The Ominous Hijab

I’m in Turkey for 7 weeks.

Among many new cultural experiences, I’ve been curious to witness first-hand the role in society of the ominous hijab.  I’ll be spending time in the capital Ankara, in Istanbul the largest city, and throughout the countryside and smaller villages, as we journey south to the Aegean coast.

There is no official religion here, although 96% of the population is Muslim, it’s a secular state.  Compared to most of their Arab neighbours to the east, they’re more like Islam-Lite.

I have to say though, in the short time I’ve already spent here, I’m pretty disappointed to find maybe… 5 women in a hijab.  There were two in niqabs in the grocery store and that got me pretty excited, but for the most part, I’ve been walking around the city and seeing girls in shorts shorter than mine, and couples making out like pimply teenagers in local pubs.  Damn.  No islamic rigidity here.  Actually most of them seem to be terrible muslims, like my boyfriend, who drinks like a fish, doesn’t know when Ramadan is, and hasn’t been inside a mosque since Allah knows when.  I’m hoping he doesn’t go up in flames when he takes me to Hagia Sofia.

Ask him his opinion of the hijab, and he’ll tell you it’s downright stupid. “Nothing in the Qur’an says you have to wear one, and it’s a stupid tradition perpetuated by idiot men who want to keep women docile.”

“Well what about women who choose to wear it freely of their own accord?”

“Well then they’re stupid too. Why would you want to cover yourself like that? It is hot as shit outside.”

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My grandmother was Muslim, though she never wore a hijab, and I don’t really remember ever seeing anything too Islam-y in their home. She married a Christian, and I’m sure somewhere, someone probably thinks that means she’ll roast in hell and won’t get to heaven to receive her 40 virgins (wait… so do women get 40 virgins too in Islamic heaven? Talk about short-changed), but mostly all I remember of her, was that she was a sweet but firm woman, and the most wonderful hugger.  Hijab or no, she was respected and valued all the same.

I’ve never had the opportunity to speak with a fundamentalist or a Shi’ite to understand sharia law or why a woman would choose to veil her identity from an ever-growing visual world.

Western women complain about being objectified all the same, and judged for their looks before anything else, yet here in twisted irony we view the obscurity of the Islamic female face as part of that same distress.

I still haven’t gotten down to the bottom of why the hijab is such a thorn in people’s sides, but I’m hoping my remaining time here will lend me some insight.  At the end of the day though, I feel like women should be able to do and wear whatever the fuck they want, but the hijab to me, feels more like a visual statement of religion in your presence — and that, is something I have an entirely different opinion about.

More soon.

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Ramona Wright

This is the fifth post in our “Colourful Woman Wednesday” series, which features stories of colourful women surviving and thriving. If you’d like to share your story, or nominate a colourful woman for this feature, email us or get in touch via Tumblr,Twitter or Facebook.

Ramona Wright, Colourful WomanRamona Wright is a media and strategic communication specialist with more than 10 years of international experience. Ramona has been a consultant, creative entrepreneur, spokesmodel, fundraiser and an event producer who has managed multi-million dollar budgets. She is the publisher of Wiles Magazine (WilesMag.com), a leading online destination for multi-cultural women and co-creator of themojamoja.com and the annual MojaMoja Pre-Grammy Brunch, a live event and online destination to discover pop and international alternative music and culture. Ramona lectured for more than four years at her alma mater Loyola Marymount University, teaching Principles of Public Relations to more than 200 undergraduate students.

Ramona set aside some time in her busy, bi-coastal (LA, NYC, DC) schedule to share her experiences as a woman of colour in a world of black and white:

‘What makes you a colourful woman?’
My versatility. I am a colorful woman because I am a serial entrepreneur pursuing various ventures. One of which, is publishing WilesMag.com to promote women who possess poise, purpose and power.

‘Who are some of your colourful inspirations?’
Special thanks to my Mom for helping me become a colourful women. She raised me to know that before I would ever be defined as a woman, Black or race ambiguous, that I am God’s child and that I could become anything that I set my mind to. Every week she would take my brother and I to a different ethnic restaurant and cultural excursion. I appreciate her for exposure and encouraging me to be myself.

‘What message would you like to share with our readers today?’
Be yourself, love yourself, be sexy, savvy and do something to help someone. Make the world a better place.

Misunderstood?

I’m a woman. I’m Black. I’m strong. If that doesn’t make people nervous enough, I’m Quiet.

Strong black women sometimes have to speak louder to ensure we are heard, won’t stand aside and be taken advantage of, and will tell you about your parts when we are being disrespected. We know what we know, like what we like and don’t plan on changing any of that just for the sake of conformity. Key in my locs and tattoos and any day now I just may start a revolution.

 But what if I can get the same results by taking the other approach?

 I walk into a room commanding respect with my silence. Oh there’s that Angry Black Woman who doesn’t speak to anyone. I wonder what’s on her mind.

