American Turban

Bakersfield, I’m With You

balmeetsingh

Balmeet Singh

A long time and proud resident of Bakersfield, California, Balmeet Singh was assaulted and had his life threatened by an individual invoking racist slurs outside a restaurant two nights ago. Below, he recounts and reflects on the experience. Many thanks to Balmeet for sharing his thoughts about the incident. At the end of the article, you can watch Balmeet’s recorded video describing the incident. 

One of the simple joys of life is being able to go enjoy a meal with your loved ones. Unless you happen to be one of the members of Bakersfield’s Sikh community.

Friday night at about 7:30 p.m., I went to go enjoy one of California Avenue’s newest attractions, Habit Burger. Before going inside, I decided to call my little cousin to wish him happy birthday. He was officially a teenager! I walked outside the restaurant, asking him how he was celebrating this special occasion. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a white male in late thirties or early forties, approach, from the patio of Blaze Pizza. As I shared in my little cousin’s birthday celebration, I heard some background noise, almost like an angry buzzing in my ears. I adjusted the phone and continued to speak to my cousin, when all of a sudden I heard it more clearly: “You gonna blow up this country!” I paused as I heard it again: “You gonna blow up this country.” I looked around to see where this was coming from, and locked stares with the angry white man. I felt confused, thinking “I’ve never met this person before in my life… I’m just trying to enjoy a meal with my family, and wish my little cousin a happy birthday.”

As I looked into his angry eyes, it hit me again:  “You gonna blow up this country! F*ck you! I should f*cking kill you right now…I am going to kill you right now.” I just stood there, in shock, my phone slipping from my hands, my little cousin forgotten, as a million thoughts raced through my head: Who was this stranger? Why was he so angry? Why was he blaming me? All I could think of, was responding slowly, “You… you racist. You’re the problem”.

He angrily yelled it again, “You going to blow up this country! In fact, f*ck you!”

I stood there, my legs frozen, as I saw the filled drink cup leave his hand and hurl towards me in the air. Time slowed down, almost like in the movies. I couldn’t move, as the cup flew towards me, my eyes widening, as it hit me, splashing the liquid all over my my dastaar (turban), covering my eyes, my face, dripping down my beard, to my shirt and jeans. I stood for what seemed like an eternity, in shock at what was happening.

I kept thinking: I’ve lived in Kern County most of my life, I went to school in Bakersfield, I work here, this is my home! I looked around at the packed patio of Habit Burger only a few feet away, filled with people enjoying a meal. My eyes search around from person to person, looking for some spark of recognition, some acknowledgment of what was happening. As I made eye contact, everyone either looked down or looked away, choosing to pretend like I didn’t exist.

As the stepped towards my attacker, called him a racist, and yelled, “I’m calling the police”, he walked further into the parking lot and cruised off in his red pickup truck.

I stood there, sticky, dripping liquid, in the busy parking lot of Habit Burger, on the phone with 911, thinking over and over in my head: There were so many people here. Why didn’t anyone say something?

I made my way slowly past all the people in the patio, walking through the Habit Burger seating area, to the bathroom. l washed my face, wet down my turban, trying to wipe the sticky liquid off my phone, my face, my clothes. I stared into the mirror, looking into my own eyes, breathing deeply, hands shaking, wondering: When it would be okay? When would I be able to just eat a meal in peace?

I guess the guy thought he was a hero, and he was somehow helping my country by attacking me. I reflected back my attacker’s words as I gave my statement to the police officer later that night. It turned out Officer Schindler is the real hero, a veteran of Afghanistan, who came back to serve his community in the Bakersfield Police Department. As we talked, he shared what it felt like for him, coming home at the end of the shift and being able to go play with his kids.

