Op-Ed Published in the Houston Chronicle
I grew up watching the Dallas Cowboys, eating barbecue and tubing down the Guadalupe River. My childhood in Texas is one that many can relate to, but for the fact that I’m Sikh. I wear a turban, and I have witnessed discrimination throughout my life simply because I look different.
While I left Texas to pursue a career in academics and interfaith work 10 years ago, my heart has never left the state in which my family’s American dream was born. Through my work, I have seen minority communities struggle with being the unwarranted targets of misguided bigotry and prejudice as our nation has grappled with fear in the never-ending “War on Terror.”
This fear, most often directed at Muslims (Sikhism is a distinct religion, by the way) has led to a generation of minority Americans becoming the targets of school bullying, discriminatory policing, rampant hate crimes and frequent prejudicial political speech.
We saw the sorry spectacle last week at the state’s Capitol, when Texas was hosting Texas Muslim Capitol Day, a day of pluralistic civic engagement that reflects the values we all should hold dear.
But instead of our state shining in the moment, a raving protester marred the Muslim event on the Capitol steps, and state Rep. Molly White posted an offensive Facebook comment about Muslim visitors to her office.
It’s the latter instance that was most surprising and disappointing, as it came from an elected official, someone we expect to be a representative of all Texans, whether or not they are Muslim. White, R-Belton, posted a comment on her public Facebook page that asked “representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws.” These sentiments are deeply misguided.
White’s comment presumes an entire community is guilty until proven innocent, an approach that goes against our American model of justice. It is not fair to hold American Muslims responsible for the actions of others, just as it would be unfair to hold American Christians responsible for engaging in terrorism in the name of Christianity.
If White asks all Muslims to renounce terrorist groups, shouldn’t she ask that of all of us? We are strongest when we stand together. Divisive comments such as those White unfurled last week are exactly what our enemies want.
As an American Sikh, it has been a lonely road combating this climate of hate. I know prejudice still exists, and I understand that we have work still ahead of us.
But the swift condemnation of White’s comments by Muslims and non-Muslims reflects that she sits in the minority who think hateful rhetoric is acceptable. The Texas that White is trying to create – one that divides our communities along ethnic and religious lines and asks us to be suspicious of one another – is not the Texas I know. And it’s not the Texas we can be proud of.
About 20 years ago, I attended my brother’s fifth-grade class party at a local roller-skating rink. When I entered with my family, the manager insisted that we leave because of our turbans. The teacher explained the situation to our classmates and parents and we all made an immediate decision to walk out together.I learned in that moment about the value of living in a community where friends and neighbors respect one another.
While Molly White’s bigoted words further the negative stereotype of Texas, I know in my heart that our values give Texas the potential to be a unique place where we all live and grow together.
This is the Texas that I know and love, and this is the Texas that I envision for our children.