Recently, I came across a racist meme featuring my friend, Darsh Preet Singh, a student and a basketball player for Trinity University. Those who know Darsh would tell you he is one of the kindest and friendliest people you will ever meet. He’s also a son, a brother, a husband, a pioneer, a humanitarian – the list goes on. The meme, which uses a photo of him playing basketball, painted him as a terrorist. Why? Because Darsh wears a turban, or a dastaar as he calls it, which is a religious article of his Sikh faith. It’s because he sports a healthy-sized beard, also required by his faith.
The meme, and my response, have since gone viral. It’s been a wild experience and definitely not something I expected. What has been the best thing about all this is the overwhelming amount of love we’ve received from thousands of people all over the world just because of a simple act of speaking out on social media.
As Darsh’s friend, I couldn’t let someone spit on him like this without saying something. But I didn’t decide to say something just because I’m Darsh’s friend. Truth is, speaking my mind is normal for me.
The meme’s creator obviously assumed Darsh is an Arab Muslim, though he’s Punjabi, and gave him the name “Muhammad.” Unfortunately, many people in the United States equate Islam with terrorism, despite the heavy prevalence of domestic terrorism committed here by white American citizens, both currently and throughout our nation’s history.
As a Christian, I have a duty to point out anything hateful and extinguish it. Christians are called to be loyal citizens of the Kingdom of God and the law of the land for us is love. Period. To us, Jesus is the perfect example and manifestation of God’s love for us. It is this love that causes God to hate injustice. In the Bible, there are many stories where someone speaks up and calls people out. What many people don’t realize, my brethren included, is the large majority of these biblical stories involve someone speaking on behalf of God calling out people over issues of social justice. Doing a quick search for the word “poor” in any electronic Bible source will give you a glimpse into just how much God cares about social issues. Spoiler alert: He cares immensely.
There have been so many recent injustices in countries across the world. Many recent injustices have happened to people who look like Darsh, including other Sikhs, which many people confuse with being Arab. Too many Americans hate people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, usually to the point of throwing them all together in one big group in which they are labeled as Arabs, Muslims, and terrorists.
Looking through recent news will bring up stories like the Sikh gurdwara (place of worship) in Los Angeles, vandalized with anti-ISIL graffiti, or the Muslim cab driver in Pittsburgh who was shot by a passenger after ranting about the Prophet Muhammad and Islamic State. A man in a New York City café harassed customers about their religious beliefs and assaulted an employee for being Muslim. Let’s also remember in 2012, when a white supremacist entered a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and opened fire on Sikhs, killing six people and wounding four. Additionally, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for tracking Muslims in a national database, investigating Mosques to shut them down and barring other Muslims from entering the country even if they live here and just happen to be out of country.
This hate stems from ignorance–the stories show that people fear what they do not know. We use this ignorance to divide and separate ourselves from the people we do not understand. This process is known as “othering.” We treat those different than us like they are something other than us. They are just faces and nothing more. Othering creates different consequences, such as marginalization, which makes it easy to continue to ignore people different than us. Of course, this just perpetuates our ignorance of others.
The terrible thing people don’t realize is how our jokes contribute to this ignorance and fear. Jokes such as the ones made about my friend, Darsh, continue to paint Sikhs and others who have brown skin and somehow look foreign as threats to our country. You may think your joke is okay because you don’t really believe what you’re joking about. However, your “joke” only promotes a negative picture about somebody who is part of a community that we have othered. With this image out and available, anybody who can take this negative image into their minds will do so, including you and me. This also includes children.
I grew up hearing racist jokes about all sorts of people groups who were easy to other. I absorbed it like a sponge and was not able to unlearn my racism until my college years at University of Texas at San Antonio. My racism didn’t mean an all out hatred of others or seeing them as inferior to me, but I believed the lies and ignored the plight of others , even if I had similar experiences growing up as a multiracial person.
During college, I built relationships with people from communities different than my own, brought truth to light, and I was able to snuff out racism in my own life. I learned it took more than simply getting to know a few people who were different than me. In order to dispel my racism, I had to enter into their community and befriend people within a larger network of that community. I had to grow friendships, listen to their stories, read their scholars and I had to commit to all these activities for the rest of my life. My hard work paid off as people whom I had othered became real people to me with names and life stories.
It helps to see the man in the racist meme as more than a picture. Darsh is a human being with a name, a story, and a life full of people who love him. But it is still easy to see someone and ignore their humanity. Racism looks at people on the outside as if nothing else is there. The joke is about how he looks, right? Isn’t that what matters most? Wrong. Darsh matters and his story matters.
I know that meme was supposed to be a joke. I know the meme’s originator probably doesn’t believe Darsh is a terrorist. But it wasn’t funny given the fact that this “joke” about Darsh was meant to deride his race and religion. Even worse, this “joke” is based in fear-mongering ignorance, the same brand that inspires discrimination and murder country. As a Christian, such issues require my voice. Likewise, regardless of your religious beliefs, it requires your voice, too.
So do the world a favor and educate yourself by immersing yourself whole-heartedly into somebody else’s community. When we do this, we will discover truth and a love that encourages us to speak up. By speaking up, justice just might roll like a river and hate just might be swept away.