Xenophobia, by any other name

"'No More Towelheads,' 'No More Ragheads' CafePress Shirts Upset Sikh Coalition" (photo: Huffington Post)

‘No More Towelheads,’ ‘No More Ragheads’ shirts sold on CafePress in February, which since were removed from the retail website (see previous post here. Photo: Huffington Post).

A commenter writes in response to my post on “Sikhophobia”:

Sikhophobia would be an appropriate term if the person who has the phobia knew anything about Sikhs. I think Turbanphobia might be more like it. The folks who have the phobia are not bad people, it is the lack of knowledge and their fear that kicks in. The only way, this will work in our favor if someone in NBC, CBS or ABC hires a Turbaned Sikh to play a role that is mainstream in a sitcom or drama.

As more people see Mr. Singh or Dr. Singh, the more people will learn about us.

I agree in part with the commenter’s sentiments.  In this country, it is quite possible that people are more “turbanophobic” than anything else specific to Sikhism. After all,  the early Sikhs who immigrated to California were called “rag heads” (a slur that still lingers today), which indicates the basis of the discrimination.  Sikhs have also encountered discrimination before the country became gripped with anti-Islamic sentiments. However, it is one thing to be ignorant, but it is quite another to victimize innocent people out of that ignorance.

As we are slowly increasing our visibility in media, certainly this would slowly desensitize the general public to our identity. But, I would argue that it may not result in people knowing more about the Sikh community to necessarily eliminate bigotry. After all, despite the presence of several popular actors and comedians of South Asian origin in Hollywood, it does not appear that their work has led to a mass education about South Asian cultures. I do acknowledge that we could still be very early in that process, so perhaps it’s too soon to make this conclusion.

It is important to define crimes by who was targeted, as this gives us direction towards solving the source issue, and at the same time, we may be splitting some hairs in using these terms. Islamophobia, Sikhophobia and turbanophobia are all rooted in xenophobia, and in some circumstances and for some purposes, the distinction is relevant.

However, in attempting to tackle the bigotry that many of our minority communities face, we all may be best served to remember the broader issue.


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