Confronting Racial Violence: Sikh Americans Have Been Targeted for Harassment and Attack More Than Any Group since 9/11. Jaideep Singh Explains How Race, Religion, and Distorted Media Representation Have Resulted in Deadly Consequences. (to the Point)

By Singh, Jaideep | Colorlines Magazine, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Confronting Racial Violence: Sikh Americans Have Been Targeted for Harassment and Attack More Than Any Group since 9/11. Jaideep Singh Explains How Race, Religion, and Distorted Media Representation Have Resulted in Deadly Consequences. (to the Point)


Singh, Jaideep, Colorlines Magazine


Religion has joined race as one of the most powerful and prominent channels through which to identify the "enemy" or "other" in America's national life. This disturbing tendency affects primarily non-Christian people of color. As a result, the intersection of white supremacy with Christian supremacy--the intermingling of racial and religious bigotry--has become an increasingly prevalent and influential trend in the United States, both in the media and among the general population.

The Last Sanctioned Racism

The United States has a lengthy history of targeting the sacred practices of peoples of color for persecution, dating back to the state-sanctioned assaults on the religious activities of Native Americans and African American slaves. While the attacks on African American churches throughout the South during the 1990s finally did draw attention from the nation after they had been raging for several months, the travails of other congregations of color are very rarely heard. In 2000, the Washington-based National Conference of

Catholic Bishops concluded that Latinos are twice as likely as other Catholics in the United States to worship in segregated, separate, and unequal settings. The role of race in the religious life of Americans remains as relevant a factor today as it has been since the formation of the U.S.

The notion of the "Muslim terrorist" is one powerfully etched in the minds of most Americans. By contrast, the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing, bombers of medical clinics that provide abortion services, murderers of doctors who provide abortions, and members of various white militia groups are never characterized as "Christian terrorists." As scholar Edward Said has noted, the last sanctioned racism in the United States is that directed at followers of the religion of Islam.

The continued and unquestioned utilization of the illogical term "Muslim terrorist" signifies how the norm in our society is still a white Christian. This is illustrated through media coverage that emphasizes the stark contrast between dark-skinned, turbaned, and bearded Muslims--portrayed as antithetical to everything "American" and opposed to "freedom"--as opposed to "real Americans," who look a certain way and cherish their freedoms. No one points out that there is something inherently racist about thinking that people of a certain race or national origin do not want to be free.

Combined with Religious Bigotry

While Muslim Americans have been among the most affected by such bigotry as their population has grown exponentially in recent years, other Asian Americans have increasingly faced the wrath of the white, Christian majority. In community after community, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and members of other religions of Asian origin have been forced to struggle in order to construct sacred sites in which to peacefully worship and practice their religious and cultural heritage.

The manner in which religious and racial bias combine to negatively affect a community in the United Stares is dearly reflected in the experiences of Sikh Americans. The trajectory of public, racialized discourse denigrating non-Christian "others" has placed Sikh Americans among the religious communities of color who have greatly suffered from the commingling of racial and religious bigotry--sometimes mistaken for Muslims, and other times singled out for abuse because of their conspicuous appearance, accents, or skin color.

In attempts to adhere to the most salient aspects of their religio-historical identity, Sikhs have built a gurdwara (Sikh site of worship) wherever they have migrated. As with many other non-Christian, Asian American congregations, this has become a source of conflict in a number of communities around the country in the past three decades.

Additionally, the inability to distinguish between Sikh and Muslim Americans in the minds of many fellow citizens has resulted in numerous instances of mistaken identity, with sometimes terrible consequences.

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