Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sikhing Answers

When I was living in Chandigarh -- a city teeming with turbaned Sikh men and their families -- I had come to regard gurudwaras (Sikh temples) as a haven. From traveling with 20 students and little money to getting lost in the city, the molded turrets and Punjabi signs became a constant reminder of giving and service. They were quiet places where you could take off your shoes, splash cold water on your face, and sit in relative silence. And there was always food -- free and abundant, served with a prayer and ghee.

Less than two years later, and back on this side of the world, my peaceful images have been literally marred with bullets. The shooting of seven people at a gurudwara in Wisconsin pervades the media with speculations, mistakes and a call for education about the entire Sikh community. But the most frustrating thing for me is not that BBC called the temple a mosque, or that people can't distinguish one turban from the next -- it's that I wasn't shocked when I saw the first news blast on my phone.

Looking back at my own exploration of the Indian community, I can immediately find at least five posts and articles I've written about Sikhs and Sikhism: airport regulations for turbans, a review of a Valerie Kaur's documentary "Divided We Fall" about the post-9/11 hate crimes, a blog post about my love for Punjab and it's people. Most recently, I wrote an article about "I Am Singh", a terribly made but relevant movie that hauntingly foretells this exact tragedy.

I've been criticized by both friends and strangers for my attention to racism and prejudice when it comes to the South Asian community. Without the background of slavery (in this country) and within the context of a melting pot of immigration, the special attention doesn't make sense to everyone. Just last week an old friend told me that an article I wrote for Slate about Ashton Kutcher using brownface was complete overanalysis. He said racism against the community, especially surrounding something as factitious as an advertisement for chips, was irrelevant. Comments on the website tell me he isn't the only one who thinks that I should just "get over it".

But Wisconsin tells me that there is no reason to get over it. That education and activism is not enough. It takes a critical mass of people living, coexisting, and understanding to prevent local terrorism and get rid of op-eds like Joel Stein's infamous "My Own Little India". It takes interacting with an actually diverse group of people on a regular basis -- not the kind of cultural quotas that colleges deem diversity.

And while there are so many other factors at play -- from gun control to support for veterans -- there is a clear difference between the two recent tragedies we've seen this month. I see no reason to write it off instead of writing about it.

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