The news story below is profoundly upsetting to me. Not only because I become indignant in the face of injustice and cruelty, but also because a major and beautiful element of my super-special summer was a Sikh. A Sikh taught me how to free my mind and body (through kundalini yoga and mantra) thereby connecting me back into my heavily guarded heart. Her name is Nirinjan Kaur Khalsa, and I obvi think the world of her. So, I read this news item and I think of Nirinjan and her family and my heart becomes heavy. And then I think of all of the black people who experience(d) the constant threat of this type of…
terrorism incident. Back when there was no such thing as a hate crime, but there such a thing as nigger hunting. I don’t mean to be rude or abrasive. I mean to be truthful.
How many black men, young and old heard “get him” as they were walking down a street?… or in their nightmares? What kind of armor does that compel a person to take up? In 2013, when a man is aquitted for shooting a black teenager armed only with a bag of skittles, what message does that send to a community about the value of it’s lives in this society? I think we can look around and see the answer to that. Heavy armor, is all I know to call it. And a message of meritlessness.
I hope you will take the 6-7 minutes it takes to watch the video interview with Professor Singh. Here are a few things that stood out as insightful and relevant to this discussion at large:
- (In) the Sikh community, having a turban and a beard is…a trigger for fear in the mind of a large fraction of Americans who may not know that it’s an integral component of the sikh tradition. (That) is part of the problem.
- ….reach out to people so they don’t feel afraid to ask, “What’s that turban? What’s that beard all about? Who are you? Are you American or not? …Learn to invite people to ask those basic questions. People have to not be afraid to ask those basic questions.
My thought on item number one is that there are stereotype-upholding attributes (physical and/or behavioral) of “african-american” people that trigger fear in the mind of a large fraction of Americans. And that must be a really large number because this fear response thing has been so deeply ingrained our collective subconscious that even “african americans” can be fearful of other “african americans” for no reason other than that they “are” “african american”. (I know that that was a lot of quotation marks. Every one of them deliberate, btw.) That is indeed a part of the problem. A solution may be a conscious effort on everyone’s part to understand the roots of those particular attributes and to hold the intention of healing the historical trauma. That may mean, if you’re white, consistently seeking to understand even after you are met with the discomfort of knowing that it is truly a privilege not to be laden with such a heavy historic burden and that, while you have every right to that freedom, you are no more entitled to it than any other living creature. If you are black it may mean seeking to understand the suffering, overcoming, nobility, and grace that come along with this history, but not ignoring the dysfunction and self destructive ways born out of a system designed to maintain a certain heirarchy. A system that is so well implemented that we take it for granted. We take it for truth and we create our reality on it’s baseless foundation. We form our identities around it and we become another fragment of the illusion unwittingly yet obediently holding it in place.
The second quote struck me as wise and necessary. It also took me back to Maui. The moment I met Nirinjan. Backstory- I was in Maui for The Daily Love: Enter the Heart retreat led by Daily Love founder Mastin Kipp. Mastin Kipp = major catalyst for my growth, so I obvi think the world of him as well- Anyway, we all gathered for the first time and Mastin introduced Nirinjan and immediately asked her to explain Sikhism and her turban and to assure us that she was not a terrorist. Point Blank. Just like that. He made it safe to ask, to be curious. He acknowledged the stereotypes and the triggers that may surface in the presence of a turban. There was nervous laughter amongst the group. Some expressed shock. But Mastin was like, “we see turban, we think terrorist.” Just like that. Point blank. With no judgement about any of it. Just focusing on the truth and then… the Truth. We all need to do that.
But the responsibility does not fall completely on the shoulders of the one perceived as different. The one with the questions has a duty here, too. The way I see it that duty is to ask the questions in a way that acknowledge your ignorance and does not impose a sense of “otherness/strangeness/weird” on the person who has piqued your curiosity. Also be genuinely interested and curious. Seek to understand and see it from a fresh perspective. More simply, be respectful. So much of this has been born out of a lack of respect. All around. It’s really all just one big misunderstanding.
Sikh Professor Attacked in Potential Hate Crime
On Saturday night Dr. Prabhjot Singh was brutally attacked in his neighborhood by a large group of young men, who yelled the words “Osama,” “terrorist,” and “get him.” He says they grabbed his beard, punched him, and dragged him to the ground where they continued to beat him. He was rushed to the hospital with a fractured jaw and several missing teeth. Singh is Sikh and wears a turban and beard, and says he’s been profiled as a Muslim and attacked in the past, although never so violently.
Singh is a professor at Columbia University, and is also a practicing physician. In addition he has also been an advocate for addressing historic discrimination against Sikhs in the U.S., which he says goes beyond mistaking this ethnic group for Muslims. The suspects have not yet been detained.
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