To my attacker, I hope you read this. I have a message for you. Where are you every month, as the Sikh community gathers at 6am Saturday mornings to prepare and serve food at the Bakersfield Homeless Center? Why did you not take the opportunity to visit one of Bakersfield’s 5 Gurdwaras (Sikh community centers), where the community kitchen serves free meals to all? Why did you not join us in downtown Bakersfield in April, as we fed the hungry for a week, serving free meals to over 10,000 people? My attacker doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know that Sikhs stand for service, equality, justice, compassion, and love. He doesn’t know how much we care about Bakersfield.

To the people who sat there last night at Habit Burger, watching as I was attacked, and who did nothing about it, I have a message for you too. Even though your eyes didn’t meet mine when I looked to you for support, even though you pretended like I didn’t exist last night, if our roles are ever reversed, and you need help, know that I will stand up. I will be there for you. Bakersfield, we are better than this. I’m with you.

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51 comments

  1. Marty Readling

    I’m a European descended American citizen, who has never left North America, except for boat trips into the ocean. I don’t see how Sikhs are mistaken for Muslims, at least based on their turbans.
    IMHO Sikh turbans don’t look anything like the turbans worn by Muslims. They just are not wrapped/tied the same way, besides which, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Muslim wearing a turban, other than in a video. I mean they just don’t walk around on the street with turbans on. Sure, knit caps, and other head gear, but not turbans.
    On the other hand, I suppose the kind of idiot that gets angry at someone based on their religion, wouldn’t bother to actually know enough to recognize what religion a potential victim practices.
    I apologize to Sikhs for all the American idiots running around on the streets. I for one thank the Creator for the followers of Nanak.
    Wahe Guru ji ka khalsa:
    Wahe Guru ji ki fateh!

    • David

      Marty, I am glad that you are educated and know that Sikhs are not Muslims. However, there is a much more important issue here. What if (just for the sake of conversation) Mr. Singh was Muslim. Would that matter? Would that make that foolish, violent man’s contemptible behavior any less evil?

    • brian wajdowicz

      You’re not helping. It doesn’t matter whay style of turban it is. No person should ever be discriminated against because they’re wearing a turban.

  2. Marty Readling

    I keep thinking of new things to say!

    It probably has never occurred to him that there are lots of very pale, even ginger Muslims.

  3. Albert Perez

    I’m a Hispanic male, born and raised in Bakersfield. It saddens me to read about is this incident to Balmeet. I’ve known many Sikh and they are proud Americans and are a close group in our community. They should be applauded for their service to our community, not attacked.
    It’s our community’s diversity that makes us great. I know if I am ever a witness to this type of assault, I won’t be hiding my head and pretend it’s not happening.
    My apologies for others ignorance and, lack of action to defend you as well as any other member of our diverse community who have faced this type of assault. All in Bakersfield should stand up together to defeat this type of ignorance.

  4. Being about the Sikh community as I have, this is very troubling. There are many people in this country who do not know the difference between a Sikh and a Muslim. And the Muslim is where the anger is directed. I am not condoning just saying that people need to educate themselves on the difference. But sir, please rest assured, had I been there, I would have been in that parking lot with you. I am so sorry this happened to you.

  5. Tito Flores

    Sir, so sorry this happened to you. I know of the services and commitment to this community which have been provided by the Sikh community. I watched as people displaced by the recent fires in kern valley were fed free meals by members of the Sikh community. I myself enjoyed one of these delicious meals which was served with respect and a smile(no i wasnt one of the displaced, just doing my part to help). Just a small example, I really wish people would educate themselves instead of spewing the filth that they do. Had I been there I would have stood up for you and with you. I really wish someone had, take care sir!

  6. Sharon Borradori

    I am sorry you had to experience this. That man is ignorant and a hater. However, the people who saw this and did nothing to help may be even worse. They had an opportunity to let this man know that his behavior would not be tolerated. Instead their message was one of condonation. We must speak up for others, we would want the same.

  7. BROOK HAYES

    Mr. Singh…I am terribly sorry for this attack upon you. And, I am mortified that our fellow citizens did NOT come to your aid and assistance.

