Every white guy, be he Muslim or not, should spend a day going around his town wearing the traditional Islamic thobe robe garment. It's fun on many levels. First of all, it's a way to actually feel even more masculine than normal while essentially wearing a dress -- at least a dress by our western ideas. I'm sure Scottish folks see the thobe as merely a longer, thinner kilt. Secondly, they are very comfortable for men. When combined with loose fitting underwear, I'm sure thobes have quite a liberating effect on a man's sperm count. I'd also love to see thobes replace skinny jeans as the garment of choice for rebellious teens. I mean, the average American teenage boy should really consider what will piss off his dad more, dressing like an anorexic chick, or a Muslim?
I know that a majority of American Muslims do not wear the traditional garb. But since I'm a convert, and a convert from Judaism no less, I wanted to wear the thobe to help me feel as Muslim as possible, culturally speaking. Spiritually I feel as though Islam is a natural fit. Submitting oneself before God alone (and not idols, be they American or stone) is right in line with my Judaic upbringing. But I wanted to make sure I had some taste of what it felt like to be a foreigner in a foreign land. The best part is that while wearing the thobe I got to experience some real discrimination for the first time ever. It was awesome!
You see, for my entire life I've missed out on what many black and brown people commonly take for granted: the experience of being denied good service in eating establishments. I grew up in a nice area in which Jews were seen as essentially main stream whites. I have had a completely discrimination and pain free life. I didn't even marry a Jewish girl. I haven't suffered at all. But the day I put on the thobe gown and walked into a Southern California Starbucks, I finally got to feel what I'd been missing.
Here's what happened: I was on my way back from a Palestinian protest (more on that in the next entry), and I decided I wanted to spend two dollars for a Rice Krispie treat, plus get my notes down from the day's experiences. If you haven't had them, the Starbucks Marshmallow Dream Bars are really yummy, and they perfectly symbolize my current state of being because they are white yet shaped like the holiest place in all of Islam, the Ka'ba in Mecca, (the shape is probably coincidental, otherwise Starbucks would market them as Rice Ka'ba Treats).
Now, before I continue let me mention that I love Starbucks. I live in them when I travel, and I believe that 99 percent of their employees would not discriminate -- I just got lucky. When I walked into the Starbucks, there was no line yet, but most of the chairs were full. People paired up along the walls talking and sipping coffee, some folks sat alone staring dreamily into their laptops, and in the center of this Starbucks, several large tables were pushed together by what appeared to be a clan of fantasy nerds (fans of Dungeons and Dragons, etc). There were about eight fantasy nerds, with butt cracks spilling out of ill-fitting jeans, bent over and intensely engaging in whatever activity they use to blot out the pain of having to live in Southern California with non-beach bodies, and as a collective, skin so zitted up that when all eight of these poor souls were gathered together, they looked like a relief map of the world's clogged pores.
There were two cash registers. No one was manning the one to the right, and there were two of us at the register to the left. After the woman in front of me placed her order, a flood of people came in and lined up at the register to my right. Why they didn't form a line behind me I have no idea. Maybe they couldn't handle how good my ass looked in the formfitting thobe. When it was my turn, I took a step toward to the counter. The Starbucks employee clearly saw me. She made eye contact, and then completely ignored me. She attempted to take the Chinese woman's order who had lined up at the unmanned register to the right.
I said, "Excuse me. I was next!"
The Starbucks employee didn't apologize. She stepped back to the left, looked at me, and waited for my order.
I looked at the Chinese lady and said, "Sorry. I didn't mean to cut you off."
"It's fine, you were next," She said.
"I will have a Marshmallow Dream Bar, please." I got my treat, and sat down. No one else in the Starbucks gave me a second glance. And frankly, weird stares wouldn't have bothered me. It's human nature to notice what's different. A white guy wearing a Muslim man-dress is definitely worth a double take. I do know that there's a very good chance I was discriminated against not because I was wearing Islamic fashion, but because I looked weird. But part of the whole problem we have right now is that American Muslims who wish to wear their traditional clothing look as foreign as Star Wars characters to many of us. That's fine. They have a right to wear what they want, and we have a right to wonder why they'd want to wear that. However, it's one thing to think, "Hmm. That's weird." It's another to deny them the same courtesy you'd expect.
I encourage anyone who has never felt the sting of discrimination to throw on a thobe and go about your local suburb. For many clean cut white dudes like me, it is one of the few ways you can actually feel less cool than a pack of Dungeons and Dragons geeks, to say nothing of appreciating the lives of your Muslim brothers and sisters.