Statement from Ilhan - D.C. Cab Incident

Last week, in Washington DC, with my sister, while traveling for a conference, I was subject to overt hate-speech to an extent I had never experienced. Our cab driver, who was an African-immigrant himself, called us, “filthy,” “ISIS,” and threatened to remove my headscarf. I was shocked by how boldly he expressed bigotry.

Since the incident, many of the questions I have received pertain to filing complaints and reports. I did file complaints with the Department of For-Hire Vehicles and the Human Rights Commission in D.C. I did not, however, file a police report, because I believe criminalizing hate is not a solution and will only strengthen individual malice. Bigotry is a product of ignorance; by educating people, we will move toward respect and understanding.

It is essential we recognize, what happened to me is not an isolated incident nor is it an extreme example of such encounters. Women and Muslims share these experiences every day. Mine was over-reported because of the excitement around my recent election. As a society, it is easy to condemn small acts of hate, but we have trouble accepting that discrimination is thriving and a regular part of the American experience.

Unless, what happened to me—and its subsequent publicity—can spur conversation to action, my experience will be just another on a long list “incidental” prejudice in America. Ensuring others do not experience, or continue to experience, incidents like these, will not be easy. And as much as we would like, it will not happen overnight, or even over a few years—we must work through the difficult times so our children, or their children, can live in a world without hate.

My initial reaction of shock showed me that I too must reflect on the reality of our situation; there is no teacher like experience. There is no magical policy initiative that will end sexism or islamophobia. This change has to come from the hearts and minds of us, the American people. If we are intentional about seeking out and understanding those with whom we do not agree, or get along, we will understand that none of us is truly different from the other.

Unity makes us strong, divided we will never succeed. I pray for my aggressor and the systems that incite such ideology; I pray for all our humanity. I hope this message reaches my cab driver, that he recognizes I am not his enemy.

Ilhan Omar
Representative-elect MN House - 60B