Pushing Against Discrimination in the Passport Line

Darshan and Gurjot SinghA couple of days ago Darshan Singh took his six-year-old son, Gurjot, to the post office to get a U.S. passport. Unfortunately, his experience is all too familiar: postal workers refused to take Gurjot’s photo, insisting he remove his “hat”:

A Frisco father says his familys trip to the post office turned into an emotional experience after a postal worker refused to take his sons passport picture while the boy was wearing a turban…

We kept telling them, its not a hat, Singh said. I want to make sure that doesnt happen to any other kid of my religion.

Mr. Singh was later able to process his son’s application traveling to another passport processing site (a courthouse) in Plano. Apparently he tried to send the information he received there (that federal guidelines allow a statement to be signed, waiving the “headgear” removal requirement for religious purposes) to the Frisco post office, only to be waved away.

Officials have since apologized, and the national USPS has sent out memos detailing the religious exemption and the need for sensitivity to all the metro Dallas post offices.

Since learning of Singhs experience, officials at the U.S. Postal Service have apologized, saying workers at the Frisco post office were unaware of the federal policy.

All I can say is — REALLY?? I’m astounded by the persistent problems in Texas, in large part because they have a large desi population, particularly a large desi Muslim and Sikh population in Houston and Dallas. It’s not rare to see turbans or hijabs on the street, so why has it become so difficult to allow for common sense at the person-to-person level?

Even with the apologies given from “higher ups,” I think it’d be really helpful to know how many complaints never reach anyone else because they are filtered at the first level of discriminatory interaction. As the article detailed, when Mr. Singh tried to let the employees at the Frisco office know they had made a mistake, they refused to accept his information or listen to him. What pathway or alternative does this provide, short of driving to each neighboring town until you find someone competent? I feel like there’s all sorts of work Sikhs are doing to raise consciousness in their communities, and many of us understand that part of being Sikh is taking on a de facto ambassador role in explaining our faith, our practice, and our role/presence in American history. You can’t move a mountain of xenophobia, though, and while I like to think our efforts are like rain (slowly wearing down ignorance and all the attendant -isms), I sometimes wonder how much progress we can make without finding additional ways to empower communities to demand all the different layers of government and quasi-government adhere to our very basic constitutional rights.

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