An array of top-notch athletes are representing Team USA in this year's Summer Olympics, but among them, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad stands out as the first hijab-wearing athlete to represent the country in the Games.
As a black Muslim woman, Muhammad is no stranger to bigotry. But despite her prominence and the collective pride in having her represent the nation in a sport long dominated by white people, she still isn't exempt from discrimination and ignorance.
In a video for The Players' Tribune, Muhammad spoke of how tough it is to be a Muslim in America today, especially a woman who displays her religion proudly. The 30-year-old fencer shared a story about an encounter at SXSW in Austin, Texas, where she was told that she could not have her picture taken while checking into the event if she didn't remove her hijab — which the person called a "hat."
"At SXSW, I went to check in and a volunteer let me know he couldn't take my picture unless I removed my 'hat' — those were his exact words," Muhammad recalled in the video. "My initial response was to laugh. I thought maybe he was kidding at first, but he continued, even after I explained that it was for religious reasons. He said, 'Well, everybody has to remove their hat.'"
She went on to say that she asked to speak to a SXSW supervisor after the volunteer's comments, whose immediate response was "Well — you know, you're in Texas."
But she stood her ground, telling the supervisor:
That's not an excuse. Where you live is not an excuse for you to be ignorant and be culturally sensitive and offend people.
Muhammad tweeted about the incident when it happened in early March.
"You have to shrug off those moments because they're commonplace — when they really shouldn't be," Muhammad continued. "But at the same time I can't allow them to affect me and hold me back because I feel like they would affect my journey."
She does, however, have no qualms about calling out discrimination when she experiences it. Muhammad has tweeted about the firsthand racism she's had to deal with, like when a man on a New York City street asked her if she was going to "blow something up."
A spokesperson for SXSW told BuzzFeed News in March that they were "embarrassed" by the incident and that the volunteer involved had been let go.