Originally posted at CultureStrike
The carnage that erupted over the weekend at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin is the latest stitch in a very long pattern of alienation and hostility that has befallen Sikh Americans over the past decade. Jeers and harassment, violent attacks, and hateful political rhetoric have all woven a mesh of fear and muted outrage around the country’s burgeoning Sikh community. And now, this horrific intrusion into a house of worship marks one of the most brutal violations yet of the community’s physical and psychological public space. The explanations for such a targeted and ferocious attack (which have been linked to white supremacist ideology) aren’t rational, can’t easily be boiled down to simple ignorance. But many are delicately rethinking how cultural perception shapes attitudes toward the Other.
Democracy Now! has reported extensively on the patterns of violence and harassment against Sikhs since 9/11. Rajdeep Singh explained the history of Sikh immigration to the U.S. The political struggles of this community — entwined with anti-imperialist movements across the diaspora as well as America’s unique brand of nativist racism — long predate the most recent spate of attacks against Sikh, Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities. But Singh points to a powerful thread of historical and social consciousness that has shaped their identity:
Sikhs began to migrate to the United States at the end of the 19th century. Many of them, in fact most of them settled on the west coast and worked as farmers and laborers. In fact, there were some hate incidents. Many people aren’t aware of this but there were actually race riots in which Sikhs were targeted around the very early part of the 20 century; the early 1900s. Notwithstanding some of the bigotry and overt hostility which they faced, they built very successful careers as farmers, agriculturalists, entrepreneurs, professionals. Many people are not aware of this but Sikhs have been in this country for over a century. We are thriving in the professions that we pursue, but unfortunately and ironically, we are still facing existential challenges in the form of hate crimes and other forms of discrimination.