During my usual 2 am Twitter perusal the other night (don’t ask), I came across a Times of India news story, “Sikh Children in U.S. Schools Targets of Hate: Report.” I couldn’t fall back asleep for hours. As a parent, an American, and a 1st generation child of Indian immigrants, this makes me furious, frightened, and disgusted.
“‘Go Home, Terrorist‘: A Report on the Bullying of Sikh American School Children,” released by the Sikh Coalition comes as little surprise to me. While the report quantifies the astronomical levels of bullying experienced by Sikh children, primarily those who wear turbans, most of us are well-aware of the connotation of brown skin.
Post 9/11, even a typical cheese-gorging, beer-loving, arguably cute Wisconsin girl like me couldn’t avoid the stifling hate and fear. Just a few years ago, I was at a video store where an African-American man approached me with a smile and casually asked, “Where are you from?”
I responded, “I’m from Madison.”
He persisted, “But where are you really from?”
I gave him the usual, thoroughly-practiced, “I was born in D.C., but I’ve lived here since I was 5.”
He wouldn’t stop. “No, I mean where are you originally from?”
I knew what he was asking, obviously. I and most brown-skinned Americans have had this conversation countless times starting as early as kindergarten recess. I spewed the usual, “My parents moved here from India a few years before I was born.”
The dude breathed a palpable sigh of relief and stated, “Oh, good. As long as you’re not one of those 9/11 people.”
I kid you not. He actually said “9/11 people.” As if the monsters who perpetrated those atrocities actually represent an entire, fictional group of people. I was so shocked, I just stared blankly at him and walked away. If only I could have that conversation again. I would have expressed how sorry I felt for him. That I pitied him as a black man who had most certainly been feared, discriminated against, and seen plenty of women and moms cross the street before crossing paths, yet was harboring the same prejudice within himself. That I wished he knew better. If I could go back in time, I would ask how he’d have responded if I told him, “I’m Muslim, from one of those middle-eastern countries where yes, there are fundamentalist, extremist terrorists, but mostly just normal people, loving their families, going about their business, living their lives.”
And this was just little old me. An Indian-American woman in her early twenties. I can only attempt to empathize with what Indian-American Sikh men and children endure. When I was a child, the worst stupidity I had to deal with was kids asking where the dot on my head was, or if I worship cows, or what the hell is that stuff in my lunchbox. I can’t imagine being asked as a child whether my uncle is a terrorist, or being asked not to kill anyone. I can’t imagine being a Sikh child, knowing that people of my faith were killed in a racist rampage in what is supposed to be the home of the brave.
It maddens me that this makes me somewhat thankful for my relatively light-skinned kids. Maybe they’ll be fortunate enough to elude the bullying and ignorance that will dwarf that of my pre-9/11 childhood. Maybe not. My kids do tend to tan in the summer sun. We teach them to embrace all aspects of their heritage, so I doubt they are going to pass for white anyway. I’m appalled that the notion of “passing for white” even crosses my mind.
A child is cited in the report who states, “I think the biggest problem about these people is they’re too ignorant to understand the difference[s] between Hinduism, Islam, and Sikhism…”
I totally get it. Some people are too damned stupid to know why a turban is worn, and that not all brown-skinned people are Muslim. Then again, does it matter? Bullying is wrong, period. Fearing Islam is stupid, period. Discrimination sucks. So while it shouldn’t matter, it clearly does. These notions begin at home. But they’re perpetuated by teachers who don’t take a stand, as is clearly described in the Sikh Coalition report. This is unacceptable and shameful. The Coalition’s calls to action need to be implemented in every way possible.
I don’t want to be consumed by anger right before my son wakes from his nap, so I’m going to try to chill out for the time being. I don’t have anything else to say. Please do your part by spreading awareness, and let me know your thoughts in the comments and on Twitter.
Featured image credit: Gurumustuk Singh