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Hard Talk Racists And Bigots Are Amongst Us. How Would You Have Reacted'?

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Hard Talk Racists And Bigots Are Amongst Us. How Would You Have Reacted'?

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
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Shared by Tegh Singh, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

This is a rant about something that happened to me yesterday that really bothered me. I don't entirely know how to talk about it, so I'll just start from the beginning.

My 9 month old daughter (Kiran) and I are in the Brampton area and decide to stop at Malton Gurdwara (a Sikh temple) to Matta Tekh (pay my respects). I love going to Gurdwaras, and as a Sikh, it's not only my home away from home, it's a place where I go to find peace, to be encouraged, and to revitalize myself when I'm feeling worn down.

racists.jpg


After we pay our respects, we make our way to the langar hall (free/community kitchen) so that we both can eat. While I was eating, a sevadar (volunteer) walks around offering water to the pangat (congregation in the langar hall). I look at him, he looks back at me and asks if I need water, I said, "Yes, water please (in Punjabi)". He then looks away and serves everyone except me. There were so few of us present (maybe 15 people) that he ends up walking a circle around me, serving everyone and just skipping me entirely. At first I thought, maybe we misunderstood each other and he thought I had water. After all, he didn't even look at my cup, he just looked me in the eyes and moved on to the next person. No big deal.

A few minutes later he comes around a second time, asking if anyone needs water. I flag him down, I ask for water once as he approaches after he serves the people sitting immediately to my right. I ask a second time as he's right in front of me, and then it occurs to me that he's intentionally ignoring me, as he serves the person to my left, then the people behind me, and then a last person that was directly in front of me.

I'm bothered by this, and I look at my daughter and say in by no means a whisper, "Did you see that Kiran? He won't serve me." I took a minute to process and before I left the langar hall I took another minute to explain my thoughts in the moment to my daughter.

Before I continue, my daughter is very young, and in trying to stimulate and nurture her curiosity and budding intelligence I talk to her all the time and explain everything we encounter to her. I read out loud, I think out loud, I point and name things, I make eye contact and very animated faces for her, and so on. Every day is a good day when I'm spending time with my daughter.

In any case, before we leave the langar hall I say, "Kiran, we were just listening to Japji Sahib in the car on the way here.
Remember what Guru Ji says,

'TEERATH TAAP DAYA DAAT DAAN JE KO PAAVAE TIL KAA MAAN.
SUNIAA MANIAA MAN KEETA BHAO ANTARGAT TEERATH MAL NAAO.
SAB GUN TERE MAE NAAHI KOE.
VIN GUN KEETE BHAGAT NAA HOE
SUASTH AATH BAANI BARMAO.
SAT SUHAAN SADAA MAN CHAAO.'

PILGRIMAGES, AUSTERE DISCIPLINE, COMPASSION AND CHARITY. THESE, BY THEMSELVES, BRING ONLY AN IOTA (THE SIZE OF A SESAME SEED) OF MERIT. BUT A PERSON WHO LISTENS TO GOD’S NAME WITH LOVE AND DEVOTION, AND REMEMBERS GOD WITH TRUE LOVE IN THEIR HEART DOES THE REAL PILGRIMAGE BY THOROUGHLY CLEANING HIS/HER INNER SELF BY IMMERSING IN GOD’S NAME. LORD, ALL VIRTUES ARE YOURS, I HAVE NONE. WITHOUT YOU BLESSING ME WITH YOUR VIRTUES, I CANNOT REMEMBER YOU WITH TRUE DEVOTION. I SALUTE YOU, THE CREATOR OF MAYA AND THE HOLY WORD (SHABAD). AND WHO IS TRUE (EVERLASTING), BEAUTIFUL, AND ALWAYS FULL OF ETERNAL JOY.

When you get older, I'll teach you about Seva (selfless service). Today, just know that whatever you do, make sure it's carried out with Love, because that boundless Love is the real treasure. It is the means, and the ends. If you disingenuously serve others, or serve others with enmity in your heart, then you've completely missed out on the real treasure to be found in Seva, and in life."

In any case. I have had many encounters, at Gurdwaras, with overtly racist and otherwise prejudiced people. What I perceived today, is not something I'm going to lose sleep over, or take personally. I am neither discouraged, nor losing faith, by any means. At the same time, I can't pretend it didn't happen. That's part of why I've written this post.

So what actually bothers me about this encounter? It's not that someone refused to pour me a cup of water. I do not at all care about that part.

