Representation (w/Hani)

I would like to use my platform to give other people a voice and because sometimes I get bored of hearing my own. So, when Hani messaged me to collaborate on a piece about how her identity as a Muslim young woman has shaped her, I was intrigued. Furthermore, a black, Muslim young woman. This isn’t a voice that I usually hear in the mainstream media but one that I’ve become accustomed to hearing at school in the last two years.

With the shift in the wider consciousness and the increase in the number of people forming their own platforms, I hope that this becomes more common as I know that there are more people like Hani as well as those with their differences.

We spoke about past experiences with racism and acceptance, representation of Muslim women in the media and her future aspirations of becoming an architect.

Tell me about yourself. Your experiences, your friends. Was it easy for you to fit in growing up?

“So, in year 3 I moved primary schools. I found it really tough to fit in. Lots of kids didn’t speak to me and I was made fun of a lot. I tried my best to change myself to fit in [by asking my mum for certain items so I could be like them and doing my best to talk to them] …but it never worked out.

[I remember one time; I was in year 5 and a group of six kids surrounded me] and one boy took off my headscarf and waved it about. That was probably the worst experience [that] I’ve faced but it got sorted”.

No way!

“It’s really annoying because I remember that I got blamed for the situation when I told the teacher. [The teacher said] ‘no, no, no, it’s because you weren’t being nice to them’ [and if you didn’t instigate it] it would have never happened’.

My mum [had to get] involved…[but] there were so many instances like [that].

It was the same in second secondary school…and it was always tough because I never felt I fit in”. 

That’s so traumatic. Is there anything that these experiences taught you?

“I think I should have never tried to be like anyone else but myself.

From a young age I thought, ‘oh, I really want to fit in’ but that all changed in sixth form”.

What happened?

“So, I started year 12 and [I promised that I wouldn’t lie about myself] and if no one liked me for who I was, I wasn’t going to change that.

And luckily, I feel like this year I was more myself and I’ve never been as happy”.

Was there anywhere where you felt more comfortable before sixth form?

“[Yeah]. I started karate because of my bullying. [And initially], I felt like I was constantly being judged [but once I achieved green belt and reached the advance levels, people] would watch me.

I put 100[%] into karate…[and] afterwards I never felt judged. I felt accepted. It was one of the first places where I felt accepted”.

Was it the atmosphere or the type of people that were different?

“There was a lot of diversity, which was great [but it was largely male].

I feel like the main thing [that people judge you on in karate] …is your skill”.

Do you think that there is enough diversity in other areas, in terms of certain career paths?


I want to be an architect…[and] there is not enough diversity in architecture. I cannot express that enough.

Last time I checked, 0.3% of architects are black and female. Lower if you add Muslim in that too”.

Why do you think that is?

“I think it’s because not a lot of ethnic minority people have actually thought about architecture as a possible field.

I think it’s standard that children aren’t taught about architecture… and by the time [that] they are taught about it, it’s around the age of thirteen, fourteen [at a stage when] they’ve only been taught about the field of medicine, being a vet, being a firefighter”.

Then what made you want to pursue it?

“[From the age of five] my parents would be like, ‘there’s this job, there’s that job. There’s medicine, there’s architecture’…and I was taught about [the variety] of careers”.

What do you think it will be like in that field, given what you’ve previously experienced?

“I personally don’t think…being a black Muslim female going into that field is going to be hard; as in getting into it. But I think when I’m in the field, it will be hard because I know that I’ll be surrounded by all these white middle class men.

[I’ve experienced this before], where you’re the only black person or you’re the only black hijabi.

You can feel the… judgement [and] they constantly come up to you. I remember on one occasion when [around thirty people came up to me and said things like], ‘Oh my God, what’s your name?’ Or ‘Wow! You want to get into architecture?’”

So why do you want to do it?

“I think the main reason why I want to get into architecture is because if you know anything about Somalia, you might know that it’s war-torn and I want to go back and rebuild it.

[I also want to go to many other war-torn countries] and create sustainable housing.

[The lack of diversity] isn’t going to stop me from doing what I want to do. When I read [the statistics] … it makes me want to do it more… to prove a point”.

We spoke more about representation in other areas, like in the media. I reflect on that and what Hani previously told me here:

It was refreshing to hear a new perspective and for me to understand what it means to be a practising Muslim. It’s powerful that she remains undeterred despite the bullying or the statistics. And hopefully we can see more diversity in fields like architecture in the near future. I won’t be surprised when I hear about Hani making a difference or even presenting the 2035 series of Grand Designs.

Xaymaca Awoyungbo

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