Happiest place on earth? Not for Sikhs

For a place that makes money off turban-wearing and multicultural disney characters, it seems a little ironic that a turban-wearing employee of Walt Disney would be fired for not having the “Disney look.” Uhh what?

This story has been getting a lot of press lately (so for the two of you who haven’t heard) Sukhbir Channa applied for a job (as a trumpet player) with Disney in September 2006 but was told that he couldn’t be hired unless he removed his religiously-mandated turban. He was told that he did not conform with Disney’s grooming and dress requirements known as the “Disney Look.” (Okay, but Aladdin does?) Our friend over at SikhSwim makes a good point,

On my last visit to Disney World, little kids, when they saw me, would say, Hey look, its Aladdin! So I think Disneys position has no basis. I think Sikhs have the Disney look if average people confuse us for some of the popular Disney characters! [link]

SALDEF has stepped in to help Channa with his lawsuit,

“Disney’s position is fundamentally un-American because it forces Sikhs and also observant Jews and Muslims to sacrifice religious freedom in order to pursue their career goals,” said SALDEF Chairman Manjit Singh. “It is also hypocritical for Disney to make millions of dollars promoting cartoon characters that wear turbans and simultaneously reject the right of an employee to wear a turban in accordance with his faith.” [link]

Having earned a bachelor’s degree in music, Channa just completed a nine-month U.S. tour with the Broadway show Annie. We’ll update you as soon as we hear more about this story. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on this and am I the only one impressed that we know a Sikh trumpeter?!


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76 Responses to “Happiest place on earth? Not for Sikhs”

  1. In reply to "Stupid Idiot!" I'm sure you think you are very logical and reasonable but you have no capacity for understanding people who choose to live differently than yourself.

    You said: "Would taking off his turbine and cutting his hair get him the job? If it is yes… then it is a dress code issue and not a discrimination issue."

    First of all it's not a turbine, it is a turban, and secondly what you list is precisely the reason it is a discrimination issue. Sikhs do not cut their hair and do wear turbans for religious reasons, not for dress reasons.

    You say: "If you want to work a profession where no one cares what you look like become an independent musician, farmer, Landscaper, etc. there are plenty of other positions to choose from."

    From a Sikh's perspective, we feel that we have every right to follow whatever profession we choose. If we don't challenge dress codes than hicks and people like yourself will disallow us from working any where. I'm sure that's fine for you, but it's not fine for us. Furthermore Sikhs have always stood for the rights of all people to practice their religion freely and we will always continue to stand for that.

  2. In reply to “Stupid Idiot!” I’m sure you think you are very logical and reasonable but you have no capacity for understanding people who choose to live differently than yourself.
    You said: “Would taking off his turbine and cutting his hair get him the job? If it is yes then it is a dress code issue and not a discrimination issue.”
    First of all it’s not a turbine, it is a turban, and secondly what you list is precisely the reason it is a discrimination issue. Sikhs do not cut their hair and do wear turbans for religious reasons, not for dress reasons.
    You say: “If you want to work a profession where no one cares what you look like become an independent musician, farmer, Landscaper, etc. there are plenty of other positions to choose from.”
    From a Sikh’s perspective, we feel that we have every right to follow whatever profession we choose. If we don’t challenge dress codes than hicks and people like yourself will disallow us from working any where. I’m sure that’s fine for you, but it’s not fine for us. Furthermore Sikhs have always stood for the rights of all people to practice their religion freely and we will always continue to stand for that.

  3. YourAnIdiot says:

    Hey Stupid Idiot, good name first off, 2ndly: I was there, we were hired for the same position, and in fact it's a group audition/hiring process…in fact our manager, Larry Hendrixon, even singled him out and said "Sukhbir WILL be able to perform, if anyone has a problem, or anyone else in the park asks why he looks different, send them to me" …and then 3 weeks later "Sukhbir won't be able to perform because of his 'Look Problem…" look, man, I'm in the business, i totally understand the appropriateness of "the show," and "roles" HOWEVER, you wouldn't hire this person with the "look problem" as as Nathan Detriot in “Guys and Dolls” and then after a month tell him, "damn dude, u kno what, we JUST NOW REALIZED that you're chinese!" that my friend, is discrimination, and unawareness of you're own companies policies…every company has rights to a dress code, however it is clearly stated in these "rights" that they cannot discriminate against race, sex, religion, and acceptable accommodations must be made for other religions…"Would taking off his turbine and cutting his hair get him the job? If it is yes… then it is a dress code issue and not a discrimination issue."…blatant discrimination, they should just say "sorry man, not qualified" but they didn't they said specifically WE DON'T LIKE YOUR LOOK, YOUR RELIGIOUS APPEARANCE DOES NOT APPEAL TO US, YOU ARE TOO DIFFERENT, AND THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE.

