Today I watched a video that some students made from quick impromptu interview sessions with students on the Campus of Sul Ross State University (Texas, USA). They made the video in preparation for a Sikh Awareness Day project that their organization (the College Democrats of Sul Ross) are hosting April 18th 2012. Watching the video you can see how pretty much all the students have no idea who Sikhs are, and associate the three pictures they are shown (of Sikhs) …as Muslims…terrorists…Iraqi, etc. One is a picture is of the first Sikh army graduate in 20 years (Tejdeep Singh Rattan), The other is a picture of a more typical Sikh from Punjab talking on the phone, and then another older Sikh man looking at the camera.
The first thought I had was, hope that at least there would be one person out of the bunch who might have heard of Sikhs. When that didn’t happen and the video finished it was a strong affirmation how little people know about Sikhs, and how much work we have ahead of us to change this. The constant media images of Osama Bin Laden with his turban and terrorism, portrayed a picture that people mistake for as Sikhs.
Reading comments from the video by Sikhs, I see shock, disbelief and feelings that these students and Americans in general are just “not educated” or just plain stupid. As I started to think about it I suppose from our perspective we feel like it should be obvious that everyone should know who WE are. As if just because they don’t know who we are they are un-educated. The reality is that the world is a big place and most people don’t get the kind of cross culture, world exposure that many of us are used to. I feel like in some ways it is egotistical to expect that people would know who Sikhs are. There is a TON that I don’t know about various religions and people all over the world. Does it make me stupid? I don’t think so. Does it make me ignorant? Maybe.
So, how do we change this picture? It’s not going to happen on it’s own. We can’t expect someone else to do it either. I don’t see any millionaires coming forward to do PR campaign about Sikhs, so ultimately it is up to each of us to educate the people that we come in contact with. I often see that because of cultural differences many of the Sikh communities can be very insular and not having much interaction with people in the community. I also think we have to stop projecting out the feeling of “we are the victims”, so that when you are walking around you think and project out that the people think you are “this or that”. Or the worst is when Sikhs react to ignorant people in a negative way rather then keeping calm and using it as an opportunity to educate.
Part of the change comes from within, being strong in our identity, proud, joyful, confident, serviceful, well mannered, standing up for people in need. The “vibe” and projections that we send out will effect what people perceive of us when we are out and about. We already stand out; so when our positive qualities and action in our communities are seen by people around THIS will affect change in the image of what they see. Often times the type of stories that mainstream public see are when we fight with each other :(
So, let’s take this as an opportunity to think about this situation and ways we can “Change the Picture”. Let’s take the initiative consciously rather than sitting back doing nothing and feeling like we are always “the victims”. Guru Gobind Singh ji gave us this identity for a reason, with the purpose of standing out. The key is that we have to be active and be known for our service.
If you have ideas on how to help create change, please do share!