How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

by

Moustafa Bayoumi

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Yasmin Character Analysis

The focus of Bayoumi’s third chapter, a devout, hijabi high schooler who lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and gets into a protracted argument with her high school’s administration over her role in student government. While the school’s policy requires members of the student government to attend all school functions, she cannot go to school dances because of her faith, and the school’s student affairs coordinator makes her resign her post. Incensed at what she considers religious discrimination, she spends years furiously researching anti-discrimination law and trying to make her case to the school. Armed with pro bono representation from the legal organization Advocates for Children, she finally gets the school to change its policy and ends up getting elected class president for her senior year. By the time of the book’s publication in 2008, she has already finished college and is planning on going to law school to fight cases like hers from high school. Beyond contradicting stereotypes about Muslim women, Yasmin’s story shows the insidious, often everyday character of anti-Muslim discrimination in post-9/11 America but also dedicated advocacy work’s power to overcome it.

Yasmin Quotes in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? quotes below are all either spoken by Yasmin or refer to Yasmin. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? published in 2008.
Yasmin Quotes

“911. What's your emergency?”

“There's a white couple on a city bus. I think she has a bomb in her purse. It's a 863 bus, going up Fifth Avenue. The license plate is . . .”

She wanted to call. She really did, just to make a point, to make them feel the same way—singled out, powerless, discriminated against, a source of irrational fear. But she didn't call. In fact, she didn't do anything, and because of that she was annoyed with herself.

Related Characters: Moustafa Bayoumi (speaker), Yasmin (speaker)
Related Symbols: Hijab
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

“With all due respect to your religion, sir, how long do you think you can control your daughter?”

Related Characters: The Student Affairs Coordinator (speaker), Yasmin
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

I was forced to submit my resignation due to the system's inability to understand my moral obligations. For example, my beliefs prevent me from having anything to do with drinking/dancing. When I was young, the system told me to stand up and fight for what I believe in. While now I am being told to do the exact opposite, instead I should give up what I believe in for some rules and regulations. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for what he believed in and gave up his life for it. I too am taking that same stand by giving up my position to defend what I believe in.

Related Characters: Yasmin (speaker), The Student Affairs Coordinator
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

What hurt me most was that when I won secretary as a Freshman, I felt that I had achieved my dreams and broken a racial barrier that I thought would hold me back. I finally felt that as a Muslim that I was doing something and I could make a difference in the world. I believed people would have confidence in me because of what was in my heart and not prejudice against my outer appearance—I had hope that I could achieve my dreams—but when they took me out I felt different and segregated and it shattered everything I had hoped and dreamed of. Now all I feel is hurt, sadness, and I feel that as a Muslim I can never be something because America is prejudiced so much and will never let people like me succeed no matter how hard we try. I never told anyone that this is what really hurts me and makes me cry. My family doesn't even know that I still cry and that I am still hurt and think about it every day. I felt so bad, and knowing how that feels, I don't want to have anyone else go through what I went through, Muslim or non-Muslim.

Related Characters: Yasmin (speaker), The Student Affairs Coordinator
Page Number: 100-101
Explanation and Analysis:
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Yasmin Character Timeline in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?

The timeline below shows where the character Yasmin appears in How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Yasmin
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
...day, heading to Taco Bell on the bus to pick up food for her sisters, Yasmin watches a white couple harass a fellow hijab-wearing Muslim woman, suggesting that she has a... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Arab American Identities Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Yasmin, like many hijab-wearing women in the United States, is fearless and formidable, “far from the... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...High School in the wealthy, quiet, tree-lined area of the same name in Bay Ridge, Yasmin stumbles into student government, filling out the onerous application and gathering the necessary 100 signatures... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
One day, two secular Albanian Muslim girls ask her about the year’s first dance—Yasmin is not planning to go, but the other girls think this might be a problem.... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
The Executive Board meets without Yasmin and agrees with the student affairs coordinator that she has to go to the dance... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
At home, in her father’s tiny office, Yasmin begins printing and organizing files about anti-discrimination laws and the school’s “Bill of Student Rights... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Yasmin is also worried about the statute of limitations—she only has a year to file a... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Yasmin decides to contact the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), but the school ignores CAIR’s letters.... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...of 2001. On the morning of the 9/11 attacks, the school falls into chaos but Yasmin goes to the Leadership room and has an understanding, productive conversation with the members of... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Yasmin continues corresponding with CAIR and arguing her case with the student affairs coordinator; she also... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
CAIR’s attorney advises Yasmin to make notes of anything anyone mentions that pertains to her situation. They might have... (full context)
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Yasmin goes with her family to watch the movie I Am Sam, in which a developmentally... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Faith, Tradition, and Islam Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
...racism in education often impacts “the most vulnerable members in our public schools” and notes Yasmin’s remarkable zeal in researching her case. After taking up her case, Yan first confirms with... (full context)
Racism, Discrimination, and Foreign Policy Theme Icon
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
That spring, Yasmin runs for president, noticing that the school will now allow members of student government to... (full context)
Growing Up and Self-Discovery Theme Icon
Justice, Activism, and the Future of American Democracy Theme Icon
Yasmin is a well-respected and successful class president; the coordinator of student affairs even writes her... (full context)