|Model Halima Aden|
By Erickka Sy Savané
My 8-year-old daughter is obsessed with Somalian model Halima Aden. Kinglimaa as she is known on instagram, made history as the first teen to wear a burkini during the Miss Teen Minnesota USA pageant in 2016, the first hijab-wearer to grace the cover of Allure magazine last summer, and she’s walked for Yeezy and shot campaigns for Nike and American Eagle. All this, and she’s not even 21. For my daughter, who considers herself Muslim like her dad, and went through a stage in Pre-K where she loved wearing a hijab scarf, Halima is the perfect role model. As a mom, I’m not mad at her being enamored by a young woman who is always tastefully covered- call me funny that way. But not so funny is that not all moms can see the value of someone like Halima. In fact, not so long ago in high school, this Muslim who was born in a Kenyan refugee camp and raised in Minnesota, set off an alarm in the mother of her bff who made her stop being friends with Halima because she feared she’d recruit her into ISIS. Yes, this happened. How did Halima handle it? How does she handle racism period? Halima recently gave a speech at Glamour’s Women Of The Year Summit where she shared just that…
“At first I was like, ‘You’re kidding, right?’ It made me want to cut myself off from everybody who doesn’t share my race and culture. But my mother told me, “Sometimes people won’t understand you. You have to show them who you are. And you’ll have to understand their stories too.”
To understand someone else’s story is empathy, and my mother taught me living a rich life requires radical empathy. I can practice radical empathy because the empathy I’ve received has overwhelmed the bigotry. From aid workers at the refugee camp, to teachers who helped me, to pageant officials who let me compete for Miss Minnesota USA wearing my hijab and burkini, and launch a modeling career. When you swap anger for empathy, you can begin to understand my friend’s mom; she’s seeing Muslims portrayed as terrorist on the news. Meanwhile, Muslims haven’t found much of a voice in this country.
I see the path forward. Show them who I am. Seek out people different from you. You might get hurt, but do it anyway. And if that girl and her mom are watching now, I hope they’ll understand: The only radical thing about me is my empathy.”
|Halima covers Allure|
|Halima with her ‘Rock’ aka Mom|
|Halima with model Winnie Harlow who she calls ‘the sweetest person on earth’|
How do you handle bigotry?