I grew up flipping through fashion magazines, Vogue, Harper Bazaar, Vanity Fair. All contained aspirational representations of a world that seems completely unimaginable to a South Asian woman, like myself.. As I blindly consumed the masses of imagery on the Tube on my way to university, I always felt slightly unsettled. It wasn’t until I saw an advert by Dolce & Gabbana that featured a series of White women wearing Abayas that my discomfort turned into anger. My idolisation of mainstream media shattered, suddenly all I could see was the rampant cultural issues that were being perpetrated by women’s and fashion magazines. Why would D&G present a collection specifically FOR Muslim women, on an all white, non-Muslim female cast? Since when did being Muslim become something ‘trendy,’ something to be monopolised from, and why weren’t actual Muslims profiting from it?
I have always been aware my family were Muslim, having a surname like Ahmad means you hold a verbal identifier with you for the rest of your life. However it was the day of the 7/7 attacks, as a 7 year old that I realised that in the UK, Islam was associated with something ‘negative,' ‘bad,’ and ‘dangerous,’ I felt scared of the consequences the awful actions of a small group, would have on my family and friends. The Islamophobia already present in a post 9/11 environment only became more prevalent, and now in the context of Brexit Britain, these feelings are arising again.
It’s no surprise then that 73% of Millennial Muslims feel the media portrays Islam in a negative lights. In the West, a Muslim woman wearing a Hijab or Abaya is almost rebellious; they are openly subjected to not only individual persecution but systematic oppression. Wearing religious garments is acceptable if you are euro-centrically beautiful, rich and white, but not if you are an actual brown Muslim woman. By having White non-Muslim women wearing Abayas, they become a digestible representation of Islam for the Western Fashion Industry. Yet, real black and brown Muslim women face actual discrimination and persecution for their choice of this very clothing in the west.
This brings us to the question, how can we make the representation we see of minorities actually authentic? The answer to this is quite simple: Data and Active Inclusion. Throughout my 100 page thesis, over and over again data has been my weapon, a tool to celebrate diversity without tokenism, the soapbox on which I have supported all my arguments. I found there is a massive lack of research conducted on minorities in the UK, specifically on the growing population of Muslims. We could put this down to the systemic underrepresentation of BAME communities in the UK’s academia, with only 1% and 0.1% of all professors being Asian women, and Black women respectively. When we consider the plethora of voices that exist within this community, it becomes even more under appreciated; Queer Muslims, 1st generation Muslims, Millennial Muslims, now know as Generation M are all underrepresented in mainstream consumer studies. The UK Muslim diaspora has existed for over 70 years, it’s about time that this group is recognised and given the respect and representation it deserves.
That's where The Unmistakables comes in. We have just released our first “S̶t̶e̶r̶e̶o̶types Study” solely dedicated to celebrating the beauty and nuances of being British AND Muslim. The study looks at the lives of 1,000 Muslims in the UK and highlights the growing market of 3.4 million people who together have an incredible buying power of over £20 billion. This study is pivotal, both as a tool for empowerment to qualify the discrimination Muslims to face in the UK, as well as to uncover the realities of being a Muslim consumer. We hope that it becomes a useful resource for not only Muslim entrepreneurs hoping to build businesses for their own community, but also for mainstream companies who need to realise that this untapped market deserves representation, and to take the steps to actively include them. It is a celebration of the developing bicultural identity British Muslims are founding, and is a pivotal piece of research in solidifying us as a cornerstone of British identity.
We found that 52% of Muslims think that insensitive campaigns, like the D&G’s all white non-Muslim cast, are made on purpose to perpetuate overtly negative stereotypes and to gain free publicity for the brand. We have to reject the idea that “there is no such thing as bad publicity” because it is damaging the representation of our people. Of the little representation we have, we need to make sure it is an accurate depiction of our values, beliefs and perspectives. It is, therefore, also up to Muslim consumers to realise that their money has immense buying power and to learn the importance of channelling our money and time into organisations and brands that stand by and for us.
As we celebrate Eid-al Fitr, this study is pivotal in celebrating our community, it reinforces the legitimacy of the growing British Muslim Diaspora, and shows how far Britishness has changed and developed in the last century alone.
If you are interested in learning more visit www.theunmistakables.com/stereotypes.
By Laiqa Miriam. Intersectional Feminist, Activist and Creative.