At a Monday rally in Detroit, Michigan, a town widely recognized as an Arab-American diasporic hub, the Obama camp made two Muslim women in hijab exit the crowd scene behind Obama’s podium. Obama staff explained that they asked the women to leave the stage because in “this political climate,” it would not be prudent for Obama to be seen on camera with Muslim women in hijab behind him.
I know how the two women feel.
As an Indian-American woman who was asked to remove my “head scarf,” in the United States Supreme Court by the late Chief Justice Rehnquist, I understand the personal and societal impact of having a top governmental official say you don’t look right for the part. The part of 1st class citizen with a full bundle of rights.
The comedienne Margaret Cho once said that ABC television producers told her she was too fat to play herself on the groundbreaking “All American Girl.” Who decides who looks the part of a person with every right to exist? The judicial branch, the legislative branch, and the executive branch. You and me. We all have the opportunity to police each other out of a face or voice. But that doesn’t mean we have to take it.
The Detroit decision begs the question: To what extent, and to what end, will Obama distance himself from Islam?
After I publicized the Rehnquist incident, my inbox was flooded with worldwide voices sharing their similar experiences with xenophobia and exclusion at the hands of the nation-state. The two Muslim women in Detroit, the young women just trying to go to school in France, Ghandi appearing before a judge in South Africa, Margaret Cho, families of victims of police brutality–we are all part of a large network of people who are asked to rise above, and be big in the face of politically powerful smallness.
For more information:
The story broke on www.politico.com. And it was mentioned, though not appropriately contextualized, in an article on the front page of today’s New York Times entitled, “Obama’s Campaign Tightens Control of Image and Access.” Links to both below, and a small expert of the original story:
Muslims barred from picture at Obama event
By BEN SMITH | 6/18/08 11:08 AM EST Updated: 6/18/08 3:07 PM EST
Two Muslim women at Barack Obama’s rally in Detroit on Monday were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers seeking to prevent the women’s headscarves from appearing in photographs or on television with the candidate.
The campaign has apologized to the women, both Obama supporters who said they felt betrayed by their treatment at the rally.
Stay tuned for more.