Why Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib Wearing a Thobe is So Important

2019 is the year of representation in politics

Although Donald Trump’s presidency has been fearlessly normalizing racist policies (and cunningly advocating for white supremacy), November’s US midterm elections made a number of historical firsts. A record number of women—such as Palestinian Rashida Tlaib and Somali refugee Ilhan Omar—won crucial seats, and although this is great news, the fact that it’s still the first time a number of WOC have been elected (alongside LGBTQ candidates) is an indicator of how much US democracy needs to be more representative in 2019.

Tlaib and Omar are the first American Muslim women to make it to Congress in history, standing alongside the two first Hispanic women to have been elected by Texas voters. With the swearing-in ceremony to be held next month, 42-year-old Detroit-born Tlaib (the daughter of Palestinian immigrants and one of 14 siblings) who is famed for also having been arrested after disrupting a Trump speech, took to her Instagram to announce that she will be wearing a traditional Palestinian thobe for the occasion, paying tribute to her Middle Eastern heritage.


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Sneak peek: This is what I am wearing when I am sworn into Congress. #PalestinianThobe #ForMyYama

Une publication partagée par Rashida Tlaib (@rashidatlaib) le

According to a survey, Islamophobic attacks in the US have now surpassed the record high of post-9/11. The significance of Tlaib being in Congress and making her “othered” culture so visible in the white-dominated realm of US politics is a bold and important move, uplifting discriminated and marginalised identities, who never have the same agency as white Western men and women. Because while minorities represent almost 40 per cent of the American population, they fill less than a quarter of state and congressional offices.

But as obvious as this sounds, it seems like it is an important time to remind people that a diverse and representative democracy is fundamental to the survival of a healthy society. Growing up brown and Muslim in the West, where political uncertainty and social anxiety have triggered the rise of ethno-nationalism and “othering” behaviours, is a painful, sometimes dehumanising experience. And while liberal democrats have long designated minorities, Trump isn’t afraid to exclude and threaten them explicitly. So the election of Tlaib in Congress—as well as her choice of outfit— is meaningful for two important reasons: she’s representing alternative views of feminism, WOC will finally develop a genuine sense of belonging. And this is how “bridging” can be made possible. In other words, this is how citizens can come together and build a collective society.


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Move over boys…Rashida is here. #unapologeticallyMe #13thDistrictStrong

Une publication partagée par Rashida Tlaib (@rashidatlaib) le

Despite the accepted belief that democracy is “the worst form of government except all those other forms”, in the words of Winston Churchill, the truth is democracy has been failing precisely because the people in charge of decision-making never look like minorities and consequently minorities have never inclined to participate. It’s time people feel proud about their individuality, while trusting their leaders. And for this to happen, politics needs to embrace diversity.


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