  8. Ruthann Smith

    My deepest apologies for the hatred that was bestowed upon you and your wife. It seems these days that every religion is being hated. I am a Christian and I was told to love everyone. It’s hard these days to do such thing. Some people say they are Christians but don’t live by the rules. Same with all religions I guess. I do know your community loves all people. I seen it first hand when Kern Valley had a fire that destroyed 300 homes. You wonderful people came up and fed the community for weeks and you donated a large some of money to every victim effected. Those acts of kindness you demonstrated to our community proves you are peaceful and loving people. Our prayers to you and your family…. and this Country!

  9. Dana

    I am so sorry that this happened to you, Balmeet, and I am so sad that no one had the courage to stand up and come to your aid. There is no excuse for this hateful and ignorant behavior.

  10. Lisa

    It is shameful that you were surrounded by cowards, especially the one that hit you. I am sincerely sorry for how you were treated and wish people here would be as Christ like as they claim to be. I wish I would’ve been there to help you. I wish even more that people would take inventory of themselves and adjust accordingly!

  11. Anonymouse

    This story angers me so much. So impressed that this man who was an innocent victim of a racist hate crime holds his head high. I’m Hispanic and grew up in Bakersfield and left as soon as I finished high school. It’s a horrible city and the most racist, backwards place in California.

  12. DeAnne Murphy

    It deeply saddens me to read about such awful and blatant hatred towards an innocent person. What sickens me more is to read about the bystanders who allowed this incident to occur. People need to be better than that. Our Sikh community is very peaceful and they do so much help others. Balmeet – thank you so much for sharing your story and demonstrating incredible bravery in the face of bigotry.

  13. Michelle

    I’m from Bakersfield and I am so very sorry that this ignorant man did such a thing to you. If I were there- I would have done SOMETHING. I hope and pray that you know there are people all over the world with hateful hearts, but there are many more than have compassion, understanding, and wisdom. I want to commend you on making this recording and remaining as calm and peaceful as you are. You are right, when dealing with unreasonable people things can escalate out of control, but I believe it was because you remained peaceful that he ended up leaving. I hope to run into you one day so that I can do something kind- buy you a Smith’s cookie or a Starbucks… just because kindness needs to be extended if for no other reason than to DO SOMETHING RIGHT. Blessings to you & your family.

  14. Hillary

    I really disagree with the last comment. Bakersfield, like any city any where, has it’s less than desirable people; but overall, we’re pretty good.
    I knew that there is a difference between Sihks and Muslims, but I did a little research into the Sihk religion. It is so aggravating that people are so ignorant about their neighbors.

    The incident that occurred is inexcusable; but anyone who could sit and watch without saying or doing anything is frightening.

    Godspeed, Mr. Singh. I wish you and your family nothing but blessings and good will!

  15. Michael

    Im disgusted that know one stood up, we are better than that in this cmmunity. Everyone that was there should feel like scum.

  16. Margot Shinn

    Mr. Singh, I am so sorry this happened to you; how shameful and cowardly of whoever committed this hideous act. If I would have been there, I would have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with you against this coward. May God’s love comfort you and bring peace to you and your loved ones.

  17. As a native Bakersfieldian who now lives abroad, it is hard not to have a love/hate relationship with my hometown. My experience growing up in Bakersfield was so enriched by the wonderfully diverse community it supports–especially by the peace-loving Sikh community. Our city is better because of the Sikh community and I feel honored to have friends who have taught me about its traditions.

    Balmeet, my heart aches hearing your story. I know that these ignorant people exist and that some live in my beloved Bakersfield. Thank you for not responding to this man’s despicable actions in kind. By responding with maturity, little by little, we will hopefully enact change. I stand with you, Balmeet.

  18. Scott

    Don’t worry Balmeet, I’m a white guy in Bakersfield. And if I ever see some other piece of garbage guy harassing a Sikh person, trust and believe I’m going to be in the middle of it. The vast majority of kern county is with you and the Sikh community. We all know that you are an amazingly kind and loving people. As to why most people will not stand up for anyone else, they are afraid. Afraid that they themselves will be injured, or that they can be sued and lose everything for helping another human being. It’d a messed up system, which will never change unless we change it. But just know, I don’t care about the system, and will help you and the Sikh community if I ever see it happening.