It bothers me that someone would wake up in the morning and dress themselves in the Guru's roop (physical form) which is at its core making a very bold and public statement about their commitment to serve humanity and uphold Sikh ideals. Then go to a Gurdwara Sahib, (a place of worship that is literally meant to be open to everyone and free of enmity toward anyone, period.) Then stand attentively in the langar hall just to do seva. (Langar, an institution whose very existence is predicated on inclusivity, equality, community, and humility). And finally, to blatantly discriminate against someone in an underhanded, passive-aggressive way. It's a slap in the face to the institution of Langar itself, and does a major disservice to the Guru's mission.

Secondly: Xenophobia from within the Punjabi community has been a recurring issue for me (and for my wife, being a Punjabi married to a black man) since day one of my trying to learn about Sikhi. I feel extremely blessed to have fallen so much in love with Sikhi that I was able to look past the consistently humiliating treatment I was given exclusively at Gurdwaras on a regular basis. Now that I'm no longer a stranger to the many aspects of Sikh principles, history, culture, etc. I do everything I can to be the antithesis of the bigots who isolated me and treated me so poorly for no reason other than my skin colour. Everywhere I go, I stand out, and I get a lot of questions about being a Sikh and about the Guru's message. And I am endlessly overjoyed to talk about it to whomever is curious. I routinely welcome others to go and visit a Gurdwara Sahib, and to learn more about Sikhi. It is with this in mind that I know that if anyone, on the advice of myself or another Gursikh, went to a Gurdwara for whatever reason and was treated like a second class citizen, or was blatantly disrespected as I have been so many times, I would feel a personal sense of shame and remorse regarding how they were treated. It bothers me that how I was treated yesterday, and how I have been treated so many times before, could happen to anyone.

In closing, I can't write something like this for the sake of airing a complaint and fixating on the idea that I'm upset. If you're still reading this, heed this call to action.

1) Tap into your humanity. Treat others with kindness, and do for others as you would have them do unto you.
2) If you can't help someone, at least don't harm them. Don't go out of your way to be malicious. And if you catch yourself impulsively reacting that way, for whatever reason, then investigate that impulse and demand more of yourself. Don't just do better: Be better.
3) Don't turn a blind eye to anyone treating anyone else poorly. If you don't stand against abusive behaviour, then you enable it. So please, be the change you want to see in the world.
4) Lastly, you have an audience. You may not realize it, but someone, at some point, somewhere is observing you. Today, my daughter witnessed someone judge her father and withhold water. This man was not in his own house, he was in the Guru's house. He wasn't distributing his own water and langar, it was the Guru's langar. In the Guru's House, everyone is welcome, and no one is turned away. It was not his right to decided who is and is not served. How do I explain this to her? How do I model for her, that person that the Guru has asked me to be?

Let's make a world where we don't need to explain bigotry, ignorance, and injustice.
 

Rajwinder

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Veer ji .. to me it's like this .. if we keep associating any way of life including sikhi way to physical aspects of things .. it's not going to work. "Dressing like .. " , "Gurdwara" , "langar" etc , these are the things that show and add to your character once u r clean from inside , by dressing in certain way or going to gurdwara or serving langar .. probably may have some impact but to me that is "Outside in " rather then "inside out " ;-) .. your experience is kind of weird surely and probably if it was me i would have probably made some funny comment on this guy .. given the way i am .. I had few situations of my own and it hurts surely , although the other {censored} dont even bother ..
 

Inderjeet Kaur

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There is a lot of prejudice in the Sikh community against anyone who is obviously not Punjabi. Black people get the worst, but White and East Asians get it, too. The attitude is: if you're not Punjabi, you're not really Sikh and you don't belong in the gurudwara. Of course, this is abhorrent.

I think if I saw this, I would probably jump up, grab the water pitcher away from the "sewadar" and pour the man water myself. This would not be the right thing to do because it is most likely to anger the "sewadar" and cause a scene. Better I go fetch a water pitcher and pour the man some water that way.

The thing is that I could not just sit there and do nothing. I think about the travels of Guru Nanak ji and his interactions with all kinds of people and of Bhai Kanhaiya giving water to fallen enemy soldiers. It is difficult to figure out what is gracious and polite in such instances but absolutely is wrong to see discrimination and do nothing.

To the "sewadar" I say, "How you feel about different races and ethnic groups is your private business, but please leave your prejudices at home. Remember when you tie turban or otherwise assume Guru roop, you become a representative of the Guru and a reflection of the entire Sikh nation. Your actions, good and bad, come back on the rest of us." I would like to say a lot more, but that is a start.
 

sukhsingh

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Please don't take this the wrong way but I find some of what you say hard to reconcile.. Whilst I fully accept that prejudice, bigotry and racism exists in the sikh community as all communities.. The scenario as described above does not ring true, 'to me'

I don't understand a couple of things.. Firstly he asked you whether you would like water but then ignored you..
2ndly I don't understand why this is considered a act of racism because I don't know what the racial dynamics in play are ? Are you of panjabi descent ?

