Let her shine
Noor Tagouri is a 19-year-old Libyan-American student living in Washington, DC whose dreams have caused a tidal wave of action across North America. Her goal: to become the first hijab-wearing news anchor on American television. A photo of her sitting at an ABC news desk went viral a few weeks ago, and her YouTube video, in which she explains her hopes, is gaining popularity by the day.
Tagouri started university at the age of 15 in an attempt to get a degree at a younger age and to be able to start working a little sooner. She has spent time shadowing both local and national news reporters and has spent time with Lisa Ling, Anderson Cooper and intends to shadow Wolf Blitzer in the future. But, apart from her aspirations, Tagouri’s goal has brought to light an important issue in not only the news world, but in the world of television viewers too. Tagouri explained that at an early age, she noticed an absence of women on television that looked like her, and that she dreamed of being a Muslim hijab-wearing anchor since she was a child. Tagouri spoke to the Carillon about her dream campaign “Let Noor Shine” and her progress so far.
Carillon: What was the reason you started the campaign, other than to get a job?
Tagouri: Basically, it comes with different angles; breaking the barriers and stereotypes that Muslim women have in the Western world – that’s the outside perspective of it for people that aren’t Muslim, on the outside looking in. For the Muslim community, it’s about not being afraid to go after what you’re passionate about and what your dreams are. A lot of first-generation Muslim families want [their children] to immediately go into medicine, law, engineering and that’s it. A lot of people are forced into it, and my parents are the kind of people that say, “go after what you’re passionate about.” I want to show how important it is to go after what you’re passionate about, and this goes for Muslims and non-Muslims.
Carillon: Would you be upset if another hijab-wearing woman reached your goal first?
Tagouri: I wouldn’t be upset, because I know that there’s room for success for everybody. My goal isn’t strictly to be the first, and I’ve wanted this for years. My goal is to be a journalist or an anchor who is able to get stories out there and ask questions. I’ve always loved telling stories and asking questions. At the end of the day, that’s what I want to do. Being the first hijabi news anchor or talk show host, that’s breaking a barrier. It’s going to take more than one person to do that. I’m taking the responsibility to do that. It gets people’s attention and gets them to take a second look, and know a bit more what I’m about. There’s a lot more than me just wearing a hijab.
Carillon: What reaction to the campaign have you had from various people in the industry?
Tagouri: The couple of producers I’ve spoken to want me to send in reels, and they’re like “we need to make this happen, we want to mould you into a great journalist.” Other people that work in the media that I know are like “this is really hard, you’re making a statement while you’re wearing your scarf. A lot of people won’t like it. The directors of the networks might not let you do that, some will, but a lot won’t.” I had my nineteenth birthday with Lisa Ling and I talked to her about it, she was like “go for it!” Anderson Cooper saw the video, [and] was positive and optimistic about it. I want to see what really big news anchors and journalists say. I’ve shadowed local news anchors and they were positive and encouraging, but I could tell that they were like “I don’t know if you can do this.”
Carillon: Have you experienced negativity for the campaign? How do you deal with that?
Tagouri: Of course I have, and I think I’d be worried if I didn’t get that. It has been extremely minimal compared to the support. It’s very ignorant hate. There’s the Muslims who aren’t supportive because they don’t think it’s appropriate, but honestly you’re always going to have people that don’t agree with you.
Carillon: You advocate for Muslim women following their dreams. Do you find that lots of young Muslim women see you as a role model?
Carillon: A big misconception is that Muslim women aren’t allowed to have jobs or to be public figures. Have you experienced this?
Tagouri: There are comments that you can find somewhere on my fan page, although I try to delete them. Honestly, that’s a complete misconception of Islam. If you look at the women’s role in Islam and how women are supposed to be treated, I would say that Islam puts women on the highest pedestal possible. To the people who say negative things about it, I say “have you looked at the history?” If you look at it outside of religion, you need to remember we are all human beings, and we all make mistakes.
Carillon: Why have you chosen to use the Let Noor Shine campaign to begin your career?
Tagouri: I have been working at this for forever. The reason I started college early was to get closer to my career. The picture and video going viral happened within a week, and I took that as a sign from God to get started at this. Social media is how people get recognized and it is how a lot of people start. I think it’s great, and I want to use social media as a tool of inspiration and as a tool to bring people with me on my journey. A lot of people think I put up a picture and it just went viral but I put in a lot of work into it before that. I think it’s a good place to start.
Carillon: Have you ever experienced any racism, or do you fear you will be turned down because you are a hijabi woman?
Tagouri: Right now I work at one of DC’s biggest radio stations and everyone in that radio station loves me and is like family to me. I’m still a junior in college so I haven’t applied for jobs yet, but I’ve had others who’ve tried reach out to me. They say “at the end of the day, it’s the hijab or the job.” I hear that and it doesn’t scare me because I know that at the end of the day I’m going to make it happen. If it’s going to be a challenge, bring it on because I can take it. I think people want to see it. It wasn’t just Muslims who reached out to me, it’s the non-Muslims who are saying “finally, we need this to happen.” Sure, I’m going to have the 5 per cent of people who don’t know anything about Islam and still think we’re terrorists. That’s not my audience I want to target. I want to tell stories, and report things, and give facts to people who want to learn and who want to expand their knowledge.
Carillon: Do you fear you’ll be hired just to make a statement or to simply add diversity to a news team?
Tagouri: This has come across my mind, but why would I fear that. If that’s the only reason I get the position, then they don’t know me yet. I’m going to let them know who I am and make them thankful they hired me. That’s not a fear I have. We live in a free country where you are given the right to voice your values and be respected. I think everybody is so scared to share their beliefs and nobody says it out loud. As soon as one person does it, you start to get more comfortable. You realize the person speaking beside you, though a different race, though a different religion, is not so different than you. The first thing you are is a human before you’re a journalist, and that’s what your job is as a journalist, it’s to better humanity.
Photo courtesy of Noor Tagouri