Sikh Prof Attacked on Heels of New Study

Less than two weeks after a new study on hate crimes against Sikhs was released, Columbia U professor Prabhjot Singh was brutally beaten this Saturday night as attackers reportedly shouted “terrorist” and “get Osama.” While the new study shows that more than half of Americans associate the turban with bin Laden, anti-Sikh hatred may not be quite as simple as a case of mistaken identity. 

The correlation between America’s lack of knowledge of Sikhs and frequent animosity toward them was highlighted in the study by Peace by Design (PxD), an initiative of the consulting firm Social by Design (SxD) on behalf of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF).

According to the study, stereotypes about Sikhs are largely focused on the turban. A practicing Sikh, Dr. Singh was wearing a turban when he was attacked. Even though Sikhs make up the majority of America’s turban-wearing population, only 30% of Americans identify people who wear turbans as primarily Sikh (48% believe them to be Muslims), and only about 20% can identify the country of origin of the Sikh faith (it’s India). 49% of Americans believe “Sikh” is a sect of Islam, and most Americans identify the practice of turban-wearing primarily with the figure of Osama bin Laden, a fact that makes it more believable that in 2008 alone fully 9% of New York City Sikhs said they had been assaulted because of their religion.

But it’s not just association with radical Islam and the resulting attention from Islamophobes that haunts Sikh-Americans. After all, it’s hard to argue that Wade Michael Page, the white supremacist who shot and killed five Sikhs last year at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, didn’t know who he was attacking. 

In the words of SxD’s CEO, Giovanni Rodriguez, for many Americans, “the turban itself is the object of enmity,” independent of an association with Islam. He noted that the media and Hollywood have often used turbans as a generalized symbol of foreignness ever since Ayatollah Khomeni became a household name. 

Rodriguez concluded that discrimination against Sikhs is based on “a combination of not being known, and wearing an article of clothing that’s associated with something negative.” Anti-Sikhism is thus something very different than, say, Islamophobia: rather than being based on an intense, highly (mis)informed hatred of another culture, it’s instead based on a visceral reaction to an article of clothing that marks Sikhs as “not from here.” 

If you needed more proof that the turban is an object of enmity and suspicion, just take a glance at SALDEF’s list of Facebook groups below dedicated to mocking the turban. Many of said groups implicitly link turban-wearing to Islam, and especially radical Islam, such as “Roses are red, my turban is blue, become a fan, or I will bomb you.” Others simply mock Sikhs as foreign such as, “LSMMTUAFIMC = Laughing so much my turban unravels and falls in my curry,” which has over 630,000 likes.

How does one begin to fix such a systemic issue? Rodriguez suggests that PxD will attempt to change widely held associations of Sikhs (and turbans in general) with otherness and violence, while putting Sikhs “in specific contexts that contradict the way they’re currently perceived.” This way, the turban could become associated with the virtues of the Sikh community rather than with Hollywood tropes.


The Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund’s list of Facebook groups dedicated to mocking the turban

  • LSMMTUAFIMC = Laughing so much my turban unravels and falls in my curry
  • Roses are red, my turban is blue, become a fan, or i will bomb you
  • “LMTO” – Laughing My Turban Off!
  • The awkward moment, when your turban falls off during sex.
  • Been there, Done that, GOT THE TURBAN!
  • my turban brings all the girls to the yard, an theyre like mohammed ur hard
  • WTT – “What the Turban!?
  • “oooooo nice turban where did you get it ….. only a tenner at urban turban
  • ‘OH MY GOD’ he just touched my turban ‘DID YOU SEE THAT RHAJIM’
  • Did you just shake your turban at me
  • OK, who ate my turban?
  • Suck my turban
  • FUCK no toilet paper!!! .. *slowly takes off turban* :'(
  • Catching your turban like a boomerang after throwing it at a curry thief
  • “its not you, its your turban”
  • My Superdry turban =)
  • Its me or the turban
  • A Corner Shop Is Like A Turban ‘Every Muslim Has One!
  • Hi I’m a guy and I use my turban to get girls to sleep with me
  • You don’t want me for me, you want me for my turban.:’
  • im too sexy for my turban
  • Pimp My Turban
  • (Sigh) How long are these turban jokes gonna CURRY on 😛
  • When someone gets all up in your turban
  • Get In My Turban
  • Nothing but your TURBAN on ;)!
  • You Shall Be Called Turban, And You Shall Be My Turban 🙂
  • Don’t you hate it when You’re playing CoD and your turban covers your eyes
  • you DID NOT just shake your turban at me !
  • My turban is dirty?
  • who let the turban out:?
  • I’ve had it with these motherf*cking snakes on this motherf*cking turban!!!
  • Get out of my Turban!
  • What are you looking at? Is my turban dirty?
  • “I was so drunk last night i lost my turban and everything”
  • “Dam!, ran out of toliet paper Excuse me can i use your turban?”
  • My Turban Only Comes Off During Sex 😉 
  • Hate’s it when im feeding ducks and my turban falls into the pond :/
  • Would you mind giving me a lift…Sorry can’t, turban’s not insured!
  • These turban groups are just sikhing attention
  • Don’t you hate when you do the migraine skank and your turban falls off?!