3rdly as you said langar is a sanji space and if you had any doubts then why not just get up and go get a glass of water.. Chardi kala..?
 

Sikhilove

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Shared by Tegh Singh, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

This is a rant about something that happened to me yesterday that really bothered me. I don't entirely know how to talk about it, so I'll just start from the beginning.

My 9 month old daughter (Kiran) and I are in the Brampton area and decide to stop at Malton Gurdwara (a Sikh temple) to Matta Tekh (pay my respects). I love going to Gurdwaras, and as a Sikh, it's not only my home away from home, it's a place where I go to find peace, to be encouraged, and to revitalize myself when I'm feeling worn down.

View attachment 19981

After we pay our respects, we make our way to the langar hall (free/community kitchen) so that we both can eat. While I was eating, a sevadar (volunteer) walks around offering water to the pangat (congregation in the langar hall). I look at him, he looks back at me and asks if I need water, I said, "Yes, water please (in Punjabi)". He then looks away and serves everyone except me. There were so few of us present (maybe 15 people) that he ends up walking a circle around me, serving everyone and just skipping me entirely. At first I thought, maybe we misunderstood each other and he thought I had water. After all, he didn't even look at my cup, he just looked me in the eyes and moved on to the next person. No big deal.

A few minutes later he comes around a second time, asking if anyone needs water. I flag him down, I ask for water once as he approaches after he serves the people sitting immediately to my right. I ask a second time as he's right in front of me, and then it occurs to me that he's intentionally ignoring me, as he serves the person to my left, then the people behind me, and then a last person that was directly in front of me.

I'm bothered by this, and I look at my daughter and say in by no means a whisper, "Did you see that Kiran? He won't serve me." I took a minute to process and before I left the langar hall I took another minute to explain my thoughts in the moment to my daughter.

Before I continue, my daughter is very young, and in trying to stimulate and nurture her curiosity and budding intelligence I talk to her all the time and explain everything we encounter to her. I read out loud, I think out loud, I point and name things, I make eye contact and very animated faces for her, and so on. Every day is a good day when I'm spending time with my daughter.

In any case, before we leave the langar hall I say, "Kiran, we were just listening to Japji Sahib in the car on the way here.
Remember what Guru Ji says,

'TEERATH TAAP DAYA DAAT DAAN JE KO PAAVAE TIL KAA MAAN.
SUNIAA MANIAA MAN KEETA BHAO ANTARGAT TEERATH MAL NAAO.
SAB GUN TERE MAE NAAHI KOE.
VIN GUN KEETE BHAGAT NAA HOE
SUASTH AATH BAANI BARMAO.
SAT SUHAAN SADAA MAN CHAAO.'

PILGRIMAGES, AUSTERE DISCIPLINE, COMPASSION AND CHARITY. THESE, BY THEMSELVES, BRING ONLY AN IOTA (THE SIZE OF A SESAME SEED) OF MERIT. BUT A PERSON WHO LISTENS TO GOD’S NAME WITH LOVE AND DEVOTION, AND REMEMBERS GOD WITH TRUE LOVE IN THEIR HEART DOES THE REAL PILGRIMAGE BY THOROUGHLY CLEANING HIS/HER INNER SELF BY IMMERSING IN GOD’S NAME. LORD, ALL VIRTUES ARE YOURS, I HAVE NONE. WITHOUT YOU BLESSING ME WITH YOUR VIRTUES, I CANNOT REMEMBER YOU WITH TRUE DEVOTION. I SALUTE YOU, THE CREATOR OF MAYA AND THE HOLY WORD (SHABAD). AND WHO IS TRUE (EVERLASTING), BEAUTIFUL, AND ALWAYS FULL OF ETERNAL JOY.

When you get older, I'll teach you about Seva (selfless service). Today, just know that whatever you do, make sure it's carried out with Love, because that boundless Love is the real treasure. It is the means, and the ends. If you disingenuously serve others, or serve others with enmity in your heart, then you've completely missed out on the real treasure to be found in Seva, and in life."

In any case. I have had many encounters, at Gurdwaras, with overtly racist and otherwise prejudiced people. What I perceived today, is not something I'm going to lose sleep over, or take personally. I am neither discouraged, nor losing faith, by any means. At the same time, I can't pretend it didn't happen. That's part of why I've written this post.

