He leaned against the subway doors in a faded denim jacket, camo cargo pants, combat boots and, to top it off, a black ski mask. I wondered if he had a gun. I wondered if he was a white supremacist. I wondered if he had seen my friend and me, with our brown skin and black hair. Our Islamic faith and immigrant parents — could he somehow see that, too?
Was it me, or were his eyes darting up and down the crowded subway car? I yanked on my friend’s sleeve and raised my mouth to his ear.
“We have to get out of here,” I said.
I told him to hop off the train with me at the next stop and get back on, three cars up the platform.
Many of us have grown used to the suspicion. Amid a wave of frightful attacks carried out by extremist Muslims across America and Europe, everyday Muslims fear we’ll suffer reprisals for a violent ideology that we, too, find abhorrent.
It feels as though we’re being tested daily — like anyone who sees us on the street or in the store is deciding our ideology for us. Some have made the painful decision to forgo aspects of their faith in an attempt to ward off assaults. Others are afraid to leave their homes.
I have lived a life praying it wouldn’t come to this. I never wanted to believe that I am threatened because of who I am. But recent events have made me think that I really don’t belong in the land of my birth.
No one has articulated this paradox for me quite as well as the late scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, who called it the “peculiar sensation” of “double-consciousness.” It is “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others,” Du Bois wrote in The Souls of Black Folk, his seminal work on race in America. It’s a way “of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”