Liz Shayne offered these thoughts as a comment on a previous post. I found them really interesting, and from a perspective that was new to me, maybe since I'm living in New York City, where Jews are plentiful and pretty identifiable. I thought it was really interesting and worth getting more attention. I invite you to read on, and share your own thoughts and reactions in the comments section.
"Visibility is...an interesting problem because I've found there's a difference between looking different and being visible as a member of a group. There's a strange space between passing and proclaiming identity where I look different from everyone else, but my surrounding culture lacks the necessary cues to identify me.
This is another sticky place between privilege and presence, because I look "stylish" when I cover my hair with a hat, especially when I'm wearing a beret/wool cloche during the winter. And even my headscarves pass for intriguingly retro or offbeat on the street. There are days when I want a large sign taped to the back of my head saying "This covering has religious significance for me!" and then there are days when I very much don't.
When I first started teaching, I only wore hats because hats, as Rachel says, help one pass. By the end of my first year, I was more comfortable wearing scarves to teach (and I was running an section and taking my orals at that point so the fact that I got to the classroom with a lesson plan and my shirt the right way round was an achievement) and, over the summer, I deliberately wore a large, rectangular scarf on my second day as an odd kind of "this is who I am" statement.
But I never know if the statement I'm making is the same one other people are hearing (this has often been my experience with teaching, especially in the beginning).
So I value being able to pass because I am uncomfortable standing out without standing up. And yet there seems to be a lack of cultural awareness of Jewish hair covering as a recognizable form. This, I imagine, is because the how of covering has always been culturally determined and so Judaism, as such, does not have a distinctive style. We adopt the style of the culture around us and cover accordingly. And the current Western style of public hair covering is to not, which complicates matters and means that the current generation of Ashkenazi women (for the purposes of this conversation and making sweeping claims, lets say women under 40) find themselves in search of a tradition/stye of hair covering they can turn to and (assuming they have a job that does not mind scarf-like coverings) they, somewhat naturally, turn to the Israeli styles and modify them for the kinds of scarves and styles suited to the West…and attempt to avoid cultural appropriation in the process.
Do we fail to stand out because we pass or because we aren’t identifiable in the first place?"