For the first time, I watched ABC’s “What Would You Do?” last Friday night, solely because they featured a scenario in which a turban-wearing Sikh (portrayed by an actor) was being denied a job in a restaurant unless he agreed to remove his “head garb”. You can view the episode at ABC’s website.
The show is certainly not a scientific poll, and we only know what the show wants us to see. However, it was interesting to note how various people in the restaurant responded to the employment discrimination experienced by a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, a Jewish man wearing a Yarmulke, and the Sikh man wearing the turban.
I noted the lack of empathy conferred to the Sikh man because of the turban. It was clear that among the patrons in the restaurant, the turban was viewed with a negative connotation. This is not at all surprising, considering that for most of the time, portrayals of people wearing turbans in media have been predominantly in a negative light, and often is implicitly connected to Islamic terrorists. However, the negative way in which a turban was viewed in the episode has stuck with me.
Another observation is that those who were shown that spoke out on behalf of those being discriminated against tended to be women, and in a couple of cases, women of color. Those who were not sympathetic (generally towards the man with a turban), were not so even when they were informed that such discrimination is against the law. It was obvious that many people did not know how intimately valued the turban is to those of the Sikh faith.
The clips of this show have made their rounds about the internet, with people tagging the video with comments such as “what always happens when a Sikh goes for a job interview”. I must say, however, that such discrimination is often not that overt and obvious. Many people are much more subtle in preferring another candidate simply on the basis of religion/religious dress.
It is also important to remember that Sikhs face discrimination due to their articles of faith in other aspects of daily life besides employment.
I must also say, however, that there is a lesson for Sikhs in this episode as well. Such discrimination does not occur 100% of the time, and there is substantial support for freedom of religion among the American public, like those in the video who supported each of the actors who stood up for themselves and objected to the discrimination.
I have been fortunate to not have experienced such discrimination and have always been hired on my merits. There are many successful Sikhs in this country who have lived and worked while maintaining their articles of faith (including the turban), and it speaks to the tolerant society in America.