American Turban

The bullying-hate crime link and the role of schools

“When we think of how we might prevent the tragedy that occurred at the Sikh gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, we must look to the harassment endured by Sikh-American children in schools,” said Assistant Attorney General, Thomas E Perez, at a bullying prevention conference in California.

He was referring to the August 5 attack on a Wisconsin gurudwara in which six Sikh worshippers were killed. “Here in the Bay area, according to a 2010 survey, three quarters of Sikh-American boys reported that they were harassed at schools,” Mr Perez said.

— US Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez discusses the aspect of public education in relation to discrimination and hate crimes faced by Sikhs.

The 2010 survey cited by the Assistant Attorney General is the Sikh Coalition’s Bay Area Civil Rights Report, available here. When we consider the rate of bullying of Sikh children in what is considered one of the more liberal regions of the country, we can only imagine how dire the situation is in other regions.

The harassment in the public education system is but one focus to address future acts of discrimination and hate crimes.  However, early education of our children about diversity and respect for others is critically important.

Two years ago, the state of Texas incorporated modules on Sikhs in their education curriculum, and last week, California took a major stride in this effort when the Governor signed a bill that would introduce education about Sikh Americans in high school textbooks:

The bill, Senate Bill 1540, grants state education officials permission to complete a near finished draft of the state’s History-Social Science “framework.” This Framework provides teachers with the information they need in order to teach students the content standards for each subject area. Of note, the current draft Framework includes seven references to Sikhs including Guru Nanak, Sikh immigrants and their struggles, Dalip Singh Saund, and Bhagat Singh Thind.

Now that SB 1540 has been signed, this draft Framework can be completed. It is our hope that the Sikh examples that are currently included will remain in the final version.

In a recent broadcast on NPR shortly after the Wisconsin attacks, I and my father discuss the discrimination we faced on account of our physical Sikh identity – mine in the form of school bullying and his in the form of workplace discrimination (you can listen to the broadcast here). With my history of being bullied in school, like many Sikhs who grew up in the west I know at a very personal level how important these initiatives are not just to Sikh students, but for all who have become targets of school-aged harassment.  These experiences shape us in our formative years and therefore have implications long after those days pass – not just for the victims, but for those who engaged in bullying as well.

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