The Brown Hijabi – Breaking Binaries

the brown hijabi project Ribcage interview

Suhaiymah answers questions

So at this point in the project that we are just watching our participants grow and flourish and then applaud. Nothing can be more true for this particular gem. We can't get enough of Suhaiymah, she's blown up since her poem went viral. We caught her on the morning of her performance at the FMC event in late summer.
  If you were curious, it was not a fluke. Her genius is unbound. She's as charming as she is revolutionary. And we are excited to present the interview to you.
  The Brown Hijabi is here to give you the recipe for world healing. And we don't think she's too far off.   

 

Meet Suhaiymah. 

   

Intro


  Plenty of people are like, of course I'm British. Part of my Britishness is Halal meet, part of my Britishness is going to the mosque on a Friday. Sometimes it’s not the things that people write poems about or the things we speak about on a big platform. We’re outside any of these boxes anyways, we’re doing it.
 
"There’s a million different ways to exist."
 
 

About Suhaiymah/ The Brown Hijabi

Hi, I’m Suhaiymah, I recently had a poem go viral on the internet called “This is not a humanising poem”. Basically, I write, sometimes that writing is important, sometimes people listen to it and sometimes I speak about it. But I’m just someone trying to make people feel. I grew up in Leeds, so the school I went to was diverse racially. I knew I was brown, I knew I was Muslim; I used to use Mrs Sydle’s classroom to pray at lunchtime. But I got into Cambridge University and I thought; wow this is amazing!” This is the first time in my life I realised that they are not seeing the me that I knew myself to be. All they’re seeing is: Brown girl with a headscarf. Or; headscarf with a brown girl in it. And that broke me a little bit.
 
"But I’m just someone trying to make people feel. "
 
 

how Poetry started?

And I think that was the first time I realised that validating peoples’ lived experiences is one of the most fundamental things we can do as marginalised people. Just saying to someone; “I hear you and I see you, and what you’re saying is true.” Because we live in a world where we’re constantly manipulated to believe that what we’re feeling is not valid and is not there. I was going through a really low phase. And somebody advised me: “Do something that you always wanted to do but never thought you could do.” And I love watching YouTube videos of spoken word slam poets, but that’s not something I could do. So she said; “Do that.”
 
"we live in a world where we’re constantly manipulated to believe that what we’re feeling is not valid and is not there"
 
  I went and found the local “scene”. And I performed there and really enjoyed it. And I would perform more and I would get involved with slam stuff at uni. The things I talk about in my poetry are generally the things that I feel about the most. I think the times I write my best is when I’m angry. The things that I’m angry about are usually to do with injustices to do with race, gender, religion, the kind of categories that people wanna put me in. Quite a lot of my poems will have a line from something that someone actually said to me. And it will have my response that I never said out loud that I can now talk through. I guess it’s what some people who call “Identity Politics”, but I just see it as the things that I’m angry about.
 
"I guess it’s what some people who call “Identity Politics”, but I just see it as the things that I’m angry about."
 

 

Identity

I think our identities are politisised. If you’re born into this world and you’re racialized as soon as you’re born, you’re gendered as soon as you’re born. You’re born into politics, you don’t pick to politisise your identity. I think it’s really hard for Muslim women who are in any way a public figure. Because how do you do that without “Muslim woman” being your primary identity? It’s the “privilege to exist complexly” and that’s what so many people don’t have. And I think in that sense, yeah, you get asked to do certain things with: “Wow, you’re an articulate Muslim woman!” or “you did well in your GCSE’s, great!”. But, I want to be able to do those things, AND I want you to treat me the way you treat all other Muslims, and I want you to recognise that I am them.
 
"It’s the “privilege to exist complexly” and that’s what so many people don’t have."
 
