Donald Trump can impose all the Muslim bans his small, dark heart desires, but there’s one Muslim that Trump can’t ban: the new Muslim Barbie doll who comes complete with a hijab and a sword!
That’s right, on Monday Mattel made history by introducing the first ever hijab (head scarf) wearing Barbie doll. Why the sword, you ask? (Technically, it’s a sabre.) Well, that’s because the doll is modeled after Ibtihaj Muhammad, a member of the U.S. Olympic fencing team who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Olympics.
Muhammad, a New Jersey native, made history as the first ever hijab-wearing member of Team USA. So now Mattel has added her to its “Sheroes” collection of dolls that celebrates female heroes “who inspire girls by breaking boundaries and expanding possibilities for women everywhere.” Others in the series include country singer Trisha Yearwood and Ava DuVernay, activist and director of the Oscar-nominated film Selma.
On Monday, when the doll was presented to Muhammad at the Glamour Women of the Year Summit, the African-American athlete shared her struggles as a fencer who wore a hijab: “When I think about my own journey, me being a Muslim girl involved in the sport of fencing, there were people who made me feel like I didn’t belong.” She added, reflecting on her hoped significance of this doll, “I hope that little girls of color across the heartland will be inspired to embrace what makes them unique.”
But let’s be blunt: In a time where the president of the United States is openly an anti-Muslim bigot who called for a “total and complete shutdown” of all Muslims from entering our country and who despicably declared “Islam hates us,” this doll is a form of resistance to his hate. And clearly Mattel knew some in Trump world would be outraged—and they didn’t disappoint. Bigots are just so predictable.
So for example, Muhammad sent out a tweet to thank Mattel: “I’m proud to know that little girls everywhere can now play with a Barbie who chooses to wear hijab!” Then the Trumpers let loose. There was Trump-supporting Laura Loomer demanding to know about the new doll: “Does #ShariahBarbie come with acid burns on her face too?” To give you more of a sense of how vile Loomer is, she also tweeted in the past: “Someone needs to create a non-Islamic form of @uber or @lyft because I never want to support another Islamic immigrant driver.”
Twitter user @TRUMP8YEARS2017, whose profile bore a photo of Trump, wrote: “OMG! Does she come with mutilated genitalia????” Still another shared an image of a Barbie doll wearing a suicide vest.
Now, of course, there were many, many more people praising Mattel and Muhammad on that Twitter feed than Trumpers slamming it. So some may ask why highlight the negative comments? Well because it truly sums up where Muslim Americans stand in Trump’s America. On some level, it’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times for American Muslims.
We are making historic strides that in the long run I’m certain will lead to greater acceptance. For example, just two weeks ago we saw a great step with CW show DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, introducing the first ever Muslim superhero as part of the cast of an American television program. There are now more Muslim Americans becoming better known, from Daily Show correspondent Hassan Minhaj to Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick star). I even host a daily radio program on SiriusXM radio, making me the first Muslim American to achieve that. And there are a record number of Muslims running for elected office in the 2018 election cycle. (I know, because I get emails asking for donations from just about all of them!)
But on the very same day Mattel announced the hijab-wearing doll, we saw two other developments that show how much more work needs to be done to counter anti-Muslim bigotry. The first was the FBI release of its statistics on hate crimes for 2016. Alarmingly hate crimes against Muslim Americans increased by more than 26 percent from 2015. Disturbingly, hate crimes versus Muslims are now “at the highest level since 9/11.” In fact, overall hate crimes in 2016 jumped by 5 percent with 58 percent of crimes motivated by the victims’ race and ethnicity, 21 percent of crimes motivated by religion, and nearly 18 percent by a victim’s sexual orientation.
None of this is surprising in the time of Trump. He has made America toxic for minorities by not only demonizing Muslims and Latino immigrants but by his ban on transgender Americans to serve in our military, by defending white supremacists as “fine people” and by championing Confederate monuments—which are celebrations of white supremacy.
And on Monday we saw another manifestation of anti-Muslim sentiment when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals partially upheld Trump’s revised Muslim ban. I’m not suggesting in any way that the court is anti-Muslim—what I’m saying is the genesis of Trump’s Muslim ban is bigotry. Trump knew banning Muslims plays well with his base.
It appears that for Muslim Americans our good days are often marred by the ugly days. But the success of things like the Barbie doll, Muslims on TV and in politics makes me and others in our community very optimistic. Why? Because it exposes more of our fellow Americans to Muslims. And as polls note, people who know a Muslim have a 15 to 20 percent more positive view of Muslims. So, getting to know us—even if just through the media—means you are going to love us! (OK, maybe not love but at least feel more warmly about us.)
This Muslim Barbie doll is important in that regard. And as Muhammad told ESPN about the doll, “I’m thrilled that it will push the boundaries of inclusiveness even further.” The doll is doing just that which is why the Trumpers are freaking out. And that also means that we—all of us who truly embrace American values—are winning.