 I don’t laugh at your stale and potentially stereotypical joke rendering you the joke. Black women can be such snobs, they need to lighten up.

 And when I do laugh out loud because the joke is just that sweet and quite frankly life is just too short to not enjoy a good joke? Why can’t those Black Women ever know their place and keep it down?

Having always been a pensive individual, I am the silent observer who makes note of others’ words and actions in order to figure out ways to improve on those very points. If you don’t learn from your own mistakes, then by all means I will. So in my silent observation, I’ve already figured out a better solution. I will put my own turn on things to execute the steps then show the results and watch your eyes grow with revelation. Hey the snob is pretty smart, after all.

Snob, you say? Yes, a common misinterpretation of the Quiet. In all actuality, sometimes I have nothing to say simply because I have nothing to say. And I’m okay with that. Silence is golden. Silence is even revered. There’s a time and a place for everything and just because you are at the place doesn’t mean it is the time. Plus, what’s the point if no one is going to listen to me? Then I’ve gone and wasted both of our time. And I don’t know about you, but my time is precious.

 

So what people may interpret as Angry or Snobbish, I am really trying to translate as Focused. Or sometimes, it’s just plain old Boredom. It’s why I don’t laugh at your stale jokes, or engage in any irrelevant small talk. It’s especially why I stay true to who I am; I don’t want you getting the wrong idea – you may stick around and bore me some more. And that would mean I failed at being a snob, now wouldn’t it?                                                                                                         

If you choose to generalize instead of pick my brain to see who I really am, then I will remain misunderstood and continue to learn from your mistakes.

And that’s okay with me.

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Jeneba Jalloh “JJ” Ghatt

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This is the fourth post in our “Colourful Woman Wednesday” series, which features stories of colourful women surviving and thriving. If you’d like to share your story, or nominate a colourful woman for this feature, email us or get in touch via Tumblr,Twitter or Facebook.

Jeneba Jalloh “JJ” Ghatt is an entrepreneur, attorney, advocate, columnist, author and the founder of JJG Communications, a strategic consulting company.

  As an attorney, Jeneba has represented the nation’s highest profile civil rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts, Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission, all while authoring six influential and visible political and personal blogs and maintaining an active social media profile on LinkedInTwitter, FourSquare and other platforms. Jeneba was born in Sierra Leone and raised in the United States by a Catholic mother and a Muslim father.

Here she talks to the Coloured Collective about what drives and inspires her:

‘What makes you a colourful woman?’

I am an eternal optimist, that person who always sees the glass as half full and who makes lemonade when life gives lemons. And with that perspective on life, I fully appreciate beauty in all shapes, sizes, colour, persuasions and perspectives. I try to pass down that value to my children and aim to spread it among all those in my life, in person and online. I value my friendships and am always looking to enrich myself with knowledge and information and freely share gems and nuggets of wisdom I discover with all those I love and care about and who are around me. That is the definition of colour if you ask me.

‘Who are some of your colourful inspirations?’

I am inspired by other people around me living their dream, sticking their necks out; people who are not afraid of rejection, trial and error and who are resilient and steadfast. I see these traits in some colleagues, in some celebrities I follow for some of the blogs I own and in members of my family who surmount the odds and accomplish great things.

I also love fashion and taking the question literally, I’d say I gravitate towards those who exude confidence and wear the skin they’re in effortlessly and who select clothes and pieces that accentuate their best assets.

‘What are some of your projects right now?’

I’ve been promoting my blog Bellyitch, working on partnerships with other notable and established brands and will be putting out some new and exciting products in the very near future.

I’m also pitching a book that will be based on a blog I author at The Washington Times communities section called communities section called Politics of Raising Children which deals with the challenges of raising conscientious and balanced children in the very political times we live in.

I write for a political website Politic365.com which covers politics from the perspective of African and Hispanic Americans; and I’m a pundit on a nationally-syndicated weekly radio show called Week in Review.

Currently I’m on hiatus from a weekly online radio show I co-host with a friend that tackles politics, policy and pop culture from the perspective to the right of traditional black pundits in America who are generally very liberal. It’s called Right of Black.

‘What message would you like to share with our readers today?’

Take some time getting to know yourself and find your passion. Stop striving to be who someone else wants you to be; look within and rediscover yourself. Once you do that, find someone out there who has done what you want to do and to follow the path they’ve blazed. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Hold your cards to your chest, sharing your intimate desires with only those who matter and who will support you. There are plenty of haters and naysayers out there, and who despise seeing friends aim higher. Such people are toxic. Don’t let them occupy precious and valuable mental space in your head with their negativity. Keep them at arms-length and keep striving to accomplish your goals.

Don’t let rejection get you down because all the most accomplished people in the world have been told “no” plenty more than they were told yes. Remember that and you won’t wallow in self-pity over small bumps along the way! That is the formula for success.

