In the northwest-most corner of California is Modoc County, somewhat remote and removed from the more populated areas of the state. You may excuse someone from such parts for being ignorant, but not for being disrespectful.
However, Modoc County Supervisor Loren “Shorty” Crabtree is using ignorance to account for disrespectful comments he made about Sikhs after visiting Woodland, California (near Sacramento, California):
During a routine item at the end of the board’s meeting in Alturas, Crabtree, a retired brand inspector, reported on attending an auction of county equipment where “there was people from all over the world and some of them had rags around their heads.”
The comment drew considerable laughter and Crabtree went on to say “they were from another world,” but “I didn’t ask them to show their home base or anything.”
Crabtree denies that he intended any offense by the remark, and does not seem aware of the offensive and condescending nature of his comment.
The Sacramento Sikh community, still reeling from the murders of two elderly Sikh men and the beating of a Sikh cab driver in the past few months, has taken the remark seriously:
“It is important that community leaders, like Mr. Crabtree and his audience at the meeting, understand that these types of offensive remarks have serious consequences,” Shergill continued. “It is up to us to educate our neighbors that the only group that wears turbans in the United States is the Sikh Community.
“Therefore, the Sacramento Sikh Temple has invited Mr. Crabtree and the entire Modoc County Board of Supervisors for a private meeting to discuss the remarks and learn more about the Sikh faith. Mr. Crabtree accepted our invitation. We trust that all parties will take this opportunity to deal with this issue in a constructive manner.”
Crabtree has taken up the offer from the Sacramento Gurdwara to meet and discuss his comment, but he seems to find it a nuisance:
“They want to hear my side of the thing and what kind of guy I am and tell me about their religion and how it works,” Crabtree said. “Their religion doesn’t bother me a bit and I don’t know anything about it and I don’t want to know anything about it. What I said was a slip of the tongue, I guess. I’m just sorry I said it and I wish I could back it off.”
In his attempts to explain that he did not mean to offend, Crabtree continued to display his ignorance by referring to Sikhs as Hindus:
“There’s a lot of those Hindus, a lot of them around that country down there,” Crabtree told us in an effort to explain the remark he made at the April12 meeting of the board. “Rick Rudometkin (Modoc County’s chief administrative officer) told me there would be people there from all over the world. I didn’t mean it that way. I didn’t mean it was a racial slur.”
An editorial posted on the Modoc County Daily News’s website expresses disappointment in Crabtree’s comment and his rationalization of it since:
Let’s say Crabtree, in his apparent naïve amazement of seeing people attending an auction at Woodland “from all over the world,” truly was a supervisor from a rural county lost in Wonderland. If that were the case isn’t Crabtree guilty of being at the very least disrespectful in calling someone’s religious headdress a rag?
While this is the case of a single person, it’s also an example of the challenges that Sikhs face in educating the public. There are those – including public officials – who are not motivated to learn about the effects of their words in perpetuating stereotypes and bigotry. Let us hope that the discussion that Crabtree has with the Sikhs in Sacramento is fruitful and that he comes to a realization about his comments and how he addressed them.