri is special because she’s accomplished so much for who she is and in her eyes, she’s winning the race. This is why building a career on being “the first” hijabi is problematic and straight up absurd. She has a platform, but it’s not about raising other hijabis. It’s about her brand.

The point is that if you are a minority putting yourself out there, the goal isn’t being “first.” The roadway to positive representation and humanizing minorities in mass media is not a race. Although, it’s a milestone to be the first, the main goal of representation is to make a difference.

As minorities, there is this pressure to correctly use a platform. It could be from social media, communities, or society as a whole. There is also the labeling of being a  “Poster Child” where one character is the face of a specific quality or group and Tagouri definitely wins the title. However, in the American Muslim community, she is not the only one. The point is the problem with acting like a poster child, in the case of the community of Muslim women, is that Muslim women are put on a pedestal and it’s dangerous. It’s like a domino effect where if one minority messes up, then the entire minor community goes down. Does this sound familiar?

As a Black Muslim woman (or BMW as I like to call it), I notice the spokespeople of American Muslims are either Arab or Desi, and at their highest peak they abuse their own power. There is no room for Black Muslims, who are the most populated Muslim group in the country, Native Muslims, Latinx Muslims, Asian Muslims, etc. This feeds into this erasure of double minorities. Why else is it a common stereotype for Muslims to be Arab or Indian? Going back to the case of Tagouri, did she not know that Halima Aden (a fellow BMW) was featured before her? Or does Aden not get the honor because she’s black?

It’s 2019 and I hope not only mass media can do better with getting names right and not tokenizing minorities. If you’re going to put yourself out there, be extremely careful in not only tarnishing your own reputation but also your own community. It’s not a race. It’s a revolution.

Ahlam Abdelkader is a blogger and writer. She is studying English Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts: Boston. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @ahlametc.

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