It’s been months since this #MIPSTERZ video went viral. The catchy, two-minute video set to Jay-Z’s song “Somewhere in America” and features young, Muslim-American women skateboarding and showstopping around New York City. We loved the video, but its popularity also opened the door for critics to accuse the filmmakers of representing a very specific part of Islam in America, specifically the part that wants to quickly assimilate into the mainstream.
Last week, Laila Shaikley wrote a piece for the Atlantic in which she shared what motivated her to help make the video and what lessons she’s learned since its release. Shaikley wrote that she made the video as a form of what she called “creative action” to challenge the popular narrative of Muslims in America. But her personal quest led to even more questions:
Dr. Suad Abdul Khabeer voiced discomfort with our choice to represent hijab via “swag” rather than realities peppered in “belief and beauty, defiance and struggle, secrets and shame.” Sana Saeed at the Islamic Monthly criticized the video for lacking a message, perpetuating a heteronormative Muslim American image, objectifying its participants, and diminishing Muslim American substance: “We’re so incredibly obsessed with appearing ‘normal’ or ‘American’ or ‘Western’ by way of what we do and what we wear that we undercut the actual abnormality of our communities and push essentialist definitions of ‘normal’, ‘American’ and ‘Western.’”
…The mixed reactions within the Muslim-American community excited me because it proved the idea that Muslims are not a monolith. But the criticisms made me realize I’d been naïve to think that the video could be a personal celebration. Inevitably, people saw it as a representation of our community. Muslim Americans are in many cases wounded, marginalized, reactive, and defensive, in large part because we’re underrepresented and misrepresented in the media. The two and a half minute clip stirred up feelings born of years, if not generations, of exclusion and marginalization. And the way to counter feelings of exclusion and marginalization is to write our own narrative at a national level—a portrait that includes academics, community builders, leaders, artists, and intellectuals worth being proud of.