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Ruqaya Izzidien

My week as a white non-Muslim

'My week as a Muslim' was preposterous from start to finish, writes Ruqaya Izzidien [TheGardenProductions/Channel4]

Date of publication: 24 October, 2017

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Comment: I've always been afraid of white people, so, inspired by Channel 4, I decided to become one for a week. I was amazed by what I discovered...
Hi, my name's Saeed, and I've never really met a white person before. You see, I live in one of those "no-go areas" in London you'll have heard about when the American president rudely outed us a couple of years ago.

I have always been afraid of white people; on the rare occasion that I see one, I can only associate them with the racist attacks that inevitably follow.

After watching Channel 4's My Week as a Muslim, in which Katie from Cheshire donned a brown face, fake nose and brown teeth to look more "Muslim", I decided that maybe something similar would help me overcome my fear of white people.

I teamed up with a make-up team to experience life on the other side, or My Week as a white non-Muslim.

Katie and I have a lot in common. She had to leave the shop when her daughter was terrified of a woman in a "burka" - probably because Katie had always told her that women in burkas have bombs strapped to them. And, similarly, I have had to run away from white people when they pelted my mosque with Molotov cocktails, bricks, and bacon (still trying to work that one out).

My make-up team whisked me into central London for the first time in my life. The drive through the city was terrifying, and on a couple of occasions I had to cover my eyes - I simply could not hide my disgust at the sheer number of people who looked like they wanted to throw a pig's head at me.

In order to fully pass as a white person, much work was needed to hide my far-too-handsome-to-pass-for-white face. The first task was my teeth. Centuries of healthy stock meant that everyone would see through my white disguise due to my delightfully straight teeth.

They had a dentist produce crooked veneers, with four false fillings thrown in for good measure.

They shaved my beard and gave me a type of wig called a 'man-bun' and then told me I was good to go

Obviously we needed to address my skin colour. My make-up team told me my skin-tone was fashionable in white Britain, but not orange enough to pass for local. Luckily, the good people at Dove were on hand to help me scrub off a few shades with their latest body wash, which I followed up with some chalk spray for maximum believability.

They shaved my beard and gave me a type of wig called a 'man-bun' and then told me I was good to go.

First, I video-called my mother back in Iraq, who burst into tears when she saw me and told me I look like I might shoot up a cinema. She told me to stay away from any guns, but she doesn't realise that they don't really have guns in Britain. Brits only have guns when they're in her country.

I would be spending my week with a man called Roger. It was a word that, if I'm honest, sends me into a panic. My mother had often heard that the word precedes gunfire, or that it's the last word that they say before dispatching a bomb onto civilians. Roger told me that it's just a name, but obviously he would say that.

Once I had got over the sight of myself in the mirror, Roger took me to experience what I knew would be a completely different lifestyle to my own.

First he took me to his workplace in a high-rise office, where there were lots of other men who looked like him, all with similar names like James and Jack and Jonathan. They all had large offices, but for some reason the two women who worked there had to share one desk. I don't think it's right that they treat their women like this but I can see we aren't going to agree. 

Roger told me that it can be really hard to be a white man right now. Men like Roger are constantly having to defend themselves against the actions of other white men, he told me. "And whenever I try to deny my part, or express an opinion, people accuse me of whitesplaining, or mansplaining like I'm not my own individual person," said Roger.

When I asked him to explain why the majority of sexual predators are white men, he got defensive. He didn't like that I attacked him for something that other men do, but I think he needs to do more to answer for the actions of his community.

While Roger and I were getting on the Tube, we pushed aside an Asian woman in front of us who called us "wankers" and told us that we wouldn't have done that if she were white. That really upset Roger.

"It's really hurtful, you know? I would have pushed past any woman; it wasn't because she was Asian."

It helped me to see that not all white men are racists or sexual predators - they're just normal, fragile men, who occasionally cry white tears

And it was like a switch clicked for me. Roger is just a human being, like me. A pretty shitty one, let's be honest, but he should not be held accountable for the mass murders, the wars, the genocides of the past and present, because, you know, he didn't actually do any of them.

This experience has been extremely valuable to me. It helped me to see that not all white men are racists or sexual predators - they're just normal, fragile men, who occasionally cry white tears when they don't know how to take criticism. What I didn't realise before I began this experience is that we're all just humans.

I needed to see this first-hand, because, as I learned from Channel 4, you cannot simply take a community at their word when they say they are normal, harmless people. You can never really believe it unless someone from your own ethnicity proves it.

Channel 4's My Week as a Muslim was a preposterous conception from the first minute, providing a platform for racism, brownface, crude caricatures, ethnocentrism and general all-round offence. 

It was built on the antiquated, imperialist concept that a person of colour's word cannot be trusted; their experiences and suffering don't exist until they are verified by a white person. This article is meant to point out the outrageousness of the entire set-up, and not to equate the suffering of people of colour with male fragility, nor to liken the brutal experience of war and invasion to daily life in the UK.


Ruqaya Izzidien is a British-Iraqi freelance writer specializing in social and cultural affairs. Her work has been published in The New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC and Al Jazeera English, and her upcoming novel is entitled The Watermelon Boys.

Follow her on Twitter: @RuqayaIzzidien

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.


Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab

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