A Hijabi Reporting in the Field
Let me preface this by saying I feel incredibly blessed to be able to do the work that I do. I’ve dreamed of being on the front lines of breaking news for as long as I can remember. As a visibly Muslim female journalist, I am processing the political events unfolding before me, as well as my role in portraying them in our national broadcast. I know that my perspective is an important and underrepresented one.
At any given time, I am the only person of color in my office. We are a foreign bureau, an international network here in the States. Due to COVID, we keep our office numbers small, anywhere between 6 and 15 people. I am always the only person of color as well as the only person under 30. Because of this, I always have moments of self doubt. But I know it’s absolutely crucial to have people of color - and voices of color- in the media. Let me take you back to November 7th, 2020 --
When I was covering the Presidential Election results in Philadelphia, I was on a crew with two men and a security detail: one was of South-Asian descent, but the other two were White, straight and had histories of military service. After the race had been called for President-Elect Biden, we raced to stand by Philadelphia's city hall and watch the reaction. There had been a small pro-Trump demonstration already planned for that day, and we could already see a handful of Trump signs, MAGA hats and American flags. The group was playing a medley of the greatest hits of the 70s and 80s on a pair of loudspeakers. Across from them -- a crowd at least 10 times the size. People laughing, dancing, hugging and crying, celebrating the long awaited victory. Since they didn’t have any speakers of their own, they simply danced along with the music provided by Trump’s supporters, which only seemed to anger them more.
Then, the National Anthem came on. And everyone, no matter the side of the aisle, no matter who’s name they checked on the ballot or their age, race, religion or gender, stopped to sing along. It amazed us. Every word, every note -- every single person out there on November 7th sang along.
“See?” I said to my coworkers. “This, we all have in common.”
“Then why doesn’t this side have any American flags?” One of my colleagues responded, motioning towards the larger group.
I stopped. How do we begin to explain what the American flag means to us, as people of color?
The symbol of a country that does not support us, does not pretend to love us, and that we cannot even protest by peacefully taking a knee? A symbol that has been appropriated by the right side of the aisle to be exclusive, whitewashed and hateful?
But I couldn’t say that. How could I even begin?
I was reminded of how badly the American flag has been desecrated as I watched rioters storm the Capitol this week, fuelled and incited by their President. We saw every form of the flag: hats, scarves, mittens, phone cases, capes -- just a sea of red, white and blue marching up to the Capitol from the National Mall. Red, White and Blue storming the Capitol, the very symbol of American democracy and exceptionalism, like a monster eating it’s own flesh. As the hours and days after the attack passed, I heard Republican after Republican speak about how sick they felt to see the flag they loved so dearly wave as these deranged Trumpers attacked the Capitol. And I felt a twinge of frustration. Supporters of the Left do not carry the American flag because this is what it’s become a symbol of; destruction for a President who does not care if the entire country burns to the ground with him. It no longer represents the men and women who love and fight for this country. And for many people of color in this country, it never did. Will my white counterparts ever fully understand what the flag means to minorities in the States? Probably not. They got a small insight into our perspective this week, and they couldn’t stand it. What happened on Wednesday was not a surprise to me, or any other person who has been paying attention to the escalation in rhetoric over the last four years.
But I know my perspective is needed. And I am blessed to be in my position. So I will wrap my hijab tomorrow, and the next day, and continue to produce the news. Alhamdulilah.