    • Amar

      There needs to be more people like you. Thank you for the kind words and support for our brother. Thank you.

  19. Darla Davis

    Mr. Singh, with all respect I thank you for bringing this to the public’s attention. I apologize for that monster’s behavior. I can guarantee you that I would have stood up for you and with you, had I been present. I am ashamed of those present for not assisting you. Bless you.

  20. Anna Calvillo

    Everyday I see posts on Facebook with so much misinformation about one group of people or another. Some posts are put there by people I don’t know and some that I know. I see angry comments regarding the sports figure who chooses to exercise his Constitutional rights and not stand when our National Anthem is played. A lot of outrage expressed! But the outrage should be towards this attacker and anyone else who thinks and behaves like him. Not standing or placing your hand over your heart is what dis-respects our Flag, Country or the brave men and women who have fought and died so that we are free to make that choice! It’s the people full of hate and ignorance who are tearing apart what our Flag and Country represent! I can almost bet with certainty, he probably stands with his hand over his heart singing! Ignorance and hate are the true enemy of our Country!

  21. Hannah

    I’m so sorry you had to go through that and you had no support. It is wonderful and encouraging to see you continuing to love a community (better than most) that has been hateful. I know it doesn’t help much now, but I want to know that my husband and I stand with you and want to support you and your community any way we can.

  22. Sir my name is Lisa Ann Terry my family on my fathers side all lived in Bakersfield all of their lives , we are Caucasian and I for one am a trump supporter and I really wish that one of my family or myself would have been there , we would not have sat idol while another human being was being harmed by some crazy drugged out or confused full of hate individual no matter if his skin color is the same as mine , right is right and wrong is wrong
    And I feel ashamed of my fellow men and women that live in Bakersfield and may have even recognized you but we’re to frozen with fear or political correctness that they would not come to your aid , shame on them all , long story short I would like to apologize for what happened to you and just want you to know we aren’t all blind fools .

  23. Mary Ostlund-Wood

    I am angered and appalled and greatly saddened by this. I am also terrified that after Trump, win or lose, we may not be able to put all the ignorant, hateful people back under their rocks ever again. Please be safe. I hope your faith and your community, which includes me, are able to help you deal with evil such as this. Much love from a Midwestern raised Lutheran, your fellow citizen and fellow American. Bless you. (I am a friend and grew up with Bill Matthew. I saw this post about your situation on his FB page. You have many friends and supporters. These other people have always been with us. I am just so sorry you had to have such an awful experience with this one, and shamed for my country that no one came to your aid.)

  24. Even though I am a 83 female who has shrunk to 5ft 2, you bet I would have stood up next to you. How dare we treat humans in this manner. Thank you for bringing this to light for all to see the ignorance of some people in this fine city.

  25. Michelle

    My heart goes out to this man. The Sikh’s do so much for our community and especially for our veterans! I’m embarrassed that folks reactions like this happen way too often because of ignorance. Take time to get to know our local Sikh community. We are blessed to have them here.

  26. Sandy Rebeske

    I’m so sorry this happened to you and no one nearby did anything. I moved away from Bakersfield a year ago, having been born there and lived there most of my life! Please, do not think that this is the attitude and beliefs of most of the people who live there!

  27. Cynthia Claiborne

    I am so ashamed….ashamed. of this man’s behavior towards you and the the behavior of the witnesses her were to much of cowards to speak up. Just know if I would of witnessed something like this….something so hateful and disgusting I am NOT one to keep my mouth shut. I would of said something to the piece of trash who treated you in such a way. I have always taught my children who are adults now NEVER judge a person by the color of their skin nor judge them because of their religion. We are to love and show compassion towards any human being. I am sooo sorry that there was no one there strong enough there that night to come to your defense. I know if my husband or myself or anyone one of my adult kids were there to witness such hatred I know they would speak up. People need to speak up to bullies…put them in their place. If nobody speaks up they will continue to act in the disgusting matter this man did Friday night.

