Ilhan Omar, America’s first Somali-American Muslim politician to be elected to public office, had a harrowing experience last week. In a cab from the White House back to her hotel, she said she was verbally abused by the driver, who allegedly called her “ISIS” and threatened to forcibly remove her hijab.
She was in Washington, DC, for a meeting of state leaders and to speak at the U.S. Institute of Peace. At the time, she did not issue a public statement; a spokesperson told reporters she wanted to focus on the meetings she was attending on her trip. But yesterday, she posted a thoughtful letter to her website, reflecting on what she had experienced and how it fits into the wider context of discrimination in America.
“As a society, it is easy to condemn small acts of hate, but we have trouble accepting that discrimination is thriving and a regular part of the American experience,” she wrote. “Unless, what happened to me—and its subsequent publicity—can spur conversation to action, my experience will be just another on a long list ‘incidental’ prejudice in America.”
She’s calling for people to think about discrimination not as one-off altercations, but as examples of what people of color and women face on a regular basis throughout their lives:
Omar was elected to be state representative for Minneapolis House District 60B last month. She ran on a platform of social justice, criminal justice reform, and affordable education, and says she is “the first Black Muslim woman in office in the United States, if not North America.”