By Shameem Razack
I am crouched down on a pillow while her rattail comb grazes my scalp. She parts another section of hair. She gathers the hair and intricately weaves the strands creating one long braid down my back. By the time she gave me the mirror, I had looked at the braids and saw a light and sparkle in my eyes. Miss Natalie did that. She brought joy through her hands. She brought joy to that little black girl. That is a talent that the world has yet to master.
My Mother’s Journey
My mom wore the hijab at a later stage in her life, so I fully witnessed her transition. I could say that had some effect on my own decision. As a black woman who is a role model to me, I guess you could say we both have had an interesting story with the hijab. It was never something that was a central part of my identity as a Muslim. Regardless of wearing the hijab or not my parents instilled this idea of being Black and Muslim. Prior to my mother’s hijab, she never signified a need to impose her ideas of what a ‘Muslim woman’ should be. Without verbally saying it, I do believe she was aware that I would go through my own journey in understanding Islam. Like other African women such as my mother, it is also not uncommon to not wear the hijab or deciding later on in life to wear it. African women have a custom of wearing traditional head wraps and turbans, but for me, while growing up my connection with the hijab specifically only connected with praying and wearing it while going to the mosque.
“Black hair is as political as my existence”
Once I started college I decided to make my own transition to wearing the hijab. This came with the projected assumptions or views from people who will never wear the hijab or understand it themselves. Yet I have been expected to listen to these assumptions and speak for an entire population of hijab-wearing women. These discussions around the hijab as well brought up internal thoughts. For the past three years, I’ve had this odd detachment with my hair since I started wearing the hijab. I want to make it clear as I share this that there should be space for Black Muslim women to be able to have that conversation. Regardless if this is relatable or not, it is my own lived experience. It’s also important to understand that this has already been a discussion in certain spaces. For me, that connection to my hair lacked because I did not have a full understanding that the lived experience of being a Black Muslim woman also includes hair regardless if you wear a scarf or not. Also, living in an area where Black Muslims are marginalized within an already marginalized community, I had no way of having a conversation around my black hair within non-black Muslim spaces or most spaces in general. Especially in a society that has deemed black hair as undesirable, unfit, able to be policed and for all intents and purposes not deemed acceptable in a white society or mainstream beauty standards. Black hair is as political as my existence.
As a Black Muslim woman, there already is a weird de-legitimacy around Black people and Islam within society. The idea of having to almost prove you are a practicing Muslim. Over the years of wearing the hijab, I have seen the swift change of acknowledgment before wearing it and not wearing it. Which I have to be honest is very disorienting and still something I am reconciling. The outer appearance of being visibly Muslim while being Black creates a dichotomy of hyper-visibility. What does it mean to fully acknowledge ways to maintain black hair while wearing the hijab? That means there is a full acknowledgment that there are various ways of having discussions around black hair. There are multiple experiences to be explored as Black women, hijab-wearing Black women and non-hijab wearing Black Muslim women. I will say the online conversation has helped to connect with other Black Muslim women, and that has been necessary. I now have a clearer understanding that my identities can coexist.