  28. Susan

    Thank you for all of the ways you and other Sihks have so generously given of your time, energy, and monies to support the Bakersfield community. It is breaks my heart that you were attacked in your own city and no one came to your aid. I hope and pray that if put in that position I would stand up for you and any fellow human who is being treated unfairly. I hope you never have to experience anything like this again. But if you do may the people on the patio be the people commenting here that would be proud to stand with you. I would be honored to stand with you!

  29. Amar Badhan

    Balmeet Paji, I’m so deeply sorry that this happened to you. My father is a Sardar and I can’t help but imagine him in your shoes. He, like you, is a kind and humble soul. It breaks my heart to know that you stood there in shock, soaking wet and NOBODY helped or stood up for you! Just know that if my husband, brother, Sisters and I would have been there we would have stood up for you! Just know in your heart that we stand for you now. #Westandwithbalmeetsingh It’s not just about standing up for a fellow SIKH but for an innocent HUMAN BEING. If ever given the opportunity, when driving through Bakersfield, my husband and I would love to buy you your burger and meal that you didn’t get to eat in peace.
    Much respect to you for handling this so gracefully like a true Sikh and using this opportunity to educate the ignorant. Before we are ANY RELIGION we are human beings first.
    I hope this isolated incident will not ever change your faith in people. Remember in the history of our battles.. Bhai Kanhaiya gave water to the dying and wounded regardless of which side of the battle they were on. Practicing, Nirvair (No hate) But our kindness must not be mistaken for weakness because we ALSO practice, Nirbhao(No Fear). I’m proud of you as a fellow SIKH for exhibiting such great restraint and not reacting back with hate or violence but I’m also very proud of you for standing up for yourself and bringing this to light with NO FEAR.
    #Nofear #Nohate
    #Westandwithbalmeetsingh
    #Themandeserveshismealinpeace
    abassibadhan@gmail.com

  30. Pamela

    I was wondering how long it would take before some ignorant fool would pull this injustice! I sincerely hope this does not happen again, and feel so bad that it happened at all!

  31. Kindra

    Having witnessed a situation like this before, I can honestly say that I, a 5’6″ light skinned female fellow human being, would have stepped up beside you to support you. That man was showing ignorant hate toward you which you did nothing to deserve.

  32. Jim K

    I’m a Sikh male born in the States. The vast majority of white people are decent, good-natured people, my brother. As far as this nutjob goes, he asking for a whooping. He will get it once he picks on the wrong person. Personally, I would pretend like he doesn’t exist and go about my business. If he still doesn’t stop, to his question are you gonna blow up this country? Be like no, but I will blow your face up with my fists.

  33. Steve Stoll

    Why has this not made the local news? Did I miss it? If there ever was an example of a deplorable person, this guy fits the bill.

  34. Sandy

    Shock and Fear. That’s why there was no response. The horrible words and actions of an anger-filled man went unanswered because of shock and fear. You, and they, watched in disbelief….stunned, then shocked. No framework to process what was happening. No training to recognize and respond to the real-life hatred acted out in your face or a few feet away. Having been a victim of violent crime twice in my life, I didn’t see it coming either time. Who sees this coming? You are about your family, business, vacation and BOOM, you’re assaulted, robbed, shocked. In an instant my view of people was changed. Innocence evaporated. Goodness gone. Expectations of decency and respect from fellow humans replaced with another reality….people filled with pain and fear are selfish. Me before you…..mine before yours. Self-control non-existent. Courage out the window. How very sad this is. I’m so sorry, Balmeet. You are not alone today. We are with you circling around to defend and protect. God is with us. He is good.

  35. Marcia Yoshida

    Mr. Singh, I’m so sorry you had to go through this. The actions that man took were appalling but the lack of response from others is even worse, in my opinion. You are witness to hate, fear, malice, and apathy. Shame on those who failed to stand for their fellow man.