Thank you for your inspiring words and example, JJ!

no permanent address

I’ve been holding off making business cards for a long time. This is because I didn’t want to put any information on there that wouldn’t be applicable for less than a year. My loved ones can attest to the ridiculous number of phone numbers I’ve had over the years, especially during undergrad when I moved every four months! When moving yet again a few weeks ago I gathered all of my cell phones into a little pile – one for every country I’ve lived in. I cursed, put them in another box and shipped them with all of the other things I’ve shipped and tagged and stored.

So no, I still have no permanent address. I tell people I do – like the government. They seem pretty stuck on the issue, though I stress that ‘permanent’ is a strong term for my living situation. For a while I was using my brother’s house as my supposed permanent address but his wife hates me so that stopped pretty quick. Now I change my address every time I move and in the past 8 or 9 years, I haven’t lived in one place for longer than a year and a half. This is bad news for my National Geographic magazine subscription.

My boyfriend and I were joking around last night that we come from a long line of cantankerous Cartman-like ancestors who at some point in all of their lives said ‘Screw this town! I’m going over there!’ This is true of all of our ancestors with the possible exclusion of his black ancestors who were forcibly brought to the Caribbean. Even then though they were taken to Barbados and then moved optionally to Trinidad – so again – we, and people like us have an inherent predisposition for saying ‘I’ve had enough!’

So why fight it? I should just accept that I’m a nomad. For people like me, buying furniture is a bad idea. Signing 3-year contracts, like my latest phone is a catastrophically bad idea. Reading a lot and making art is hugely inconvenient for moving purposes. But alas, I’ll have to let those last ones slide.

Thankfully, the information age has brought a solution to my business card problem. I’ve gone with Mini Cards from moo.com (which are awesome and lovely and I couldn’t recommend them more). On them I’ve put my phone number, website and email address. That’s as traceable as I come.

Where do I really belong?

As a woman of Caribbean descent living in this very multicultural scape of Toronto I feel most days that I am indeed invisible. Ironic I think since West Indians make up such a large number of the Torontonian landscape. The Canadian Caribbean identity is mainly Afro- Caribbean centric which leaves the transplants like me of mainly Indo Caribbean descent with a ‘likkle” bit of “sumthin” else feeling very displaced. 
As a milestone birthday approaches- its months away but, this year will mark the 15th  year that I have been a Torontonian, it will also symbolize what I have sometimes been dreading. This year marks the year that my Trinidadian born self meets up with my Canadian self. In a nutshell, I would have spent the same amount of time calling Trinidad my home as Canada. Time has caught up with me. The illusion that I had created however, that I can finally feel more Canadian at this milestone as well as simultaneously being fearful of leaving my Trini self behind is exactly  that- an illusion. I still feel displaced in both places even after all this time. 

Even though I yearn to visit Trinidad often, my entire path of interest has shifted since living in this reality. My perceived once cushioned life is not transferable in this context. 
I am so much more aware of my non privileged status her in the Canadian context. I hear about “white privilege” almost daily, the affect of being an educator in the inner city reality but little do many know that I myself had that equivalence of white privilege it just was named something different. It was the “Indian high colour child syndrome” where you had to succeed and live the life that your parents had wanted for themselves. This was indeed an ideology specific to the social class that I was a product of. I can definitely say that I lived a very sheltered life, very much as my colleagues on this site have admitted before.  I guess you can say I was one step away from white privilege and wanting to ascend that ladder at any cost. In my reality, ideas about superiority based on status and race was something that we tolerated silently rather than faced, it was the expectation that you married up the social ladder in both colour and money. It was the expectation that you were better than the rest and you made that clear by attending the best schools (as best your parents money could buy if you didn’t earn it yourself) and you fought hard for a place in the business world to make the money you needed to assert your importance in an already privileged working/managing class.
As a transplant I wished that those racist and idealist thoughts would have been erased especially in a place that boasts retention and acceptance of difference. Tolerance. To my horror, it’s been gentrified and renamed.

I deal with the consequences of biased thinking each day, that I somehow belong somewhere else than the place that I have made for myself in the life that I chose to lead currently. I fight everyday to unpack and delete the bias that I hear from colleagues and students and I feel as if I am fighting a losing battle at times. I am trying to work through my own displacement as well as try to de-code all the racism, sexism and many more ism’s in my students as they tackle the lessons of their own colonial past. 
This is really a full time job on its own—- 

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Sapna Lal

This is the third post in our “Colourful Woman Wednesday” series, which features stories of colourful women surviving and thriving. If you’d like to share your story, or nominate a colourful woman for this feature, email us or get in touch via Tumblr,Twitter or Facebook.

Sapna Lal is the president and founder of The Lal Firm, and specializes in entertainment law.

