What Can Brown Do for You? Discriminate against Sikhs

On December 19, 2008,a UPS employee delivered a package to the home of Anant Singh. Singh’s father, a turbaned Sikh, signed for the package. Rather than entering the elder Singh’s name onto the electronic tracking slip, the UPS employee noted that a “terrorist” had signed for the package (see image at right). The incident has led outraged Sikhs to demand serious action, including an apology, from UPS. (See TLH’s previous coverage here.)

Instead of taking appropriate steps to address the incident, UPS issued a curt and grossly insufficient public statement. The inadequacy of the statement adds insult to injury, and demonstrates the need for the Sikhs to continue to press UPS for a more comprehensive and meaningful remedial response.

UPS said:

UPS regrets that inappropriate action was taken to enter a name into our delivery records after a recipient signed for a package. We sincerely apologize to our customer for any offense. Documentation noted in our tracking network has been removed. [Link]

First, expressing regret is not equivalent to offering an apology. Regret is the same as declaring, ‘we wish this didn’t happen.’ Apology is saying to the affected party, ‘we are sorry that this happened.’ Big difference.

Second, the ‘apology’ extended is for “any offense,” as if there is any question that there was offense. It would have been more accurate and responsible for UPS to state that it is apologizing for “the offense” caused, as clearly there was offense taken; it should not be apologizing for “any offense” that may or may not exist.

Third, UPS has more to apologize for than offense to the “customer.” There is offense to the elder Singh, to the Singh family, to the Sikhs in the area, to all Sikhs who may use UPS’ service, and to all Sikhs who are offended by the notion that they can be equated — on appearance alone — with terrorists. I find it troubling that in the statement, UPS didn’t even refer to Mr. Singh, instead calling him an identity-less “customer” or client.

Fourth, more than offense is actual harm. Offense implies that the injury is a wholly subjective affront to one’s self, that the incident was not objectively wrongly, and that the extent of the injury is only to one’s feelings or emotions. The harm here is far greater. It is, at a minimum, harm to one’s ability to freely practice their religion free of animus, discriminatory treatment, or harassment from providers of services; to one’s conception of whether one fully belongs to American society despite one’s religious attire; to one’s concern that such discriminatory feelings still exist years after 9/11 and that such feelings may manifest themselves in assaults, stabbings, or murders, as they have in other incidents after 9/11. These harms, and others not described, extend to all Sikhs who have been subject to the 9/11 backlash and who attempt to participate in the American experiment with their religiously mandated turban.

Fifth, the only remedial action suggested by this statement is that the word “terrorist” was removed from the tracking system. Restoring things to the status quo for UPS’ purposes is not good enough. Nothing was done with respect to the employee.

A UPS spokesman later added:

UPS has addressed the matter with the employee who entered the information. Unfortunately, because it’s a personnel matter, I can’t tell you our specific actions or the details of our investigation[.]” [Link]

UPS claims it has taken corrective action but has provided absolutely no information that allows others, including the Sikh community, to know what such action was. It could have been as simple as a superior saying, “don’t do that again,” which would have been entirely too lenient. Accordingly, it is important for the public to know exactly what action was taken so that it can be determined whether such action was commensurate with the incident and it can be adjudged how seriously UPS takes allegations of discrimination and enforces its non-discrimination policy.

No less than the termination of the employee would be sufficient, in my view. If the employee had used a similar epithet, such as the “n-word,” there is little doubt in my mind that the employee would have been terminated. Why branding someone a “terrorist” does not receive the same level of corporate responsibility is upsetting.

It speaks, however, for the need for Sikhs to continue pressing UPS for a more appropriate response, including a written apology to the Singh family and assurance that the employee was dealt with, i.e., terminated. Perhaps UPS is not taking a hard stand because it does not fear the loss of Sikh patronage and/or the negative media attention that Sikhs are able to generate. To be sure, several local news stations and blogs picked up the story, to their credit. But this attention does not carry the same weight as a more widespread call for action or a boycott.

UPS has already dropped the ball with its two inadequate responses. It’s not too late — it can attempt to salvage its civil rights reputation by offering a written apology to the Singh family and indicating that the employee in question is no longer employed by UPS.


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63 Responses to “What Can Brown Do for You? Discriminate against Sikhs”

  1. Sewa says:

    Just shows how pathetic americans are

  2. Sewa says:

    Just shows how pathetic americans are

  3. […] do you consider this as racism ? You sir, as a source are worse Original Post By foxbat What Can Brown Do for You? Discriminate against Sikhs | The Langar Hall I hope you can wrap your head around this one. Reply With Quote […]