Dear Production Team,
Ok great, you’ve created a movie with the title “Towelhead” — the same term that I hear being barked at me by teenagers in the next car, as I drive down the highway with my windows down, listening to NPR.
I would much rather let this go, let it slide, not blink an eye and say goodbye. But since movies are the primary form of American education, I owe a response to you out of respect for this great nation. Your film fans the flames of several deep misconceptions that many organizations are trying to fight — let’s see if we can make it right.
The first misconception is that Arab Americans wear turbans. In my entire life — growing up in New Jersey, attending Princeton University, and working in the northwest — I’ve never seen an Arab American wear a turban. I estimate that 98% of people in America who wear turbans are Sikhs like myself with no connection to the Arab world whatsoever.
Just the title of the book and the movie and the words “Arab American” creates this association or reinforces it. I have nothing against Arab Americans and think highly of them — but the association the movie creates “arab-american:turban” is patently false. Maybe Arabs wear turbans. But Arab Americans? If they do, it’s so rare I’ve never witnessed it.
Second, by titling the movie a term that has no use other than hatred and divisiveness, you severely hurt the cause of unity and tolerance. Now those teenagers on the highway are emboldened, they have signoff from the media for their racist choice of words. I would venture to guess that, unlike the equally abhorrent N-word, which everyone knows, the T-word will be a new term for some people. You’ve just added it to their vocabulary of slurs.
Have you seen Inside Man by Spike Lee? Get the DVD, watch the directors commentary (36:00). He says, “Most people don’t know the difference between a Sikh and an Arab…anyone with a turban on their head, or that racist comment towelhead…” Well the difference is Sikh Americans wear turbans, while Arab Americans largely do not, and your film exacerbates this problem.
So what’s there to do? It’s really up to you — certainly you can help educate and stop the hate? Ignorance is the problem in this nation — basic awareness really goes a long way to promoting unity. Unfortunately the title of your film takes us in the wrong direction.
PS - here’s SALDEF’s take on the issue
Check out this amazing video clip from the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:
Here’s the full article: Teaching Not Preaching in CA Bible Belt
Now take a minute to contrast this situation with what’s going on in New York City schools. I present to you the direct quote below:
But in Modesto, the lessons aren’t about distant cultures, so much as about the student at the next desk.
“So the only religion that actually requires the wearing of the turban would be what faith?” Taylor asked her students.
“Sikhs,” students answered.
Jaskirat Brar, a devout member of Modesto’s Sikh community, may stand out at Johansen High. But thanks to the world religions course he also fits in.
“Kids get to learn what I am and clear up misconceptions they have about me,” he said.
“Because we have the world religions course, the students are aware of what’s happening in our community and that certainly is something to celebrate,” Taylor said.
“Probably the best thing that I learned [is] how to respect the cultures and the religions and what they believe,” one student said.
Great job Modesto School District! You guys are an example for the rest of the country.
Here’s a nice video of Jujhar, Himmat, and Josh Singh. Would be nice to meet them sometime.
All three of these guys are really sharp. The speak eloquently about Sikhi and and cite their parents as keys to their success. Keep it up boys!
Disney denied musician Sukhbir Singh a job because he did not have the “Disney Look,” so SALDEF has filed a landmark class action lawsuit. Now I think Disney is one of the world’s most creative and people-friendly companies in the world, so I’m a bit suprised that Disney forced the Sikh community to do this.
Here’s an excerpt from the official press release:
Mr. Channa, a practicing Sikh American, applied for a job with Disney in the Fall of 2006 but was not hired and was told that he did not have the “Disney look” – a negative reference to his religiously-mandated dastaar (Sikh turban). Witnesses have filed affidavits in his support. The lawsuit seeks financial damages and a court order barring Disney from ever discriminating against prospective Sikh employees.
On my last visit to Disney World, little kids, when they saw me, would say, “Hey look, it’s Aladdin!” So I think Disney’s position has no basis. I think Sikhs have the “Disney look” if average people confuse us for some of the popular Disney characters!
Disney, are you saying that if Aladdin were real, he couldn’t get a job at Disney?