  It’s like when people say; “your English is so good,” or “you’re not like other Muslims” or “You’re not like other What evers”. “No, I am.” And if you hate them, then hate me too, because I don’t want to have this fake conversation with you where you’re letting me have it.
  I’ve just been thinking a lot about progressive liberal, white friends. And how t’s actually really hurtful that they can laugh with me, have jokes with me. We can go for dinner and lunch. But at the end of the day, do they see other Muslims as humans? Women in burkah, women who don’t speak English? And if they don’t then that hurts me. Because then you are not loving me in a wholesome way. You’re just loving the bits of me that you recognise because you also do that.  
 
"But at the end of the day, do they see other Muslims as humans?"
 
 

How to leverage your voice?

You get to the places you get to because someone threw a ladder down, right? You can come up that ladder and 1) Pull that ladder up behind you, Or 2) You can extend another ladder down. So, my poem going viral, gaining a bit of a platform. Now have to be super aware not to just use that to be like: “aayyy, make some money have some fun!” No, I have to make sure that I’m saying things that are important and that resonate with people.

Suhaiymah talking about love.

And also because I think there’s a real lack of love, we’re losing that in the world. We don’t necessarily think of love in a deep sense. We think about it, I think in a very superficial sense. I think we need to broaden our idea of love. So, to expect people to be things that they can’t be, or things that don’t allow them to fully express themselves is an unloving thing to do. And so I think what I mean by “Society needs more love” is, allowing people to be themselves. And so it fits in with everything I’ve said about the complexity, you don’t have to fit in these categories, you don’t have to do these things. I think loving needs to be a bit bigger and a bit broader.  
 
"I think loving needs to be a bit bigger and a bit broader."
 
 

Semi-religious context

Not to go all “Quranic”, but, the idea in Islam that is really liberating, that, the only thing you are accountable to is God gives you the space to exist however you need to do. And I think a lot of people know inside themselves what is an injustice. If we can find that place inside to speak from which is “this isn’t right”. If we have the safety and comfort to do that, then we should do that. And if we don’t, then the next thing is survival is the key thing. And survive in whatever ways you need to. And don’t let anyone tell you that the way you’ve surviving is not authentic enough, not good enough, not brave enough, not Muslim enough. You survive if you need to survive.
 
"don’t let anyone tell you that the way you’ve surviving is not authentic enough, not good enough, not brave enough, not Muslim enough!"
 
  And for any other sister out there who has got a platform, got some safety, got some comfort. You Have to help out. You can’t just go get into the House of Lords and have a good time. If you’re going to go into those hallowed halls and then not complain and pretend that you didn’t come from something, then you’re also tricking yourself. Because, like I said. When they come for you, what you gonna do?
 
"When they come for you, what you gonna do?"
 
 

Writing advice

If you’re writing stuff, and no one is platforming it, platform yourself. So that’s essentially what I did. I just started my own blog. My friends read it, they were obliged to. But then some of them maybe shared it and slowly slowly, over two years, random people were reading my blog. The key is; don’t be deterred by the fact that maybe you’re producing an alternative narrative and no one wants to hear that. If you email the independent and they say: “Sorry, the news cycle has changed today, we don’t care about nuanced deconstructions today.” Just keep writing. Platform yourself, because people need to hear your voice if you’re writing important things. And second thing is: write your truth , because that’s always going to be the best writing that you do. It’s the way that you’ll be able to write most beautifully because it will be most honest.
 
"don’t be deterred by the fact that maybe you’re producing an alternative narrative.."
 
 

De-stabilising the binaries

I don’t need to change the world by overthrowing institutions. I need to change people. Even if that’s one person. And even if that change is just provoking or enabling or validating. Then that to me is the revolution; it’s every day, and it’s what you do and what you say to people and how you make them feel. And if you do that enough, the institutions will change. And so, I don’t know what that means I will be doing concretely/ day to day, but that’s what I would love to do. Change the world, one tiny drop, that I might be able to contribute.
 
"the revolution; it’s every day, and it’s what you do and what you say to people and how you make them feel."
 
 

There's more amazing stuff here: This lit twitter is Suhaiymah's Support this new mision The Islam Channel

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