“What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?”
Before you read below, be sure to check out our podcast on Hate Crimes linked above that inspired this blog post. We talk about the recent shooting in Kent, Washington of a Sikh man. He was shot by a masked, white man right who commanded “Go back to your own country” before firing the bullet.
March 3rd at around 8pm a Sikh man, Deep Rai, was shot in his driveway by a tall, white, masked male. Right before the shot was fired, the masked man said, “Go back to your own country.”
This happened in Kent. A city about 46 miles, 55 minutes away from me. A place I visit to get my eyebrows threaded or to visit family friends and to even attend big functions for weddings or engagements.
When I heard this news I don’t know if I would describe myself as surprised or shocked or horrified even. Instead my mind immediately traced back to my childhood after the events of 9/11. I was in the second or third grade then. I didn’t know what was going on but would play the planes crashing into the two big buildings in my head over and over again because that’s all the news showed me. My parents didn’t say much about the incident.
So I carried on life as normal. Going to school, playing with friends. A week after the incident I was waiting outside the front of my school. Classes ended and all my friends and classmates were being picked up. I was waiting for my grandfather who would come walk me back home. One of the girl’s in my class was being picked up by her mom. Other details are a blur, but I remember clearly her mom looking at me in disgust. “Why don’t you go back to your own country?” She said, walking away.
I was stunned.
Today, I see this xenophobia and racism more clearly; I’m much more aware of its presence and prevalence. And I’m not so stunned to hear comments or sentiments suggesting that we go away or that we do not belong.
That’s what scares me.
How has hate become so normalized? It shocks most of us, yes, to hear shootings or beatings or killings against people because of a bias against their skin color, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or race.
What hurts more is how fundamentally misunderstood we all are. The Sikh man was shot for his turban, an appearance that unfortunately in America conjures an image of a Muslim which further wrongfully is correlated with being a terrorist. There are so many misunderstandings to unpack right there. Importantly, in the definition of a hate crime, I emphasize a bias motivated crime due to a perceived affiliation to some group or identity. Even further, that negative perception of the assumed group is also false.
For years after 9/11 my grandfather took off his turban and in its place wore a USA flag hat. He’d walk by me and point to his hat and say “U.S. good!” with a thumbs up. He fought so hard to remove himself from an image of a foreigner for his fear of what might happen to him — he wanted to secure his American identity by wearing that hat.
But, why? Why should what we place on our heads or what we wear on our bodies affect how we are perceived to others around us? This is not right. And this logic creates a plethora of problems not just for hate crimes but also for rapes when the victims are blamed for “how they dressed” or even what they drank.
I am encouraged by the support I see against hate crimes. Perhaps it is because technology gives me access to see this support more, or even that this support is being built by the dissemination of news and protests that media brought. However it may be, I find comfort in the people that do come together in solidarity to stand against hate.
But, it is going to take a lot more than being shocked and hurt by violence to make change. It is going to take more than respective communities targeted by hate crimes to educate the communities they are a part of, to make them understand that they are not here to harm, in order to have sustainable positive outcomes. I admire our visit to the Renton Sikh Gurdwara because most people voiced that it was education that was missing, that people need to be told about the Sikh community. They offered we educate in classrooms and make people aware of who we are.
That is not enough.
Because when feelings are high and there are instances of violence people will be more responsive and listen and try to understand — those listening to the subordinate group may even welcome that education. But, highly emotional moments fade and violent events pass our memories with time, and then it’s all too easy to get back into the routine, normalized environment in which hate crimes occurred in the first place. We need substantial and sustainable change to fight against this. And this can start with education, but it needs to be sustained with hard efforts by people in power, with policy change, and with a larger change in how we educate American society.
This is also a call to the Indian community: we are not safe. And we are obligated to stand in solidarity with all people of color that have been and are marginalized and oppressed in this country. This hate is systematic, and that we must recognize.