My Week as a Muslim review: Brown face, Britishness and White Commentary on Minority Experiences

Earlier today we watched Channel 4’s “My Week as a Muslim”, which has understandably been a hot topic over the last 24 hours, mostly due to the producers deciding it was acceptable and necessary to dress Katie, who is a white British non-Muslim nurse from a predominantly white town, in brown face in order to “live” the experiences of a British Pakistani-Muslim (note to whoever was in charge of titling: “Muslim” also includes black, Asian, arab and white people, who will all face different experiences). If you’re in the UK you can watch it for the next 29 days on 4OD here. We thought we’d share our thoughts and experiences on the show.

We don’t for a second believe that the controversy the show has caused was unintentional. The decision to darken Katie’s skin, add a prosthetic nose and teeth and dress her in a hijab was a very conscious decision made by the show’s very clever producers and marketing team to get us to watch it, and in turn make them more profit, even if we watched it for the sole purpose of shocking ourselves and criticising it.

The issues the show highlights, though, do need to be addressed, but do they really have to be addressed via a white non-Muslim British woman’s “experience” of parading around in a racist costume? Is that the only way that non-Muslim Brits will listen and understand that yes, these are experiences that occur regularly for a huge majority of the Muslim population in the UK, and yes, they suck pretty badly.

Every single day Muslims across the UK speak about their experiences: of people yelling obscene things at them, of being denied jobs because of their names or the way they dress, of being interrogated at airports, and even of physical assaults. Every single day Muslims across the UK have to bear the responsibility of representing 2 billion other people, because other ignorant people are holding entire communities accountable for the actions of a few. Maybe it’s time to shut up and listen to the 3 million Muslims in the UK that have been trying to speak about these things for years?

We understand that there’s meant to be a positive message hidden behind the insensitive way the show was approached, which is “Muslims are people too. Don’t be such an a*****e to them”. The issues addressed in the show may come as no surprise for the Muslim audience, but Katie’s ignorance and fear is unfortunately representative of many Brits attitudes. There is a possibility that the show might challenge some Islamophobia because Katie’s original viewpoint is probably a stark reflection of many of the audience members and only through her experiences of ‘humanising’ the people she was so afraid of, did she change her mind.

It’s a sad state of affairs, though, when the only way to get white, non-Muslim Brits to listen is to share the experiences from a white woman’s perspective. We encourage anybody who is fearful to strike up a (non-hostile) conversation with real life Muslim: apparently it might surprise you how truly normal the majority of us are….

Did you watch the show? What did you think?

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