By Winty Singh
Updated 2:18 PM ET, Fri May 25, 2018
Click for Original Post (CNN.com)
Editor’s Note: Winty Singh lives in Los Angeles and is the social justice fellow at the Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the United States. You can follow him on Twitter at @americanturban. Watch “United Shades of America,” Sundays at 10:00 p.m. ET. The views expressed in this commentary are solely the author’s.
(CNN)Two decades ago, when I was in the second grade, a substitute teacher asked me to stand up in front of my class and talk about my religion: Sikhism. At 7 years old, I tried to explain it as best I could and avoid being ridiculed. I remember feeling totally unprepared and struggling afterward with the fear of being exposed like that again. At 7, I was already afraid of public speaking.
As I got older, this bullying intensified, and one student tried to cut my unshorn hair (also an article of my faith). By the time I got to high school, I no longer felt safe in unsupervised places. I hid the depth of the problem from my parents for years, but when they discovered the truth, we approached educators, and I was forced to name the names of my fellow students. This news spread like wildfire, and the only result was that I was further ostracized.
My childhood stories will sound tragically familiar to many religious minorities in classrooms across America today. Yet, if there is one thing that I have learned as an adult, it’s that when we afford ourselves the opportunity to educate each other about our differences, we can begin to address the underlying problems that are at the root of this bigotry.
Sikh parents have done the heaviest lifting in this regard, from seeking opportunities to speak in their children’s classrooms about the Sikh identity, to working with education boards on a state-by-state basis to revise their curriculum standards to include Sikhism — the world’s fifth-largest religion — so that it’s finally taught in school. Since the Sikh Coalition launched a grass-roots effort in 2003, children in New York, New Jersey, California, Texas, Tennessee and Idaho now have the opportunity to learn about the Sikh community, which has been an integral part of the American fabric for 125 years.
My Sikh religious articles of faith include a commitment to justice, tolerance and equality; many American Sikhs and I have struggled, because our faith has also been a siren call for fear, bigotry and hate in this country — and this problem continues to play out in our nation’s classrooms. According to the Sikh Coalition, just over 50% of all Sikh children report school bullying. For turbaned Sikh children like I was, that number jumps to a staggering 67% — nearly double the national average.
In addition to better education about minority religions such as Sikhism, our schools also need more robust bias-prevention programs. Any parent should agree that teaching children to respect differences will better prepare them to embrace diversity as adults. While our schools are increasingly focused on reaching test score targets, there is still no curriculum for character development. When we show our children positive role models, we must make sure that we include stories emphasizing the dignity of standing up for others while also having these stories reflect the true diversity of our history.
Finally, it’s critical to recognize that raising kids’ cultural awareness through education must also happen outside of the classroom. Media must play a role in having these conversations.