Let’s Not Forget That The Wisconsin Shooting Didn’t Just Happen To Sikhs, It Happened To Americans, Too
I’ve been avoiding writing this post because the shooting in Wisconsin at a Sikh temple that left six innocent people dead has made me feel simultaneously furious and powerless, the worst kind of impotency, not only because it’s the second incident of mass gun violence in less than three weeks and lawmakers have simply thrown up their hands on that issue, but because the Wisconsin shooting seems to me to be the convergence of all of the insidious, paranoid, dehumanizing, and Otherizing rhetoric directed at people of color–whether they be undocumented immigrants or Muslims or the President of the United States–that’s been ramping up in our culture for years now.
The Wisconsin shooter has been identified as 40 year-old Army veteran Wade Michael Page, who was killed by police at the scene. Page has been described as a “skinhead,” “the leader of a racist white-power band,” and a “neo-Nazi” with ties to white supremacy. Meanwhile, Page’s victims are Sikh, brown-skinned and members of a peaceful religion that’s often confused with Islam, which has increasingly made them targets of racist hate crimes all over the country since 9/11.
The fact that Sikh Americans have to clarify that they’re members of a peaceful religion and justify their own innocence even when victims of a heinous violent crime speaks volumes about how many Americans view people of color in this country. This is the effect of the “show me your papers” mentality writ large. “Do you belong here” begets “Do you deserve to be here” begets “Do you deserve to be.”
And don’t get me started on how Muslim Americans factor into all of this. If the majority of news outlets have to spell out when reporting on this shooting that Sikhism does not equal Islam, what does that say about the resignation we feel with regard to prejudice, suspicion, and hatred directed at Muslims in this country? Isn’t this a little like saying, “Okay. Sikhs aren’t Muslims. But if they were…I’d totally get it”?
People keep talking about how this happened to the Sikh community. The Sikh community in Wisconsin. The Sikh community in the U.S. The Sikh community around the world. While this is true, this also happened to Americans, to people like us. Satwant Kaleka, president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, was killed Sunday trying to stop Page. A local Wisconsin newspaper described the life Kaleka built over the last 30 years in the U.S. for himself and his family:
…Satwant Kaleka was no stranger to violence. The family fled northern India after martial law was declared against the Sikhs, according to his son.
It was in America that Satwant Kaleka was hit over the head while taking out the trash one evening at the gas station where he worked.
“He worked his behind off, 18 hours a day, in some of the worst neighborhoods you have ever seen,” said Amardeep Kaleka.
Becoming a successful businessman, Satwant Kaleka pushed for the American dream. When the family bought their first house, Satwant Kaleka installed “the largest American flag” in the front yard to demonstrate that they were now Americans.
Americans, technically. But maybe never American enough for some people.
[UPDATE: FBI now confirms Page died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head after being wounded by a police officer.]
[CNN: Wisconsin shooting victims: Putting others first]
[Buzzfeed: A Tragic History Of Hate Crimes Against Sikhs In The U.S.]
[HuffPo: Sikhism: Five Things To Know About The Sikh Religion]
[Mother Jones: What We Know About the Sikh Temple Shooting So Far]
[AP: Sikh attack spreads fear among US Sikh population]
Filed under: Domestic Terrorism, Gun Control, Gun Violence, Hate Crimes, Hate Crimes Against Sikhs, Hate Speech, Indian-Americans, Mass Shootings, Milwaukee Wisconsin, Muslim Americans, Muslims, Never American Enough, Otherizing, Otherness, Perpetual Foreigners, Prejudice, Racist Hate Crimes, Religions, Sikh Americans, Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, Sikh Temple Shooting, Sikhism, Sikhs in the U.S., Wade Michael Page, Wisconsin
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