Here she talks to The Coloured Collective about what makes her a colourful woman, some of her inspirations, and her message for all of our readers:

What makes me a colourful woman?

My Universal Spirit and ability to love all people, cultures and religions beyond color, race or gender. I work on improving myself each day spiritually, mentally and professionally by meditating to instill balance and peace within. I look at the world – especially those who have hurt and disappointed me, with compassion and I practice non-judgment daily.

Most importantly, I am a woman of my word…having integrity is key to achieving true greatness.

Some of my colourful inspirations are Oprah, Deepak Chopra, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Maya Angelou, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Marianne Williamson, Ghandi, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and President Obama.

Have patience. Be persistent. Always persevere (the three P’s). If you truly want something, believe in it. Have faith. Let go of fear and doubt. All things happen in due time. Look at the lessons all around you. Be humble and acknowledge that there is always room to grow and be better. Give without expecting anything in return. Remember your greatness. You were born to shine and excel. And when God (Jesus, Laxshmi, Buddha, Allah, whomever is your higher spirit) says no…say THANK YOU.

Thank YOU Sapna!

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Lindsay Hall

This is the second in our “Colourful Woman Wednesday” series, which will feature stories of colourful women surviving and thriving. If you’d like to share your story, or nominate a colourful woman for this feature, email us or get in touch via Tumblr,Twitter or Facebook.

Lindsay HallLindsay Hall is a brilliant, young dancer who recently finished a series of performances with the J CHEN PROJECT in NY. She is currently working with a new company called Liberation Dance Theater.

Born in Canada but raised in Tobago, Lindsay’s style of dance is an elegant but seductive mash-up of influences. Trained in Ballet and Modern from the age of 5, Lindsay grew up in Tobago where she was surrounded by Caribbean rhythms, Folk dances, and Dancehall. In May 2011 she became the first Tobagonian to graduate from The Ailey School’s Certificate Program in New York. While in New York Lindsay has been honoured with full scholarships to attend both the Ballet Hispanico Summer Intensive and the Earl Mosley’s Institute of the Arts. She has had the great fortune of working with some amazing choreographers, including Darrell Grand Moultrie, Earl Mosley, Robin Dunn, Andrea Miller, Peter London, Francesca Harper, Bradley Shelver and Kevin Wynn.

When asked why she is a Colourful Woman, Lindsay said this;

Lindsay Hall I am mixed in every sense of the word. I am of different races and different countries (Black/white and Trinidadian/Canadian) and my influences and interests are just as varied. When I was younger and I met other people who were one race and from one place, I thought their lives must be so much simpler, not having to constantly explain where they are from and why they look the way they do, or (like in my case) why they have a Canadian accent but say they grew up in Tobago. But now that I am older (and I would like to think wiser as well!) and I am delving more and more into the dance world, I realize how unique my story is, and that I can use my background and my story in my dancing. I can embrace my story and not feel so bothered if I have to explain why my hair is the way it is or why I have freckles but my skin is brown.

I am colourful because I have embraced ME. Performing has given me the confidence to express myself in a way that we generally do not do in every day life. While I dance, I face people and I am not afraid to show them who I am: honestly and whole heartedly. Who I am is someone who may be compliacted (which I have learned is ok), full of surprises and not easily figured out in one glance, and I kind of like that idea!’

Check out Lindsay’s Youtube channel to see her in motion!

Colourful Woman Wednesday: Brianne Garcia

This is the first in a series of “Colourful Woman Wednesday” posts, which will feature stories of colourful women surviving and thriving. If you’d like to share your story, or nominate a colourful woman for this feature, email us or get in touch via Tumblr, Twitter or Facebook.

Introducing: Brianne Garcia, colourful woman.

Brianne Garcia, founder of Parceld


Brianne is the founder of PARCELD, a fashion startup that aims to take the hassle out of the hunt. Brianne is also a 2012 fellow at the CUNY/Tow Knight Entrpreneurial Journalism Program, and one of two winners of the inaugural J. Douglas Creighton scholarship.

Here’s what makes Brianne a colourful woman, in her own words:

Being half-Mexican, one quarter Lebanese and another quarter Chzech/Irish mix, people always assume I’m white. I was always confused when filling in those bubbles on tests because next to White it always specifies: “Non-Hispanic.”

I know what my IDENTITY and WHO I am, but I always feel odd specifying the “what.”

I have roots in Mexico, Lebanon and Europe, and appreciate each little fraction equally and wholeheartedly.

I am colorful (oh! forgot the u! ;)) because I have an agenda, but no uniform. I used to care about “proving myself” to people, and while the need to do so is probably still there, I’ve found that being myself and being authentic proves more than trying to act better, smarter, or more suited for any given situation I’m in. I have accepted that I will always be learning, and that brings a lot of humility and sometimes humiliation, but it’s better to be curious than to think you know too much.