Now I just want to be clear — Sikhism is a 550+ year old, distinct, peace-loving monotheistic religion that originated in Punjab in South Asia, and Sikhs like myself wear religiously mandated turbans as articles of faith. Sikhs have no relationship or connection to “Aladdin” beyond a distant similarity in choice of headwear.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out — word from some of the top people at SALDEF indicates there will be large amount of press generated around this story tomorrow.
Update 6/16/2008: Angry Asian Man coverage
Update 6/17/2008: Fox 7 News, Article and Video Report
Update 6/17/2008: Full complaint PDF
Update 6/18/2008: SALDEF latest Press Release
Update 6/18/2008: washington times article
Update 7/23/2008: WESH.com Article and Poll: Should Disney allow Sikh Workers to Wear Turbans?
The Washington Times belief blog posted an interview with Sonny Singh. Here are some choice quotes:
“I’ve heard from thousands of people around the world on how they appreciated this,” Mr. Caberwal said. He hopes his day in the sun will encourage Sikh youth, whose unusual headcovering makes them stand out in a crowd.
“Having a unique identity can be a very lonely road to walk down,” the model said. “Fighting against a negative stereotype is consistantly tough.”
All Sikhs know what it’s like to be harassed, he said, and his brother-in-law has endured worse: physical threats, job descrimination and taunts just for being confused with Muslims. Kenneth Cole had heard of what Sikhs endure, he said, and wanted to include a Sikh in an ad campaign to introduce the concept that Sikhs are normal folk who wear cool clothes and think like us.
Nirmal Singh opened a session of the Pennsylvania Senate yesterday. PennLive has an article with details. Here’s the audio, and I quickly transcribed what he said here. I really like what Nirmal Singh put together, check it out!
Join me in the prayer. Ek On Kar, Sat Nam, There is but One God, True is His Name.
We pray, to the One God, Who created this universe, with all its colorful diversity, rang, as we call it
We pray to the One God, under whose Divine Ordinance, Hukam, this Universe abides
We pray to sabna jia ka ik data, the one god who provides for and sustains all this creation
Pray, give us the understanding that this world is a dharamsal, an arena for righteous living –
much of what people can accomplish in life, happens through their own Kal, their endeavor
We pray for kirpa, thy divine mercy, to enable us all to be prayerful, to enable us all to provide for our families,
enable us all to share with those in need, and enable us all not to shy away from doing what is right
that truly is the righteous way
Help us pray help us nurture a society, where we all live as a fraternity, with none feeling excluded or treated as a stranger
Where we say some, and listen some, where we bring harmony peace, caring and sharing to our corporate, communal lives, and help each and every one of us, to grow, develop, and contribute towards a common good.
We pray for this sangat, this assembly, heavy is your responsibility and difficult are the choices you have to make as leaders of the people.
We pray for you individually and collectively to be blessed with the wisdom to conduct your business today and everyday in service of and for the well being of the citizens of this commonwealth.
We close this prayer as always seeking tere bhane sarbat ka bhala — that the well being of one and all in this world be thy will.
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!
The dynamic duo known as “Signature” — Suleman Mirza and Madhu Singh auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent the other day. Check out the clip below. Well done guys! Thanks to Bhupinder Singh for the tip.
Video from SemiFinal:
The Sikhs at SMU held a turban day as well, and here’s a neat photo from it.
The United States Tennis Association recognized Gurkirat Singh as the #1 ranked tennis player in New Jersey in the 16’s age group. Thanks to Sachdeep Singh for the tip. Congrats Gurkirat!
The awesome sewadars at SikhiToTheMax have recently released Sikhi To The Max 2 — a great program for viewing the text and English Translation of Gurbani during a Gurudwara program. You can download it here: Site 1, Site 2.
It features a copy of the Office 2007 User Interface, which I worked on when I was at Microsoft. Here’s an open offer to the sewadars — I can help write an Office 2007 Add-in that integrates with PowerPoint! So it will be a Tab in PowerPoint 2007 and not a separate program! Let me know!
I’ve also created a few basic themes for use in Gurdwaras. The first is “High Contrast” so the slides look clear in all lighting conditions. The second is a blue theme. They are designed to make sure the text looks good. Just copy these files to C:\Program Files\SikhiToTheMAX II and then you can access them from the “Options” tab of SikhiToTheMax. The templates work on all versions of PowerPoint.
Try out the themes above and let me know what you think! If you create your own, let me know as well!