Quote 1

‘It makes me feel, I don’t know. Like I’m in control. I get to choose who gets to see me. How they see me…Obviously I don’t think anyone should wear it if they don’t want to. But I like it. I like that you have to ask for my permission to see my hair.’

In Chapter 5, Shirin explains to Ocean why she wears her headscarf, that it’s her choice and not, as he assumes, something she’s being forced to do. So much about Shirin’s life is outside of her control, and dictating who gets to see her, and when, and how, grants her an autonomy that empowers her. Earlier in the story, she likens her headscarf to armor; here she expands on its role in her life, explaining that it grants her not just protection but power. It allows her an active role in the way she’s perceived, and she pushes back against the idea that wearing hijab means she can’t also wear tight jeans or unique shoes. She is not prudish or conservative, despite what people might assume out of ignorance. At various points, she has considered that her life would be easier if she took it off, but she ultimately refuses to bend to racist societal pressure. She prioritizes her own control, her own autonomy, and her own empowerment over the knee-jerk reactions of narrow-minded people, all of which which say more about them than they do about her.

Quote 2

‘Whatever,’ I said. ‘That’s maybe sixty percent true. The other forty percent is that you sacrificed my comfort just to make yourself seem progressive. You put me in that shitty situation because you thought it would be shocking and exciting.’

Shirin confronts Mr. Jordan in Chapter 14 after he volunteers her for a staring contest with the class jock. Though Mr. Jordan believed himself to have good intentions, Shirin points out here that his reasons had little to do with her and everything to do with himself. That he wanted to challenge stereotypes isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but he placed the onus of responsibility squarely on Shirin. In his “shocking and exciting” experiment, it would be Shirin, not he, who would bear the brunt of presumptuous and offensive comments, and it would be Shirin, not he, who would then be forced to defend their position, educate the class, and speak for an entire culture. In trying to be “progressive,” Mr. Jordan has effectively forced his obligations as a teacher onto her. Furthermore, he didn’t bother to ask her thoughts before he did it. Shirin informs him that he sacrificed her comfort for his own purposes, and though she eventually gives him another chance, he appears not to learn his lesson.

Quote 3

The cops never arrested anyone that day. The police lights had scared the guys enough to back off, so when the officers got out of the car I was sitting on the sidewalk, shaking, trying to untangle my scarf from around my neck. The cops sighed, told these two assholes to stop being stupid, and sent them home.

This quotation appears in Chapter 21 while Shirin is remembering the day she was assaulted by two young men for being Muslim and wearing a headscarf. The incident took place right after 9/11, when America’s Islamophobia was arguably at its peak. It is notable that despite pinning a child to the ground and trying to choke her with her own headscarf, the young men were not punished. That the police dismissed their actions as merely “stupid” as opposed to a hate crime indicates that the police identified more readily with the perpetrators of the crime than with Shirin, the actual victim. They blamed her for her own victimhood and gave her a number to call in the event that she ever felt unsafe—that the number was for Child Protective Services is a jarring detail, one that implies they viewed Shirin’s Muslim parents as more of a threat than the two men who had just attacked her. This incident marks a turning point for Shirin. It didn’t spark her all-consuming anger just yet, but it hardened her exterior and forced her to put her guard up in a way that would impact her for the rest of her life.