Fashion

Beards: Applause for You, Stigmatisation for Me

by Taimour Fazlani

The male beard, what can I say about the male beard? The traditional epitome of male masculinity, and the outwardly bearings of your ‘man’s man’. The bearded man is the kind of man synonymous with hypermasculinity, ideals of strength and dominance. A recent study in Evolution and Human Behavior found women now tend to prefer bearded men. The study also found women perceive full-bearded men as ‘better and more protective fathers’.

www.beardsandtats.com

beardsandtats.com

As a bearded man I should surely be rejoicing at this new found appreciation and celebration of the beard. Sadly this is not the case, for I am not white. Compliments revolving around the ‘edginess’ of my style do not await me. Such compliments tend to be directed towards straight, white men like Jon Hamm, Ricki Hall or the many ‘Beard Appreciation Pages’ on Twitter and Instagram full of white faces.

Although I am able to benefit from some of the recently founded ‘beard love’ my experience differs considerably. And do you know why it differs? (Wait for the punch line) My experience differs widely because I am a bearded man of Pakistani heritage from a Muslim background who lives in a time of heightened tension, islamophobia and paranoia.

White men are applauded for their beards, while men of colour are stigmatised. We are stigmatised because our beards are seen as representations of ‘otherness’. The target of this ever-changing othering is my own appearance: I am a dark complexioned young man with a beard from a visibly Muslim background with an Eastern heritage. Terrifyingly exemplified in this ‘opinion’ piece by Spy novellist Alan Judd in The Telegraph last yearHow to spot a terrorist living in your neighbourhood

A beard donned by a man of colour is so severely stigmatised and ridiculed that our retailing friends in America (Walmart, amongst others) were selling ‘Osama Bin Laden’ styled Halloween costumes made up of a turban and beard, Amazon listed the costume as: “Fun World Adult Men’s Osama Bin Laden Middle East Costume Turban + Beard

The imagery that such a listing is able to create by making the terms ‘Middle East’, ‘beard’ and ‘Osama Bin Laden’ indistinguishable from each other is a full fledged caricature of a terrorist, the beard being an integral part of his being. The same caricature of a ‘terrorist’ you find yourself fearing post 9/11. Designated the role as terrorist, villain, savage and whatever else damned criminalizing word you can think of, it is this beard he bears. A beard seems to be a graduation certificate onto the list of bad guys to look out for at an airport, school and the train station.

In the last decade bearded men of colour have become so synonymous with the caricature of an ever-present threat that communities such as the Sikh Community have suffered immensely, due to the heightened paranoia. 
Most elements of society are guilty of exploiting and furthering the fear of the bearded figure, from the right-wing press to film. You just have to look at the following scene in Harold and Kumar:

I have personally experienced the societal ignorance when people from my own community (yes, my own community) attempted to either mock or raise concerns about my beard (to no avail, I can say proudly). Society, you don’t need to directly raise concerns about my beard on an individual level because you loathe the racist caricature of the terrorist with a beard. You remind me of the burden I bear. The  attitudes that have lurked within you for quite some time approach the surface and express themselves when you see my beard. It is the extended glare on the tube or the cut of an eye to a gentle smile.

Taimour Fazlani

Taimour Fazlani

I do not have all the answers; I’m a twenty-two year-old student who find himself denounced, guilty due to society’s islamophobia (fostered proudly by the media). It is because the world is unable to question and counteract such attitudes that I am in this position of guilt, without trial or logic.

A part of my physical appearance does not belong to me; it is a walking shadow of the conflict between East and West. Surely, if the ultimate aim of the caricature ‘terrorist’ is to create an ignorant society, where basic issues of racism are not addressed, terror has conquered us all?

Taimour Fazlani is an activist with with a keen interest in subject matters, ranging from metaphysics to economic systems. Born and raised in Karachi he has since lived in Glasgow and London. A book addict with a passion for documenting injustices encompassing the whole globe. When not at a protest, demonstration or social events, he can be found training in Muay Thai.  @taimour_khan Website Taimour Fazlani

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This piece was edited by Désirée Wariaro

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19 replies »

  1. I’ve always been fairly anti-beard from an aesthetic point of view. But I’ve never really given them all that much thought. This article makes very interesting reading on beards and race.

  2. Damn, this is so spot on “if the ultimate aim of the caricature ‘terrorist’ is to create an ignorant society, where basic issues of racism are not addressed, terror has conquered us all?”

    fabulous written. x

  3. Great piece, Taimour – and love the comments thread as well. To Tom’s and Akwesi’s points – they both raise interesting aspects of a conversation that rarely gets highlighted: The beard (either alone, or in tandem with, other physical features) as an expression of degrees of masculinity and to segregate a certain ‘otherness’. I would venture even further in that this speaks to the widespread compartmentalization of masculinity (and physical desirability of males) along a racial totem pole.

    I can illustrate that best based on personal lived experience. Being biracial Black and Asian (as explained elsewhere on this portal), there are certain physical features that have always confused people, facial hair being one of them. It continues to impact how (non-)threatening I am deemed to be to some folks, and how (un)professional I appear to some. And it has definitely impacted my dating situation – it’s still striking to me how many people will make phenotypic assumptions about certain ethnic groups and attribute a level of desirability to these assumptions.