    Thank you for all you do for your community. It’s a better place because of you.

  36. Rosie

    I cried reading this. It must be so hurtful and frightening to have this happen.
    I am very glad that he didn’t get physically hurt, things could’ve gotten very bad.
    I am sorry sir for what happened to you. I am so happy to read how you help the community and I hope this doesn’t break you.
    Know that your attacker is one bad apple and not all of us feel like him. It’s a scary world we live in. It’s dangerous to all of us. And thank you for educating us on your beliefs. I think your attacker is scared of you because of his ignorance and absolutely not an excuse. In defense of the rest of the people maybe they didn’t quite grasp what was going on. Things happen so fast and sometimes we realize what we “could’ve done” a bit late.
    Sorry again for your horrible experience.

  37. pnr

    what kind of Dharmic (Jain/Vedic/Parsi/Buddhist/Sikh/ISKconite, agnostic-atheist) would frequent a burger joint, unless it is to purchase something veg friendly?- nonvegetarians stink

    “sakal malecch karo ran ghata” 10th Guru Sahib ji.

    ugly non-veg men make it hell for Dharmic vegetaryan girls to marry and procreate – I hate nonvegetarians and Non-Dharmics – semitic shitty slime – I will always hate semitic religions especially murrmonism – these polygamous descended non-vegetarian slime target children.

    USA immigration is fuc#ed – homeland security is a joke as is the war on drugs – joo cults suck
    the only non-browns I respect are non-racist European pagans. Everone else is scum and a burden to Dharti Mata.

    Dhan Prabhupada
    Dhan Baba Nanak

    the criminal kosher-halal chrislamic agriculture/military mafia will be defeated by Kalki!

    Mother/Father/Guru/Homeland: how hard is it to have loyalty to these four regardless where one is one Earth?

    I never was a segregationist but I am now – actually two or three days ago I became a segregationist.

    Millions of good jobs could be created through Ahimsa programs.
    Ahimsa dairy, Ahimsa agriculture (organic pulses/grains/fruits/vegetables/herbs etc.)
    Ahimsa education – not to be confused with ejewcation
    Ahimsa military – no unjust wars – and all wars since Kurukshetra have been unjust…
    etc. etc. etc.

    Stay safe Dharmics regardless of melanin – I hope Trump sahib wins after all he is the “law and order candidate”

    peace begins with ahimsa

    Sovereign Sikh State within even stronger Akhand Aryavarta: down with Rakshasic wars.
    Protect all girls and all cows. (and obviously all men)

    1 man can impregnate 3 women per day – Osho di jai!

  38. Forrest

    The calls for people to educate themselves are interesting in that my view is the expectation that a good percentage of the population will educate themselves leans a bit toward the overly hopeful side; someone who knows has to present the information to those who do not; and often start by revealing that the thing which is not known even exists.
    Now, after saying that, as it happens, I did educate myself, but not in a direct path. I learned of Sikh practices after reading about Sikhs in World War Two history and miniatures gaming material and wondering, Hmm, who are these people and what is their history? At this point 30-plus years later I can’t recall much of it now but I did apply the initiative and elbow grease go to the library, pick up books, and find out.
    It is difficult to accurately speculate what might have been, but if in the late 1970s USA, living far way from New York or LA, I had not come across Sikhs in World War Two material, when, if ever, would I have even heard of them? Maybe once or twice in a decade in an international news item? It is a different world now from what it was then and more international things are in a greater volume of media than was imagined in the 1970s.
    But it remains that I learned because I got curious and went to find out.
    Today it is exponentially easier to go find things out, so one would expect more people would be doing more of it.
    And perhaps it is that curiosity and self-motivation to expend the effort and the hassle to go find out, that I had, which is lacking in our current general populace.
    Now, it it is lacking in the population, how is it restored to the population?
    I don’t have that answer.
    Yet.

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