One of my earliest law school memories did not occur inside the lecture halls, but instead was a passing meeting in the hallway. I recall noticing a classmate's turban, beard, and dark complexion, and thinking, "terrorist." Soon thereafter, when Amardeep Singh and I became good friends, I learned he was a Sikh (and definitely not a terrorist). My initial reaction to seeing Amar for the first time embarrasses me to this day.
When I heard the news on Sunday about the tragedy in Wisconsin, I immediately thought of my old friend, who, after law school, co-founded the Sikh Coalition and currently serves as its National Director of Programs. Earlier this week, The Guardian ran a poignant piece written by Amar, entitled The post 9/11 prejudice that menaces American Sikhs. This is part of what he said:
Fed a steady diet of Bin Laden and Taliban images, most Americans simply associate the turban, which Sikh men wear as an expression of faith, with terrorism. Turban equals terrorist in the minds of too many.
In part, Sikh Americans are collateral damage of a modern climate that rarely has time for explanations of our culture, our heritage, and our beliefs. This enduring legacy of 9/11 continues to stubbornly attach itself to our community. Not only do many people not know of the peaceful beliefs of our faith, but they wrongly associate us with acts of unspeakable terrorism….
We all deserve to live in a society where no one need fear violent attack—whether at a temple, mosque, synagogue or church—simply because of our ethnic and religious identity.
As a society (especially one that calls itself a melting pot), we should not need an excuse to confront our own biases and prejudices. This awful catastrophe reminds us that we should view people as people, and not as colors, religions, or stereotypes.