Sensitive Sikhs: Racial Profiling, Turban Effect, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.

gates.jpgThroughout the United States, the issue of race and racial profiling has taken center stage all linked to a local event in Cambridge, MA. It was there, near the Harvard University Campus, that well-known academic, scholar, and public intellectual, Henry Louis Gates Jr. had an altercation with a police officer, Sgt. James Crowley. What may have been a local affair was catapulted to the national stage with Barack Obama weighing in and giving an assessment in favor of Gates, a friend of his.

The reactions that have followed in the last week have been swift and rather predictable. Conservatives have come to the defense of a hardworking cop, who was just trying to do his job, while Gates is a pampered black elitist, always ready to play the race card; liberals concerned with civil rights see Gates as another victim of racial profiling. Some have sought a deeper analysis about structural problems in the society we live.

A few articles have delved into understanding the events from both protagonists perspective:

Should Gates have realized that you can’t antagonize the police? Should Crowley have understood what it means to suspect a black man of breaking into his own home? Arguments will persist for years.[link]

Still, I believe whatever the merits of the individual case, Sikhs should be paying special attention to the ongoing story.

That there is a racial-profiling against Sikhs has been well-known and documented by many groups. Last year, a group of Australian researchers published a paper, highlighting what they called the Turban Effect.

The turban effect is a term coined in a paper to appear in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, whose lead author is Christian Unkelbach.[1] The paper reports on a study in which Australian participants played a video game involving shooting armed characters and refraining from shooting unarmed characters. Researchers found that participants were more likely to shoot at individuals wearing turbans or hijabs than those without Muslim attire. Moreover, participants seemed unware that they had this procilivity.[link]

I have already voiced my opinion about ongoing Muslimophobia in the past and why it is in the Sikhs own benefit to combat this insidious hatred both for their own survival as well as humanists ready to preserve the rights of their fellow man.

Years ago, Vijay Prasad in his acclaimed The Karma of Brown Folk noted that South Asian Americans like to preserve their model-minority status and often distance themselves the other disadvantaged group that they have much in common. Although I didnt agree with all of his positions, I think Prasad is correct in his observation. Studies have shown that Sikhs, too, will feel the effects of a deep-rooted bias against their appearance. Blacks have long suffered this. Can we join hands with our African-American brothers and sisters and see their struggle as ours, or will we look on as mere bystanders as the conversation rages on. Will we bear witness?


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6 Responses to “Sensitive Sikhs: Racial Profiling, Turban Effect, and Henry Louis Gates Jr.”

  1. Sean says:

    This certainly is a fresh perspective on the matter. I think that it would be nice if South Asians and other people of color were able to form a coalition with black and brown folks in America, but it should be on their own term. When it comes to Islamaphobia it cuts across traditional racial lines in America and without a doubt it has had an adverse effect on Sikhs. I remember the first innocent victim of retaliatory attacks against "middle-eastern" looking people being a Sikh man working at a convenience store. Outside of the racial aspect of the confrontation between Gates and Crowley I still think that Crowley would still be wrong. This incident if cast in the light of civil liberties violation by an apparatus of the state then without a doubt Crowley was/is wrong to have arrested Gates. For almost a decade now law abiding muslim brothers and sisters have been at the worst edge of racial profiling while it has remain unabated for blacks in America.I do believe that siding with sometimes, but not always, marginalized brown and black people will in no way jeopardize "the model minority" status of Asians, which to be honest has nothing to do with educational attainment, personal conduct, or ease of assimilation. Whites will view Asians as the model minority as long as their population isn't growing faster than theirs.

  2. Sean says:

    This certainly is a fresh perspective on the matter. I think that it would be nice if South Asians and other people of color were able to form a coalition with black and brown folks in America, but it should be on their own term. When it comes to Islamaphobia it cuts across traditional racial lines in America and without a doubt it has had an adverse effect on Sikhs. I remember the first innocent victim of retaliatory attacks against “middle-eastern” looking people being a Sikh man working at a convenience store. Outside of the racial aspect of the confrontation between Gates and Crowley I still think that Crowley would still be wrong. This incident if cast in the light of civil liberties violation by an apparatus of the state then without a doubt Crowley was/is wrong to have arrested Gates. For almost a decade now law abiding muslim brothers and sisters have been at the worst edge of racial profiling while it has remain unabated for blacks in America.I do believe that siding with sometimes, but not always, marginalized brown and black people will in no way jeopardize “the model minority” status of Asians, which to be honest has nothing to do with educational attainment, personal conduct, or ease of assimilation. Whites will view Asians as the model minority as long as their population isn’t growing faster than theirs.

  3. If a university only requires a student to come to class one day a week to meet attendance, guess what? They are also going to equate that as to only having to come to class one day a week-period-and that day is probably the last day of the scheduled course week to quickly answer discussion questions and participate, as well as, turn in any papers. That is not learning taking place. That is playing "beat the deadline".

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