Sikhs and Blacks in America: A tale of two communities in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing

Sikhs and Blacks in America: A tale of two communities in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing
Sikhs and Blacks in America: A tale of two communities in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing
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The News Minute | August 21, 2014 | 1.01 pm IST

As Michael Brown’s killing has called attention to racism in the Unites States of America once again, the Sikh community in the US has hired experts used by Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama to change perceptions about their community.

Just a day before, a black man wrote about what it means to grow up black in America. 

According to a PTI report, leaders of 100 gurudwaras in the US met in Washington over the last weekend and have decided to hire professionals to improve the image of the community in the wake of hates crimes against Sikhs.

PTI reported that a detailed presentation of the strategy was made by Geoff Garin of Hart Research, who was formerly a political strategist for Hilary Clinton, and Isaac Baker of AKPD Message and Media, which is president Barack Obama’s media firm. 

The report quoted Gurwin Ahuja, executive director of the National Sikh Campaign, as sayinf: “The Sikh community in US has never been more educated, more wealthy, and more successful than today and we've also never had this many Gurdwara leaders together in a room. We have never been more primed to do something big.”

“This is perhaps the first time a thorough scientific data will be made available to the community within and without to set the next path of our campaign.”

The delegates at the meeting have decided to raise around 5 million USD to “keep the focus on introducing Sikhism and the Sikh identity while showing the positive contribution of the community in the media”.

In stark contrast is Bijan Stephan’s account growing up clothed in black skin in America published by Matter. Stephan’s parents are Caribbean immigrants who often told him to be careful. In a piece titled “Talk: How black parents prepare their young sons for life in America”, he writes that his mother often told him to protect himself: 

“I’d always argue with her when she said things like that. Not because she was wrong; because she was right, and her rightness hurt me somewhere deep and inarticulate. American society has indelibly marked my body as exotic, as dangerous, as uncontrollably lustful, as rage-filled, as a symbol of every single societal ill. Black. Nigger.

“No one forgets the first time someone calls them that, incidentally. Your face gets hot, first, and it feels like the world is suddenly fast forwarding as your heart beats insistently in your wrists and throat; and then, you focus on their sneer, the one that’s secure in the knowledge that you can’t — you won’t — do anything. Powerlessness next, then the deep blue sadness tinged with black despair”

"It’s odd to grow up not really believing that the various protections enshrined in law apply to you — or rather, that they only apply to you when it’s convenient. That’s really what the Talk is about: It’s pragmatism for a society that doesn’t consider you fully human. James Baldwin notes something along these lines in “Stranger in the Village” — my favorite essay from his 1955 collection Notes of a Native Son — when he discusses the reasons why American blacks, unlike the other black men who live around the world, don’t and can’t fit anywhere but America. It’s because these histories end, inevitably, in a bill of sale."

Stephan is now a New York-based writer and has written for Time, The Paris Review, Huffington Post, The New Inquiry and elsewhere. But, he says it is hard for a black man to forget the colour of his skin and wonder whether everything little thing in his life was controlled by it:

“It’s tough to believe in anything other than the present when you’re forced to fight for every inch of ground you’ve got; it’s harder still when you’ve got to question most of your interpersonal interactions. Is this why I didn’t get the job? Is this why my lease application was denied? Is this why I got into college? Is this why this person keeps following me around the grocery store? And when you ask, you’re looked at like you’re crazy, met with denial — because it’s always plausible, deniable.

“My story is not unique. I could have been Michael Brown, or any of the other murdered ones. I’ve grown up enough now that I know when things could devolve, when I might have to run, when to avert my eyes and cloak myself in blackness — that is, in the body language of utter submission, of chattel.

“When you find yourself talking to a policeman — and this is inevitable, as a black man in America — it’s never about being right, or who’s right. It’s about staying alive, because due process doesn’t matter for shit when you’re dead. Things speed up again, and maybe your vision contracts so that it’s only you and him when he asks for your license and registration; or, it’s only the two of you as you see his head turn when you walk by — will he stop me? Will he kill me? Is today my day? — and it’s like slow dancing with someone you love, only your heart pounds for the wrong reason. It’s remarkably like being called that slur, the one that reverberates through history and lands like a whip on your back.”

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