The Real Issue with Ramadan in the Workplace

In celebration, here is a graphic that my talented friend and coworker, Ipsae Choi, designed:

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The intention was to publish this on our feed at work. However, the social media “manager” (ceremoniously; the content management role rotates daily, which makes total sense…) deemed that it was too political to post. It was never published. When I asked her to clarify the “political” part of “too political”, she justified herself by deflecting entirely; certain members at the C-suite level had made a comment about talking less about diversity and inclusion because they somehow sensed trouble.

I went back to my designer friend and asked her to create an alternate version with the message removed. I could bury #ramadankareem and #ramadanmubarak in the hashtags comment somewhere, I figured.

We landed on this:

https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/800/1*yg5aFTVESeljeDwD4i-zDg.png

With the logo as the focus and the elaborate detail of the pattern enlarged, I thought surely the “political” message had been removed.
It was never published.

Apparently, my motive was still political because I am bent on spreading my religious identity. If anyone else had pitched this graphic, would they have received the same feedback?

What I did next hurt me. I let it die.

I did not want to become the target for a design firm that contracts with the military. Even though we have celebrated many holidays and political movements before, I stepped out. This was not my battle.

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Not political, guys. Not at all.

I have so many questions burning on my mind. My pride screamed that I did not leave New York, my home, for this bullshit. I did not spend my formative years abroad and challenged my own perspective and education only to come back for this. My fear advised me that here was not the place to protest, now was not the time. The only other Muslim hired in the history of the company was a hijabi girl whom people found “difficult” because she started shit when work gaslighted her. She was let go for “work performance” issues. I choked.

But loudest of all, my sensibility talked me down. It said, these are not problems. What happened this weekend to two innocent girls sat on a train is a problem. The fact that people got murdered simply because someone couldn’t tolerate a visible Muslim minding her own business, in a public space, is a fucking problem. That tanks and army *troops *— not armed guards, fucking troops — are patrolling Picadilly Gardens is a problem. The city that embraced me and the concert venue where I enjoyed so many firsts were attacked because some disturbed soul claimed to defend the sanctity of my religion by brutally murdering others. This is a fucking problem.

So, this one small injustice is just that. Many of my coworker friends are disgusted that our own team is prey to the racism that diseases our country. Although I appreciate the sympathy, I have to remind them that this is not a real life problem. And that choosing not to engage is a tactical decision, not a defensive one. I feel sympathy for my fellow struggling minorities who feel disillusioned by companies that do not live up to its image. My hope in exposing this small tidbit of racism is to get at the root of racist behavior that I encounter, and understand how it affects me.

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I compromised the holiday aspect of the Ramadan post and proposed a different approach to the content. To make the post speak directly to the design community, I drafted some copy that spoke to Islamic art influences on our own brand aesthetic without mentioning Islam, Muslim, the Middle East, or Arabian, obviously. I related typography to calligraphy, our blue hues to lapis and turquoise, our isometric style to geometry and tessellating patterns.

Yet again, I was shot down. The diversity in design approach was too on the nose with my personal political beliefs, apparently. My heart raced, I was incensed. I was trying to do something original for our brand; celebrate my friend’s marvelous work while promoting design that is woke to its roots. My intention, I argued, was to inform, not to promote a religion that preceded my reputation.

I’d never even told anyone that I was Muslim. It’s an unspoken habit among the government contracting community. And being the only one in the entire company makes that easy to hide. Luckily, no one knows about my family name and the deeply Muslim legacy it carries.

Being racialized hurts less that being denied the reciprocation of bridging a cultural divide. Because “personalities are sensitive” (read: we are fully operated by older, white, ex-Department of Defense men), our brand representation shouldn’t be tarnished by color.

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https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/600/1*EihUIXpAnc0gCSFNZczrVw.png Tremendous, in-your-face work from Huge and Ideo. Diversity is a thing.

But it’s nothing compared to a girl who has to explain to her family and friends why people died over her choice of dress. It’s nothing compared to those who have to live with the fact that their loved ones died over a provocation, a perception.

So, I tell myself not to cower. I don’t truly understand real life problems. I don’t truly know anything.

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