The Beard: Applause for You, Stigmatisation for Me

The male beard, what can I say about the male beard? The seeming epitome of male masculinity and the outwardly bearings of your ‘man’s man’. The bearded man, the kind of man synonymous with hyper masculine terms such as ‘strong’ and ‘dominant’. A recent study published in Evolution and Human Behavior found that women now tended to prefer bearded men; the study also found that women perceived full-bearded men as ‘better and more protective fathers’.

Now I being a bearded man should surely be rejoicing at this newfound appreciation and celebration of the beard. Sadly this is not the case for I am not white. Compliments revolving around ‘edginess’ in my style do not await me. Such compliments tend to be directed more towards 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 bearded man of Pakistani heritage from a Muslim background who lives in a time of heightened fear and paranoia.

White men are applauded for beards, while men of colour are stigmatised. We are stigmatised because the beard for us has come to be seen as the significant symbolic representation of ‘otherness’. The characteristics of this ever-changing ‘otherness’ are now ones, which resembles my own personal appearance. Dark skin complexion, bearded figure from a Muslim background and eastern heritage. Therefore I surely must be up to no good with my Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist book on the tube?

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 specifically listed the costume as: “Fun World Adult Mens 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 with each other is a full fledged depiction of your caricature terrorist, with the beard being an integral part of his being. The same caricature ‘terrorist’ figure you find yourself fearing post 9/11. Designated the terrorist, the villain, the savage and whatever damned word you can think of, it is this beard he bears. It’s as though the beard is his graduation certificate into the list of bad guys to look out for at an airport, school and the station.

Post 9/11 bearded men of colour have become so synonymous with the caricature figure of this ever present threat that even other communities such as the Sikh Community have suffered due to this heightened fear.
Most elements within society are guilty of exploiting and furthering this fear of the bearded figure, from the right-wing press to films. You just have to look at the following scene in Harold and Kumar. 

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07:  Phil Robertson visits "Extra" in Times Square on May 7, 2013 in New York City.  (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Extra)
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 07: Phil Robertson visits “Extra” in Times Square on May 7, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images for Extra)

On the surface some may argue that I am divulging quite deep into the topic, this is not the case for this is a complex area where society’s paranoia and ignorance comes to light. I have personally experienced this 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). On the other hand, society, you don’t need to directly raise concerns about my beard on an individual level because you parade and loathe this caricature figure of the terrorist donned in a beard. You remind me of my burden I bear. The racist attitudes that have lurked within you for quite some time approach the surface and express themselves when you see my beard. It is irregular glare of 5 seconds on the tube or the cut of an eye to a gentle smile.

I do not have all the answers; I am a mere 22-year-old student who find him being denounced guilty due to society’s paranoia. It is because society as a whole is unable to question and counteract such attitudes that I am in this position of guilty without trial or logic. That a part of my physical appearance does not belong to me, that it is a walking shadow of this modern day conflict between the west and the east. Surely if the ultimate aim of this caricature ‘terrorist’ is to create an ignorant society where base issues are not addressed and you merely vent your anger on a individual level while socially isolating someone like me, then perhaps he has won?