Sikh Temple Shooting: I’m Not Like You; I’m Better

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”

-Audre Lorde

Satwant Singh Saleka died fighting back an act of white American terrorism. He did not turn the other cheek. He saw a white man trying to hurt people in his gurudwara and he did the only thing he had to do: fight back with a butter-knife before being overpowered by a gun. He was shot twice and died on his feet, a real soldier.

I’ll leave it to a white American male to think that anyone in a turban is a Muslim and that a gurudwara is really a mosque. Of course, trying to parse out the differences between Muslims and Sikhs in the face of this white terror is precisely what is wrong with America even as the mainstream media runs around like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand trying to figure out to why this happened.

South Asians don’t need to be told why it happened. Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and anyone who looks brown have faced a long history of attacks in the U.S., that did not just start after 9-11 (though it did become much more acceptable in the immediate wake of 9-11). This country has a long history of violence and hatred towards black and brown people. This latest act of terror happened because of racism — because we do not live in a “post-racial” society.

But white privilege means that no one in the mainstream media will say that openly. White privilege means that the terrorist acted alone, and this was an isolated incident. White privilege means we will not round up and persecute white people for the actions of their ilk. White privilege means that anger and rage at them is not seen as an acceptable emotion. White privilege means that even when people of color are victims, we have to get on television explaining our cultures and religions because they are so different from the norm.

Over the past couple days, I’ve seen countless Sikhs and South Asians get on TV to tell America that we are no different than any other Americans. I don’t believe that. I believe I am different. I know that my difference makes me a better person.

I know that you do not need to understand someone’s faith to know that you should not buy a gun and shoot at them. I know that you do not need to have full civil rights in a society to be a positive, contributing member of it. I know that up against a gun, I have to fight back with either a butter knife or my bare hands. That is what distinguishes me from an American. I am proud to be different. And I feel that Americans lose when they do not embrace that difference.

In my head, the Sikh temple massacre does not just reflect poorly on white supremacists. It reflects poorly on all Americans.

I know that while money will never make up for this tragedy, there is a place that people can shove their white privilege so that they can feel better about retaining it:

Victims Memorial Fund
c/o Sikh Temple
7512 S. Howell Ave.
Oak Creek, WI 53154

We Are Sikhs

Milwaukee Sikh Temple

P.S. Sikh is pronounced “sick” and not “seek.”

TSA: Transportation Security Administration or Turban Search Authority?

http://change-production.s3.amazonaws.com/photos/wordpress_copies/race/2010/11/4464653659_5fba15b4b0-300x261.jpgCapt (Dr) Tejdeep Singh Rattan (pictured) is a Sikh-American US army officer.

But according to a new policy of the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA), when he or his family members board a flight in the United States, from now on they will be subjected to a mandatory turban search, culturally akin to stripping them naked.

While Sikhs already have to pat their own turbans and have their hands swabbed by a screener, the new policy now requires them to go through an additional hand wand of the turban 100 percent of the time. With a policy specifically targetting Sikh-Americans, the agency may as well change its name to Turban Search Authority.

Sikh-Americans are often mistakenly associated with the perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks, simply because Osama Bin Laden is pictured wearing a similar headdress. This has led to widespread acts of discrimination against Sikh Americans and a litany of problems at airports. Sikhs are required by their religion to wear a turban, the most visible marker of the faith. The turban symbolizes spirituality, gender equality and honor, and Sikhs consider its removal to be a grievous insult.

The TSA holds that a turban could hide non-metallic objects. Whether or not there is truth to that claim, airport officials do not demand that priests or nuns take off their clothing in case they are hiding non-metallic objects inside. Hypocrisy and a fear of difference makes up the crux of this new discriminatory policy.

The Sikh-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) states that this new policy as a serious violation of civil rights: “Targeting turbans for additional scrutiny sends a message to other passengers that Sikhs and their articles of faith are to be viewed with suspicion by fellow travelers. The policy is a serious infringement on our civil rights and liberties.”

The new policy has drawn widespread criticism. While in India, an Indian minister told President Obama that the United States must stop frisking the turbans of Sikh passengers.  “It is a humiliating experience. For us it’s like telling us to remove our clothes,” said parliamentarian Harsimrat Kaur Badal. Obama replied that he would look closely into the matter but refused to make any commitment.

To gain back some semblance of credibility, the TSA must address concerns from passengers with special religious or cultural dress needs. Tell the TSA that doing nothing in response to the outcry over its discriminatory practices is simply unacceptable.

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