So what actually bothers me about this encounter? It's not that someone refused to pour me a cup of water. I do not at all care about that part.

It bothers me that someone would wake up in the morning and dress themselves in the Guru's roop (physical form) which is at its core making a very bold and public statement about their commitment to serve humanity and uphold Sikh ideals. Then go to a Gurdwara Sahib, (a place of worship that is literally meant to be open to everyone and free of enmity toward anyone, period.) Then stand attentively in the langar hall just to do seva. (Langar, an institution whose very existence is predicated on inclusivity, equality, community, and humility). And finally, to blatantly discriminate against someone in an underhanded, passive-aggressive way. It's a slap in the face to the institution of Langar itself, and does a major disservice to the Guru's mission.

Secondly: Xenophobia from within the Punjabi community has been a recurring issue for me (and for my wife, being a Punjabi married to a black man) since day one of my trying to learn about Sikhi. I feel extremely blessed to have fallen so much in love with Sikhi that I was able to look past the consistently humiliating treatment I was given exclusively at Gurdwaras on a regular basis. Now that I'm no longer a stranger to the many aspects of Sikh principles, history, culture, etc. I do everything I can to be the antithesis of the bigots who isolated me and treated me so poorly for no reason other than my skin colour. Everywhere I go, I stand out, and I get a lot of questions about being a Sikh and about the Guru's message. And I am endlessly overjoyed to talk about it to whomever is curious. I routinely welcome others to go and visit a Gurdwara Sahib, and to learn more about Sikhi. It is with this in mind that I know that if anyone, on the advice of myself or another Gursikh, went to a Gurdwara for whatever reason and was treated like a second class citizen, or was blatantly disrespected as I have been so many times, I would feel a personal sense of shame and remorse regarding how they were treated. It bothers me that how I was treated yesterday, and how I have been treated so many times before, could happen to anyone.

In closing, I can't write something like this for the sake of airing a complaint and fixating on the idea that I'm upset. If you're still reading this, heed this call to action.

1) Tap into your humanity. Treat others with kindness, and do for others as you would have them do unto you.
2) If you can't help someone, at least don't harm them. Don't go out of your way to be malicious. And if you catch yourself impulsively reacting that way, for whatever reason, then investigate that impulse and demand more of yourself. Don't just do better: Be better.
3) Don't turn a blind eye to anyone treating anyone else poorly. If you don't stand against abusive behaviour, then you enable it. So please, be the change you want to see in the world.
4) Lastly, you have an audience. You may not realize it, but someone, at some point, somewhere is observing you. Today, my daughter witnessed someone judge her father and withhold water. This man was not in his own house, he was in the Guru's house. He wasn't distributing his own water and langar, it was the Guru's langar. In the Guru's House, everyone is welcome, and no one is turned away. It was not his right to decided who is and is not served. How do I explain this to her? How do I model for her, that person that the Guru has asked me to be?

Let's make a world where we don't need to explain bigotry, ignorance, and injustice.
Good post.

Presently I am living with a few people of a different racial group and I experience racism and sexism daily. My problem has been that I have been so accepting of other races that I forgot that its not always reciprocated.

What I find most disturbing about this group of people is that they put on a facade of being die hard christians, and have christian home meetings at our house weekly. I have attended their church which preaches kindness to others but even in their own homegroups, after praying, they sit around indulging in slander and gossip.

I have just began to understand their psychology and it's pretty messed up. This and what you described above is mental illness. We are One.

I've also been to gurdwarras and seen the people who do seva there doing so much nindya. Not everyone who dons the 5 k's or religious garbs or who does charity and seva is going to be good. You need to be able to accept that to be able to live in peace.

You also need to accept and make peace with the fact that youre not alone in experiencing racism, jealousy and hatred. I experience one or all of these daily. You just need to learn to deal with it in the correct manner.

Don't worry about racists and losers, everything is accounted for, you have a life to live so just focus on your life and win :)
 
Last edited:

gjsingh

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Please don't take this the wrong way but I find some of what you say hard to reconcile.. Whilst I fully accept that prejudice, bigotry and racism exists in the sikh community as all communities.. The scenario as described above does not ring true, 'to me'

I don't understand a couple of things.. Firstly he asked you whether you would like water but then ignored you..
2ndly I don't understand why this is considered a act of racism because I don't know what the racial dynamics in play are ? Are you of panjabi descent ?

3rdly as you said langar is a sanji space and if you had any doubts then why not just get up and go get a glass of water.. Chardi kala..?
The OP is sharing the experience of a black convert to the faith, a certain Tegh Singh.
In any event, Sikhs are human and humans are fallible, so I could certainly see this situation happening.
 

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