On July 7, 2005, four British Muslim young men from the Leeds area detonated bombs on the London transportation system killing over fifty people. In the wake of these 7/7 bombings, politicians and academics worried that incidents of racism and Islamophobia against British South Asians perceived as Muslim would dramatically increase. Demonstrating a commonsense yet novel methodology, Yasmin Hussain and Paul Bagguley (Racial and Ethnic Studies, January 2013) interviewed forty British Pakistani Muslims to gauge post-7/7 racist or Islamophobic incidents, rather than replicate social science research that measures white, non-Muslim respondents’ changes in attitudes toward Muslims.
Among the findings, Hussain and Bagguley report that instead of outright violent incidents, most manifestations of racism and Islamophobia were much more subtle and patterned, experienced as “funny looks” from (mainly white) non-Muslim strangers. Drawing from the slang British connotation of “funny” as peculiar or slightly hostile, these looks were aimed particularly at young South Asians who were recognizably Muslim, wearing more traditional forms of dress. Women with headscarves disproportionately experienced funny looks, although respondents of all genders drew these looks if they were carrying a bag or backpack in public.
Responding with increased self-policing, many young Muslims said they’d become more intentional about when and where they travelled in order to insulate themselves from hostility and potential violence. Some even stopped wearing traditional dress. Other respondents disregarded these issues as an act of resistance and assertion of their identity as British Muslims. Hussain and Bagguley’s study reminds us that racism and prejudice is often not experienced directly through verbal or physical attacks but rather manifested in racial micro-aggressions that are difficult to quantify.