By Mary Read-Wahidi
Dr. Read-Wahidi has been an instructor for REL 100 online course since 2013. She received her PhD in Biocultural Medical Anthropology from the University of Alabama in December 2014, and is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Social Science Research Center, Mississippi State University. She works extensively with Mexican immigrants in rural Mississippi on projects related to devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe and health-related disparities. Currently, she is involved in a USAID-funded research project aimed at empowering women smallholder farmers and improving household nutrition through improved soybean production in rural Ghana.
This blog is such a perfect forum for analyzing the “realness” of things. So, I pose my own question about realness. As the entire world seems to know by now, Republican Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, recently declared that all Muslims should be barred from entering the US. Among many other things, he seems to take for granted that all Muslims are others. He assumes Muslims are not already your neighbors, friends, or family members, but that they are all foreigners, outsiders who have to gain permission to enter the U.S.
Is it only Trump who assumes Muslims are not “real” Americans?
I spent last year living in Kuwait, a predominately Muslim country. While I was there, I wore the hijab, the headscarf worn by Muslim women that covers their hair. In Kuwait, plenty of women wear the hijab and plenty of women don’t. It’s really up to you.
When I was out and about, store clerks or other people I met in public would often ask me where I was from. I would say, “I’m American”. On at least three occasions, my response triggered the exact same question… “American American?”
Wow! As a cultural anthropologist and an Instructor of REL 100, this response really got the analytical wheels turning in my mind. What do they mean, “American American?” As far as I knew you either were an American or you were not. But what they were telling me is that this was not the case.
They were sort of telling me the same thing Donald Trump is telling me. They were telling me that someone who identifies as a Muslim can’t be a “Real” American.
And, by “Real” American, I’m going to take a wild guess that they meant I couldn’t possibly be a sixth-generation American of English descent who also happens to be Muslim. In their minds, I must have been a foreigner who had “gotten” the American citizenship (my blue eyes, light olive skin tone, and hijab often led people to guess I was Lebanese). And if I were a foreigner who had gotten the U.S. citizenship, then that would also mean that I was not a “Real” American.
Photo credit: “real” from Flickr user wallsdontlie CC BY-NC-ND 2.0