TWO Sundays ago my brother-in-law called. “Turn to CNN.” That is all he said. It reminded of the call I got on Sept. 11, 2001.
Both incidents were born out of hate. They occurred because we allowed the attackers to create an us/them mentality. They were both an attack on me personally: What happened on Sept. 11 was an attack on my America; what happened in Wisconsin was an attack on my Sikh faith.
A man walked into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and opened fired, leaving six people dead. Calling the shooting senseless does our communities a disservice. It was purposeful. We should have seen this; we should plan against it. Since 2001, there have been 700 hate-crime incidents in the U.S. reported to the Sikh Coalition.
The coalition keeps statistics because federal authorities don’t. They should. Thousands more go unreported.
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Don’t think Seattle is immune from such hatred. I have been spit on, I have been called names like “terrorist” and “Osama,” I have been intimidated.
Sikh children face bullying because of their distinct Sikh identity in school, despite anti-bullying policies. Five years ago, a Sikh taxicab driver was brutally attacked by a customer in Seattle after the Apple Cup. Sukhvir Singh was hospitalized for six days. His family struggled for years afterward because he could not bring himself to work at night, the most lucrative time for a cabdriver.
At the time, some people attributed the attacker’s actions to drunkenness; it was a way to dismiss a hate crime as a freak occurrence. But if we want to end the hatred, we have to start by calling it what it is.
Overcoming hate is not an impossible goal. We need more interaction as a community. We need to learn about each other, from each other. It means schools and parents teaching tolerance and creating awareness. It means calling out people who make hateful comments, whether they are our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, friends or strangers.
Whether we overhear a hateful statement in a bar, in a school or while walking by a stranger on the street, we all have a role to play in confronting hatred.
Sikhs have been a part of America for more than 130 years. Some of the earliest Sikhs immigrated to this state, working in Bellingham’s lumber mills. Sikhism is the world’s fifth-largest religion. The faith first emerged in 1469 in the Punjab region, which is now part of India and Pakistan. Approximately 500,000 Americans practice Sikhism.
Sikhs believe in one universal god. They hold that all people have a right to practice their own belief system. The religion states that people are equal, whether they are man or woman, old or young, rich or poor. Sikhs believe in giving back to the community. Men and women are mandated to keep their hair uncut. Men are mandated to wear turbans. Women may choose whether to wear a turban.
Being a Sikh alone does not define me. I was born and raised in Seattle. I endured the rainy days in exchange for a just a few sunny days.
I remember Seattle before there was traffic. I was here when Microsoft went public. I was here when grunge was born. I was here when Kurt Cobain ended his life. I was here when the Mariners were good and when the Seahawks got robbed.
I will be here for the foreseeable future. I am just like you, experiencing the same things as you do every day. Seattle is in my blood. So is Sikhism.
We couldn’t stop the Wisconsin attacker from doing what he did. We owe it to the victims to confront hate, whenever we see it. If we don’t this sort of tragedy will happen again.
Hardeep Singh Rekhi is a local civil rights and employment attorney. He is a board member for the nonprofit OneAmerica.
Information in this op ed, originally published on Aug. 14, 2012, was corrected on Aug. 15, 2012. An earlier version incorrectly said Sikhs have been part of America for more than 30 years. They have been part of America for more than 130 years.