Burqas, Roller Coasters and Advertising: Welcome to Tanzania

May 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

One of the first things I saw after I got off the plane in Dar es Salaam was a TV commercial playing for FunCity, a local amusement park. The commercial featured women in abayas and niqabs (all black outfit with black facial veil – easily confused with burqas, which cover the same amount just with a screen over the eyes) riding roller coasters and the freefall one that takes you way up high and drops you.

Of course it makes sense that veiled women like roller coasters just as much as anybody not wearing a niqab, they are still women under there after all, and to assume otherwise or forget is to dehumanize them. While watching this commercial, I was acutely aware of how accustomed I’ve become to being in such a completely white-washed and Islamophobic environment.

She looks like she’s having fun. The veil she’s wearing is called a niqab.

African women in something that looks like a burqa?! On ROLLER COASTERS?! On TELEVISION?! It sounded like a provocative performance art piece.* I can imagine how that commercial would go over in the US. It would be all anybody would talk about for months. Happy, normal women enjoying their day at the amusement park with their kids, and, oh yeah, they’re black AND Muslim.

We’re led to believe that because a woman is fully covered and her features obscured, she must be so miserable, so oppressed, every single day of her life, that she is incapable of feeling happy enough to enjoy anything, much less a roller coaster. We in the west too often look at veiled or covered women as helpless, voiceless victims. With that in mind, the image of a niqab-clad lady riding the Free Fall is a bit of a shock to the paradigm. While it’s true that some women wearing niqabs, abayas or burqas are forced into it as part of a broader, brutal oppression, not all of them are. Some of them are busy riding roller coasters.

*Seriously, wouldn’t an exhibit mixing real advertisements from around the world be interesting? Do we already have that? For as controversial as veiled women on rollercoasters would be in Mississippi, an American sexy lady commercial for Skyy vodka would be just as controversial elsewhere.

For those of you who’d like to know more about the various types of common Muslim dress, here’s a glossary of Islamic clothing.

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