    PS- there are now 8 affidavits signed by my colleagues and I who WERE there in that room; we are all willing to be charged with perjury to stand up for Sukhbir…because we were there, and we know it was discrimination. Disney as a company is great, as an individual who gave the ultimatum to Larry Hendrixon to sweep up the "look problem," in trouble :)

  4. Kaptaan says:

    You might not want to give out details of the evidence without getting legal advice on how it might impact on Sukhbir's case… Just sayin'…

  5. YourAnIdiot says:

    thanks kaptaan

  6. YourAnIdiot says:

    Hey Stupid Idiot, good name first off, 2ndly: I was there, we were hired for the same position, and in fact it’s a group audition/hiring process…in fact our manager, Larry Hendrixon, even singled him out and said “Sukhbir WILL be able to perform, if anyone has a problem, or anyone else in the park asks why he looks different, send them to me” …and then 3 weeks later “Sukhbir won’t be able to perform because of his ‘Look Problem…” look, man, I’m in the business, i totally understand the appropriateness of “the show,” and “roles” HOWEVER, you wouldn’t hire this person with the “look problem” as as Nathan Detriot in Guys and Dolls and then after a month tell him, “damn dude, u kno what, we JUST NOW REALIZED that you’re chinese!” that my friend, is discrimination, and unawareness of you’re own companies policies…every company has rights to a dress code, however it is clearly stated in these “rights” that they cannot discriminate against race, sex, religion, and acceptable accommodations must be made for other religions…”Would taking off his turbine and cutting his hair get him the job? If it is yes then it is a dress code issue and not a discrimination issue.”…blatant discrimination, they should just say “sorry man, not qualified” but they didn’t they said specifically WE DON’T LIKE YOUR LOOK, YOUR RELIGIOUS APPEARANCE DOES NOT APPEAL TO US, YOU ARE TOO DIFFERENT, AND THAT IS UNACCEPTABLE.
    PS- there are now 8 affidavits signed by my colleagues and I who WERE there in that room; we are all willing to be charged with perjury to stand up for Sukhbir…because we were there, and we know it was discrimination. Disney as a company is great, as an individual who gave the ultimatum to Larry Hendrixon to sweep up the “look problem,” in trouble :)

  7. Kaptaan says:

    You might not want to give out details of the evidence without getting legal advice on how it might impact on Sukhbir’s case… Just sayin’…

  8. YourAnIdiot says:

    thanks kaptaan

  9. Camille says:

    Re: the argument on an employer's right to a dress code, this is not the case in California (home of Disneyland), where employers must make accommodation for religious attire/requirements, including the yarmulke and hijab, etc. Further, wearing a turban, for a Sikh, is not equivalent to the other secular items you listed. Even tattoos could be protected int heory; they hold religious significance in certain Maori and other Pacific Islander communities. While laws governing employment discrimination tend to vary in different states, there's a strong argument for why this action was wrong at the local and federal level.

    For the "is the Langar Hall a Sikh or Punjabi site," I would encourage readers to take a look at the "About Us" section. The writers here try to explore the many intersections of identity (e.g., gender, religion, ethnicity, immigration status, national origin/language capacity, region, orientation, etc.), particularly as U.S.-based diasporic writers, but the unifying identity rests in Sikhi. A langar hall is a fundamentally egalitarian space open to all people — Sikh and non-Sikh, while still being a Sikh-defined/created space. None of us believe that Sikh and Punjabi are equivalent identities (as was pointed out, one is religious, the other ethno-linguistic); however, we do write on topics that appeal to one, the other, or both.

  10. Camille says:

    Re: the argument on an employer’s right to a dress code, this is not the case in California (home of Disneyland), where employers must make accommodation for religious attire/requirements, including the yarmulke and hijab, etc. Further, wearing a turban, for a Sikh, is not equivalent to the other secular items you listed. Even tattoos could be protected int heory; they hold religious significance in certain Maori and other Pacific Islander communities. While laws governing employment discrimination tend to vary in different states, there’s a strong argument for why this action was wrong at the local and federal level.

    For the “is the Langar Hall a Sikh or Punjabi site,” I would encourage readers to take a look at the “About Us” section. The writers here try to explore the many intersections of identity (e.g., gender, religion, ethnicity, immigration status, national origin/language capacity, region, orientation, etc.), particularly as U.S.-based diasporic writers, but the unifying identity rests in Sikhi. A langar hall is a fundamentally egalitarian space open to all people — Sikh and non-Sikh, while still being a Sikh-defined/created space. None of us believe that Sikh and Punjabi are equivalent identities (as was pointed out, one is religious, the other ethno-linguistic); however, we do write on topics that appeal to one, the other, or both.

  11. Jodha says:

    however, we do write on topics that appeal to one, the other, or both.

    And sometimes to neither! 😉

  12. Jodha says:

    however, we do write on topics that appeal to one, the other, or both.

    And sometimes to neither! 😉

  13. prince says:

    wel…. y r people trying to make a point and prove it too…. our gurus have done tht already…. so disney doesnt decide our career graph….

    i applied and got a job with disney too… n they rejected me after accepting on the same grounds… and also i was better than the other twats….

    all i m trying to say is move on… if i was the owner of disney and i dint want u….i wud neva have u ..whtever the reason is….

    so move on buddy…. if u r tht smart then have a vision to open another disney as big and then lay ur own terms….

    gud luck…

  14. prince says:

    wel…. y r people trying to make a point and prove it too…. our gurus have done tht already…. so disney doesnt decide our career graph….

    i applied and got a job with disney too… n they rejected me after accepting on the same grounds… and also i was better than the other twats….

    all i m trying to say is move on… if i was the owner of disney and i dint want u….i wud neva have u ..whtever the reason is….

    so move on buddy…. if u r tht smart then have a vision to open another disney as big and then lay ur own terms….

    gud luck…

  15. daniel says:

    sorry for that I don't know the felling but anyway they're jerks

  16. daniel says:

    sorry for that I don't know the felling but anyway they're jerks