Hard Talk This Is What A Sikh Child Faces In America

Discussion in 'Hard Talk' started by Aman Singh, May 6, 2018.

  1. Aman Singh

    Aman Singh Admin SPNer

    Jun 1, 2004
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    Two decades ago, when I was in the second grade, a substitute teacher asked me to stand up in front of my class and talk about my religion: Sikhism. At 7 years old, I tried to explain it as best I could and avoid being ridiculed. I remember feeling totally unprepared and struggling afterward with the fear of being exposed like that again. At 7, I was already afraid of public speaking.

    Later that year, we were returning from recess when a classmate pinned me down and intentionally blew his nose on my turban. He was lightly admonished for his actions, but what I remember most was that nobody, including my teacher, understood how devastating it was to have my turban -- a sacred religious article of faith in Sikhism -- desecrated by a bully.

    In sixth grade, on my first day of school, a teacher asked me to remove my "beanie." After a chorus of laughter from my classmates, I stumbled to explain that it wasn't a beanie, and that I would not take it off. She relented without apology, but my classmates didn't, and "beanie" became the common word for my turban for the rest of school year.

    As I got older, this bullying intensified, and one student tried to cut my unshorn hair (also an article of my faith). By the time I got to high school, I no longer felt safe in unsupervised places. I hid the depth of the problem from my parents for years, but when they discovered the truth, we approached educators, and I was forced to name the names of my fellow students. This news spread like wildfire, and the only result was that I was further ostracized.

    While Sikh Americans are doing their part to help folks better understand our faith, the question remains: How do we avoid another 7-year-old child being the best option to explain his faith in class? We must ensure that educators are given the basic tools to one day accurately teach Sikhism in every public school.

    My childhood stories will sound tragically familiar to many religious minorities in classrooms across America today. Yet, if there is one thing that I have learned as an adult, it's that when we afford ourselves the opportunity to educate each other about our differences, we can begin to address the underlying problems that are at the root of this bigotry.

    Sikh parents have done the heaviest lifting in this regard, from seeking opportunities to speak in their children's classrooms about the Sikh identity, to working with education boards on a state-by-state basis to revise their curriculum standards to include Sikhism -- the world's fifth-largest religion -- so that it's finally taught in school. Since the Sikh Coalition launched a grass-roots effort in 2003, children in New York, New Jersey, California, Texas, Tennessee and Idaho now have the opportunity to learn about the Sikh community, which has been an integral part of the American fabric for 125 years.

    My Sikh religious articles of faith include a commitment to justice, tolerance and equality; many American Sikhs and I have struggled, because our faith has also been a siren call for fear, bigotry and hate in this country -- and this problem continues to play out in our nation's classrooms. According to the Sikh Coalition, just over 50% of all Sikh children report school bullying. For turbaned Sikh children like I was, that number jumps to a staggering 67% -- nearly double the national average.

    In addition to better education about minority religions such as Sikhism, our schools also need more robust bias-prevention programs. Any parent should agree that teaching children to respect differences will better prepare them to embrace diversity as adults. While our schools are increasingly focused on reaching test score targets, there is still no curriculum for character development. When we show our children positive role models, we must make sure that we include stories emphasizing the dignity of standing up for others while also having these stories reflect the true diversity of our history.

    Finally, it's critical to recognize that raising kids' cultural awareness through education must also happen outside of the classroom. Media must play a role in having these conversations.

    That's why I encourage parents to let their children watch the episode of "United Shades of America" that focuses on the Sikh community, because it will give everybody a chance to watch W. Kamau Bell, someone not initially familiar with our faith, have personal conversations with Sikhs from a place of empathy.

    Looking back at my own experiences growing up, I can only imagine now how impactful such programming would have been for me and my peers back then. It's critical that our kids see the humanity behind our differences. We may be of different shades, but leading with unity is the key to positive change.

    This is what a Sikh child faces in America (Opinion) - CNN
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  3. Truthsikher31

