Hate Violence Against Sikhs is not a Case of Mistaken Identity

Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News on 9.10.2012


A few weeks ago, an act of domestic terrorism in Oak Creek, Wisc., caught the attention of our entire nation. While the event occurred in Wisconsin, the San Antonio Sikh community continues to feel the reverberations.

Local Sikhs have partnered with the San Antonio Area Foundation to launch the One Nation Fund, a fund devoted to supporting victims of hate crimes in America. While this effort is commendable, it saddens me to realize that even in 2012, our society is still plagued by hate violence.

The shooting rampage in Oak Creek has been officially classified as a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism, but media analysts continue to explain the attack as a case of “mistaken identity.” This explanation suggests that hate crimes against Sikhs occur due to confusion between Sikhs and Muslims and that all hate-violence committed against Sikhs is actually intended for Muslims.

It is overly simplistic and highly problematic to frame the recent terrorism in Oak Creek as “mistaken.” The framework of “mistaken identity” forces us to think of Oak Creek shooting as unintentional and confused. As a result, we end up focusing on issues of ignorance, and we delude ourselves into thinking that there is a simple solution — education and awareness.

We need to rethink our assumptions to better understand the real source of this violence. Part of this reconsideration compels us to challenge the assumption that a white supremacist would not intend to target the Sikh community.

White supremacist websites clearly demonstrate that anti-Sikh sentiments are intentional and targeted. For example, Wade Michael Page frequented the message board of one of the most violent neo-Nazi skinhead groups in modern America. In reaction to the Oak Creek massacre, one of the commenters wrote: “I see these towel-headed Sikh a–holes walking around my city also. It disgusts me. What is this vermin doing in Wisconsin? … There are no tears which I’ll be shedding for these useless eaters.”

These strong and unguarded statements make it painfully obvious that the anti-Sikh feelings harbored by neo-Nazis are not “mistaken.” These sentiments are targeted, and we perform an injustice every time we overlook or oversimplify their motivations.

Growing up in South Texas, I can attest to the fact that ignorance is only part of the problem. People would attack my siblings and me equally, whether or not they knew that we were Sikhs. Despite being absolutely clear about who we were, people would still bully us on account of our turbans — the harassment we endured had nothing to do with “mistaken identity.”

Coupling my own experiences with recent neo-Nazi rhetoric, it is clear that we need to stop assuming that every instance of hate-violence against a Sikh is meant for a Muslim. This approach is overly simplistic and inaccurate.

We need a new framework that helps us better understand hate violence, especially in a deeply diverse city like San Antonio. This is the first step in the larger mission of erasing hate in modern America.


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