    Facial hair as an expression of masculinity? Only for some, not for all. And again, the question is who has the privilege to make up these rules, and consequently, benefits from it…

    • Thank you Zun, yes it has been quite interesting. I totally agree with your point about the racial totem pole. As we discussed previously it is quite problematic to affiliate masculinity with the fashioning of a beard. Yes exactly, thank you for sharing your experience. I can totally agree with you about ‘how many people will make phenotypic assumptions about certain ethnic groups and attribute a level of desirability to these assumptions’. To a great extent that point there and our experiences just illustrate how there exist not a level playing field!

      That is the ultimate question my friend, who had these rules up and how can we change them!

  4. Maybe this is an adaptation(being able to grow a full beard) that’s more valued in Caucasian men, because it is more necessary in colder, northern climates.

  5. I’m of Chinese background and many men of east Asian background can’t grow boards like those pictured in this article. So the article’s comments on “men of colour” are not applicable across the board, which actually brings me to a broader point.

    Celebrating beards as being synonymous with hypermasculinity is still a racist trap and ultimately a short-sighted (in fact, absurd) view of masculinity. Why should a beard signify exemplary masculinity? Why should dominance and strength be celebrated as ideals of masculinity? Centuries of belief in and praise for male dominance and strength have caused much oppression in the world.

    I take the author’s point about the double-standard in attitudes towards beards on men of Middle Eastern background, but the author mourning his lack of access to such problematic ideals is not the answer.

    • Yes I can agree, this is one issue I have been raising on twitter. The fact that the idea of masculinity being determined by facial hair is in itself problematic&derives from social structures to which I spoke against.It essentially falls into the traps of the misguided narrative which I despise most, which is ‘this is sexy&masculine’ and this is not…

      I can also agree that the ‘men on colour’ point however the piece then makes it specific to someone of my background after I repeatedly detail my physical, cultural and religious characteristics. The idea was to raise concern Mr.Cho as previously this subject matter has not been brought to light before, only after all parties within the spectrum are aware of such social attitudes that then possible solution can be raised, I alone cannot do this.

  6. This is a great piece: ‘White men are applauded for their beards, while men of colour are stigmatised. We are stigmatised because our beards are seen as representations of ‘otherness’, spot on!

  7. Great piece bro, and you’re right to highlight the following hypocrisy:

    “White men are applauded for their beards, while men of colour are stigmatised. We are stigmatised because our beards are seen as representations of ‘otherness’”

    This “otherness” you describe isn’t a problem when it’s appropriated by the white majority in this country, and this is also true regarding female headscarves. Personally, I’m not follically challenged, so I can cut and grow my beard at will, and often do. This allows me see the difference in reaction I get from complete strangers when I’m with or without facial hair.

    Although the obvious candidate for stigmatisation is anyone resembling the “Arab terrorist” stereotype, there is also a black terrorist stereotype, established long before Lee Rigby’s highly publicised murder. Charles De Menezes was mistaken for an African, for example, and the UK Prison system is supposedly “awash” with bearded, radicalised young black males.

    So whenever I do have a beard, I could either be perceived as a terrorist, sat there on the train with my hoodie and bag; or an equally stigmatised “mentally ill black man” on day release in London; or just a good old fashioned Mark Duggan type gangster, apparently worthy of lawful police brutality. That is my perceived reality in the CIty I was BORN in.

    But in contrast – and more to the point – I’d be surprised to learn if any young white men with “epic beards” in Britain feel stigmatised in any way. I doubt if many of them have ever sensed being perceived as a terrorist threat whilst on their commutes to and from the trendy enclaves of East London, for example.

    And as you describe it, that is a manifestation of when:

    “… attitudes that have lurked within [Britain] for quite some time approach the surface”.

    • Much appreciated brother!

      One is not aware of society’s hypocrisies until they actually are able to experience&suffer from such double standards. Yes very true, the initial reactions differs when you don facial hair.

      I completely agree with the point you make about the black terrorist stereotype! I was to address this subject in this article however i feel it is not my place and out of respect for someone who actually has suffered from this stereotype to detail their experience.

      However I completely agree, with black men the beard thus becomes an even more of a burden in terms of how their association with danger expands and increases. Moreover the fact that as you mention the stereotyping then even diversifies due to just the act of growing a beard. We are the children to suffer due to society’s inability to tackle racism.

      Well from my experience and from what I observed during research for this piece their beards are applauded as being ‘unique’, appealing and sexy. Always a pleasure to have your feedback brother Akwesi.

      • Hell yeah. Back in 2001 (we all remember what happened THAT September) I started hanging out with a bearded Iranian classmate. We were bothered by the police on numerous occasions. They spoke to me as if I had been kidnapped by my friend.

        PS your beard is stunning!

      • oh that’s atrocious!! Mind you no one was avowed from the consequences of that day, even a 9 year old me had stones hurled at me lol (laughable looking back now).

        ah your too kind, thank you :-)

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