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’.
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 year ‘How 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.
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. @beardedtalker Website Taimour Fazlani
This piece was edited by Désirée Wariaro
- Our White Curiosities (mediadiversified.org)
- Body Narratives sparks a debate on Muslim feminism (mediadiversified.org)
- Black British feminism then and now (mediadiversified.org)