    Truthsikher31 SPNer

    Jan 26, 2018
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    I can relate to your post, as I'm sure many can. I've had my share of bullying, teachers being confused and what not. I remember in 3rd or 4th grade gym class, playing indoors and i was getting hot wearing a thick sweater and started taking it off. In doing so my patka came off. All the kids started laughing even my Indian friends (not sikh or punjabi), but still. I didn't even know who to get mad at or who to stop. Teacher came over n being clueless during that era on this, sent me to the nurses office. I had an older family friend in the same school few grades older, but didn't know how to fully spell his first name, but luckily nurse was able to track him down and he was able to tie it back on. But that day is forever in me.
    I have not seen the CNN episode yet, and i wouldn't want today's generation to experience the embarrassment, humiliation either. But when you explain to others that the turban, the hair are articles of your faith, to that i would say to the new generation and to the parents of those kids to really make sure where your faith lies. Dont be and have your kids follow a faith which you don't understand or properly follow. Don't be a sikh just b/c your parents were sikh. Question everything, and just be true to yourself.
    I'm almost 40 years and lived my whole life never truly questioning why this or that. My childhood i just buried the difficult times deep within, not able to share, and just continued to living the punjabi-sikh expectations. Today's parents are probably the same as me in that they might have had such experience and are more understanding to their kids problems or frustrations. Growing up in 90s with immigrant parents wasn't the easiest. And even though my beliefs on life, on sikhi have changed, more towards opposite of what I was growing up, I do hope the CNN video does create positive results. Because even though i no longer agree with religions in general, I would still prefer a peaceful world.
  4. sukhsingh

    sukhsingh Writer SPNer

    Aug 14, 2012
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    Sorry bro but that just doesn't connect for me. I grew up in the UK through the 80s in a working class area and a social and political environment that was deeply racist. I was the only one in my family to have kes, in many Sikh families this was quite normal ..
    I had my nose broken 8 times getting into rucks and fighting bullies was par for course..

    However whilst I understand your sentiment about better education about Sikhs and there arrticles of faith. I don't think your solutions actually address the problem of bigotry, prejudice and ignorance. Moreover they seem at odds with the whole idea of being a Sikh..

    Creating a environment where difference is accepted is absolutely what we should aspire to. But developing curriculums that reduce identity down to symbols such as articles of faith is inherently problematic.. we need to create societies that are comfortable with difference without having to understand them..
    And especially as a Sikh creating a idea of self that is exclusive of the other is inherently dangerous.. such a environment is a bigger problem for sikhs than any external bigotry.. this is the problem with the idea of multiculturalism.. the idea that we coexist with different cultural groups.. guru nanak ji said I see no 'other'.. followers of the philosophies of nanak have a unique place in the world and live in chardi kala.. the symbols associated with a Sikh should shape us but never become burdens that define us like brands
  5. sukhsingh

    sukhsingh Writer SPNer

    Aug 14, 2012
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    Being a sikh surely in the first instance means not caring what other people think
  6. Sikhilove

    Sikhilove Writer SPNer

    May 12, 2016
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    Perhaps sikh parents should push the schools at which their children attend to take a tough stance on bullying and to update their policies. This may also help other children other than sikhs which is a great seva.

    Checking in with your child regularly to make sure things are ok at school and in general is a good idea as sometimes the children will suffer in silence and not tell anyone about the abuse theyre going through.

    I feel that alot of the time, children and their emotional needs are overlooked by adults as unimportant. Nowadays the focus can just stay on adults and their maya problems indtead. I was bullied as a child and didnt feel as if I could tell my parents, so i just suffered in silence. I was a shy and quiet child, and my parents were in a horrifyingly abusive relationship which affected my school life also. My siblings also decided to make me their bullying target so i got abuse from all sides.

    I strongly believe that bullying, both at home and at school can affect the child way into adulthood, so it's better stopped at the beginning.
  7. Tejwant Singh

    Tejwant Singh Mentor Writer SPNer

    Jun 30, 2004
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    Well, here is my perspective which I wrote when my son, Trimaan went to his first grade.

    Solitude, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is "the state or quality of being alone or remote from others".

    The former best fits Trimaan Singh, who turned twelve the other day. And also any other Sikh kid trying to grow up as part of a minute minority anywhere in the diaspora.

    The lone rangers of the Khalsa cavalry! The walking and talking sava lakhs!
    The age difference between him and his sister is about four years and ten months, which turns into five for the older one - his sister - and four for him, a perennial sibling tug-of-war between the distance and closeness, as far as chronological age is concerned.

    The younger one wants to narrow the gap, not because he wants to be the same age as his sister, but due to his desire to be considered mentally as capable.

    He's upped her in one thing already. He is two and half inches taller than she is, his face grinning as he makes her stand next to him with a sense of authority, just to check if one more fraction of an inch has been added to his mighty frame. He inflates his chest, proclaiming himself to be the one-eyed king in the kingdom of two. A proud Goliath for a few moments.
    It is all in the mind games. Sibling rivalry has been part of family life across cultures, from time immemorial. It takes the most out of parents, as far as refereeing these battles is concerned. Taking sides is the usual accusation directed towards us. And, juggling to find the Gurmat fulcrum is a daunting task, constantly and repeatedly.

    We, as a family, had new beginnings in 1998, when Trimaan was three.
    We moved to a town where we were, and still are, the only "visible" Sikh family. This was of obvious concern for the parents of a three-year-old patka-wearing lone ranger in a town where, for the majority, he is an alien from some strange, unknown land.

