The Olympic Fencer Asked To Remove Her Hijab At SXSW Is About More Than Intolerance
The festival apologized, but the issue isn’t just racial insensitivity.
Ibtihaj Muhammad is poised to be one of the breakout stars of the 2016 summer Olympics. She’s the first Muslim woman to compete for the U.S. in fencing, and the three-time Team USA champion is likely to do pretty well. But the headlines about her coming out of SXSW, where she spoke on Saturday as part of the panel on The New Church: Sport as Currency of American Life, aren’t about her greatness as an athlete. Rather, they’re about an embarrassing blemish on the festival, after Muhammad tweeted about her experience going through the registration process.
I was just asked to remove my hijab at SXSW Registration for my ID badge.. I can't make this stuff up #SXSW2016
— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) March 12, 2016
All SXSW attendees are photographed for badges—badges are expensive, and so maintaining badge security is important to the festival—and if you try to get your photo taken wearing a hat, the volunteer who runs that part of the process will ask you to remove it. That policy, SXSW explained in a statement, doesn’t apply to religious head coverings:
It is not our policy that a hijab or any religious head covering be removed in order to pick up a SXSW badge. This was one volunteer who made an insensitive request and that person has been removed for the duration of the event. We are embarrassed by this and have apologized to Ibtihaj in person, and sincerely regret this incident.