A human-rights activist is speaking out this week about the anti-Muslim discrimination she says she experienced while shopping, when a sales associate insisting on making subtle jabs against her hijab.
“Discrimination against Muslims, request for help,” Nadia Alawa, of Boston, wrote in a lengthy July 3rd Facebook post describing the recent incident. Earlier that day, she explained, she had been browsing at the White House Black Market, a popular women’s chain store, in Lynnfield, Mass. She was dressed, she says, “in my usual Muslim American clothing, which includes a hijab,” when a store manager approached her “with a smug smile” to ask how she was doing.
Alawa, who spends much of her time supporting Syrian widows and orphans through her non-profit humanitarian relief organization NuDay Syria, went on to recount in her post how, when she told the manager she was fine, the woman’s voice then shifted to an unfriendly tone as she asked, “No, how are you REALLY doing?”
Alawa continued: “I say I am fine, how are you? She then says, you must be hot, that is why I am asking. I say, I am fine. She says you ARE hot, the store has AC and I am dressed like *this* (looks at herself in shorts and a top), and I am hot, so you must be hot dressed like that. I turn around and look at her, put the hanger back and say I am very fine, thank you.”
“I stand there for a minute, try to look casual, but feel so upset and humiliated. A basic shopping experience with two credit cards and cash in my purse and I have to defend my attire and am made to feel uncomfortable by a clerk that very clearly targeted me like a hungry shark out for fodder.”
“A minute later I go to the counter to filed a complaint, but get distracted by my kids entering the store, so all I can do is ask for the woman’s name and store card and tell her I will be in contact with the higher manager. At that point, Carisa’s face changed from snarky and arrogant to slightly surprised. SO. If you believe this is NOT the way to treat customers of ALL backgrounds, call the store + make a complaint to the manager.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 69 percent of women who wore hijab have reported at least one incident of discrimination compared to 29 percent of women who did not wear hijab. Other statistics have found that Muslim women who wear headscarves are routinely passed over for jobs and sidelined in the workplace, and that one out of every eight Muslim women is asked illegal questions during interviews — compared to one out of every 30 non-Muslim women.
Alawa did not respond to an interview request from Yahoo Style.
A White House Black Market spokesperson provided the following statement to Yahoo Style: “We have reached out to Ms. Alawa to hear her perspectives directly. We are committed to providing an environment in all of our stores that is free of harassment and discrimination. We value the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and uniqueness of all of our customers and employees, and we hope to have the opportunity to speak directly with Ms. Alawa.”
Alawa’s supporters have vowed, through Facebook comments, to call the store. Others say they could relate to her story.
“I was actually in another WHBM store about ten days ago when I was being ignored until I was way in the back and an elderly clerk walks by me and snarks that I must be very hot. I just smiled and say I am fine,” one commenter noted.
Yet another supporter — who had heard these comments before but not understood them to be discriminatory — thanked Alawa “for teaching me this lesson, especially that they could be this mean or worse to other Muslim women who cannot or will not defend themselves, and this will maybe help and give us equal rights just like any citizen in this country is allowed to have.”
Among those calling on Alawa’s behalf was her own daughter, Laila, who called and spoke with a manager named Mindy, according to Facebook. Mindy, Alawa reported, defended the behavior of the sales associate, Carisa, she wrote, adding that the manager “said that I was wrong for being offended, and that I had a responsibility to ‘explain’ to Carisa why I was feeling the way I did. When Laila said she would post it on social media, Mindy got very agitated, and continued to say that Carisa didn’t have a ‘mean bone in her body.’ This is after 10 minutes of Laila explaining WHY the behavior was wrong.”
On July 4, Alawa posted this update: “Getting bullied in a store by a clerk is so much more than two minutes of discomfort and humiliation. It is a systemic approach to how to treat minorities and I won’t take it. It is not about me, it is not about one particular store and bigoted clerk even; it is about all of us and our rights as citizens and humans in a country built on the right to freedom and liberty and peaceful expression of opinion including freedom of religion.”
Finally, in a response to a comment from a supporter who said she’d experienced similar, she said, “It’s been over a year now with clerks and assistants visibly starting to drop comments, act rude, ignore me, and belittle my requests. It is not direct harassment, but subtle and demeaning. I can easily smile and move one when people drop comments, but as a shopper I do not want to normalize these kinds of interactions that are clearly not meant to be friendly.”
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