By now, you’ve probably seen the #Mipsterz (Muslim Hipsters) video, titled “Somewhere in America,” that has been circulating the internet for almost two weeks. It’s essentially a music video that depicts fashionable Muslim-American women being American - taking selfies, riding skateboards, hanging out in urban settings in their Friday best..
It has been criticized for a myriad of themes and tropes - hypersexualization of Muslim women, the fact that the women are silent in the video, the profanity and sexual nature of the song the video is set to (Jay Z’s “Somewhere in America”), and the focus on fashion rather than character.
I agree wholeheartedly with Sana Saeed’s takeaways from the video which she published on the Islamic Monthly website this morning. In addition to her inferences, I think it is imperative that this video prompts dialogue on the socio-economic and class divides that this video further infuriates.
It is no secret that issues of socio-economic status and class divisions have left stains on the social fabric of the U.S. - countless studies and reports will indicate that acquiring certain material goods are perceived as useful for reaching and maintaining status and social acceptance. Phylis Blumenfeld’s research on materialistic values and socio-economic status for the Institution of Education Sciences reveals that for young people, having certain materialistic possessions supersede the relevance of personal attributes. TL;DR? What you can buy and keep will get you to a better social status than who you are.
Blumenfeld isn’t alone on her observations. A glance through the Social Class in the U.S. Wikipedia article reveals the psychological, sociological, and even physiological effects of class consciousness.
So what does “Somewhere in America” have to do with socio-economic divisions in the U.S.?
Sana Saeed does an incredible job of highlighting the depiction of “Islamofashionistas” in the video - blinged out, uber fashionable, hip, and cool young Muslimahs who do everything from riding skateboards in high heels to strutting down urban landscapes in designer scarves. The lyrics “1 million, 2 million, 3 million, 20 million/Oh, I’m so good at math” sync up perfectly with close-ups of expensive watches worn by the women in the video.
Wealth and materialism is normalized in this video. It is a standard. Not only is it accessible to the characters in this video, it is a given. It dominates the narrative on what a Muslim woman in America looks like. But that’s not every Muslim girl’s narrative? In fact, it’s only the narrative of a small group of internet Islamofashionistas who put themselves out there. After all, what Muslim girl is going to Instagram her off brand hijabs or hand-me-down jeans when the discourses and narratives that dominate those platforms normalize designer possessions and heteronormative chic expression?
Who gets to dress like the girls in the video? Certainly not the daughters of working-class parents who cannot as accessibly afford the luxuries of materialism. The video claims to shatter stereotypes about Muslim women in America — yet it creates entirely new ones. Any person unfamiliar with the actual economic demographics of Muslims in this country would walk away concluding that we are all upper-middle class and extraordinarily well-dressed. The depiction of women is steeped in privilege - and reflects the lives of a very small percentage of Muslim women in America - the ones who may live in gated communities in the North Shore suburbs rather than in an apartment on Devon Avenue in Chicago.
I’m not saying there’s something wrong with being a privileged and/or wealthy Muslim. But I’m saying that if you’re participating in an artistic expression that normalizes and standardizes that experience - then you need to step back and check your privilege. Realize what it can inflict on a community of younger Muslim girls who are navigating how to express themselves in an industry that continues to hype, depict, and celebrate the beauty of the rich and fashionable.
I’m trying to imagine what it would have been like to be a middle or high school student with access to Tumblr and Instagram. Western television and media certainly doesn’t do a good job of creating relatable brown or Muslim characters and musicians — so where would I have gone next? Social media - to see who’s putting themselves out there — on YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, etc.
Well..who dominates these platforms?The Islamofashionistas.
It is true that sociological data indicates that the average income for Muslims in the U.S. is higher than the U.S. national average. But only 26% of Muslims live in households with incomes of $75,000 or more. Depending on how you divide the socio-economic pie chart of the U.S., that leaves 74% of a population of between 2 and 8 million Muslims in the middle class or lower. That’s a big chunk of people who are not taking selfies in luxurious scarves and watches.
Muslim Americans are the most socio-economically diverse religious group in America - why doesn’t the video reflect that? The video reflects the narratives of the daughter of professionals rather than the owners of gas stations and convenience stores.
Lisa Wade’s article on college hookup culture from July 2013 reveals that people with privilege create environments in which the hookup culture is normalized because the white and the wealthy are engaging in it. She says “People with privilege—based on race, class, ability, attractiveness, sexual orientation, and, yes, gender—get to set the terms for everyone else. Their ideologies dominate our discourses, their particular set of values gets to appear universal, and everyone is subject to their behavioral norms.”
Isn’t that exactly what’s happening in “Somewhere in America?” The #mipsterz are setting the terms for what is cool and what is worth making a video about. Instead of depicting the diversity of the realities of Muslim women - those who work blue collar jobs, those who are mothers, those who do not wear hijab, the directors have constructed not just a hipster anthem for Muslims, but what seems to be an attempt to normalize the “mipsterz” experience, while simultaneously neglecting the experiences of all others.