    For the first year, he went to a day care which he detested.
    Every time his mother or I dropped him to this school of hard knocks, we left with a lump in our throats, our ears reverberating with his pleas not to leave him there. No sooner than I was out of sight, the first reaction was to close the car window, but I could still see his teary cries, albeit without the sound effects. What the ears do not hear, can be easier sweeping under the rug.

    We were sure we were doing the right thing for him.

    Little did we know that he thought the day care was just like a caged animal-corral, where free expression was taboo. He seemed to have more maturity than his mates of the same age, and hence found it difficult to follow them, like one more sheep in the flock.

    Time passed by, but his pleas were the daily reminder of our guilt of lacking parenting skills. Finally, the year came to an end and he was sent to a Montessori school, which he mercifully found a bit more to his taste.
    His mom met the principal and explained the basic tenets of Sikhi and the reasons for his wearing the patka. Trimaan looked very cute in his American flag top and sports shorts, with a matching patka, doing his martial arts show with his fellow classmates, for the parents gaga and open-mouthed, as if watching some Olympic event.

    One more school year is over. Time to go to the first grade in a new school. The concern of him being the only visible Sikh kid in town, and hence in the school as well, at the tender age of five, was never absent. We, as parents, often questioned ourselves if we had enough tools to share with him to face the coming odds. And we worried whether our encouragement to be a brave Khalsa was sufficient for him to cope with a world to which this American face of his did not jibe with their experience.

    Jaskeerat, his sister, has been in a magnet school program since her second grade, about twenty-five miles from home. We decided to put Trimaan in the zone school, which is only three away from home. It gave us some comfort that we could rush to him in case of any emergency our fertile minds could concoct.

    A couple of days after he was in school, I asked him if anyone had questioned him about his patka, or tried to touch it in an insulting way.
    His response to the former was yes, and no to the latter. But, he also added that he did not know how to answer the queries the kids asked him. After our casual chit-chat, Harsimran - his mom - and I decided to do something about it.

    The next day, she went to the principal and told her about Sikhi and asked her if it would be okay for her, Harsimran, to tell his class about it. Mrs. Goodman, the great teacher that she is, not only agreed, but also seemed to be excited by the idea, for her own sake: because it was also the first time she had heard about Sikhism.

    The following day, at the appointed hour, Harsimran arrived in Trimaan's classroom and was surprised to see Mrs. Goodman and her class eagerly waiting for her!

    Harsimran took Trimaan's patka off, right in front of the class, opened his joorah, let his hair down, and invited all the kids to come and touch his hair. It fell majestically all the way to his hips.

    The mayhem that followed was tantalizing, to say the least. Everyone got the chance to touch his soft hair, al naturale.

    The ice had been broken.

    Trimaan became an American, this time from the outside, as far as the co-inhabitants of his little world were concerned.

    Mrs.Goodman had another bright idea. She invited me to talk about Sikhi to the rest of the school, during the recess the next day.

    So, the following day, I was in the big room crowded with tables and kids from second to fifth grades. I had brought two dastaars with me, a six-yarder, and its understudy, measuring three.

    I handed one end to a volunteer and asked him to help me stretch it all the way. The goggle-eyed kids were taken aback to see the length, and looked at mine on my head, and were puzzled to see how this piece of cloth turned into a marvelous headdress that, at one time, only the nobles were allowed to wear, that is, before the defiance shown by our Gurus.

    Needless to say, it was a blast. The world became one for all. No strangers here. No melting-pot either. But a beautiful salad bowl where all co-exist as individuals, in unison.

    Ten days after the above episode, 9-11 happened.

    By now, Trimaan was not a stranger anymore, either by luck or by fate, but more likely by grace. He had prepared the world not to see him with jaundiced eyes.

    He was an American like them.
    * * * * *

    That was seven years ago. Now Trimaan is in middle school - still the lone ranger Sikh. He entered the Magnet program last year. The school is about twenty miles away. No more concoction of imagined fears by the parents. The episode in his first grade gave Trimaan the tools, the confidence and courage to express his way of life to others. That is the reason we did not have to repeat the same in his sixth grade, when he moved up to middle school, as we had to do in his first, although we did explain to the new principal about our religious beliefs.

    Some kids are going to make fun anyway. But we like to think that we've taught him how to react. Now, kids ask him questions and he responds quite gallantly, I might add.

    His Black classmates have already declared that his "du-rag" (patka) is cool!

    As I have mentioned before, I am just a blessed Dad.

    The Lone Ranger

    Update: Trimaan is doing Masters in Astronomy at UNLV and one of his papers that he presented this month is going for a peer review.
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