What do people first notice about others when they meet new people? Some would say a booming voice that makes the first impression. Maybe it’s the person’s eclectic fashion choices. Our interpretation of the world is based primarily on visual experiences that translate to emotional responses.
Bahadur Singh wears a turban. In 21st century America, we are not free from racial prejudices. Bahadur is proud of his Sikh heritage and traditions.
He grows his hair, including his beard, long and untrimmed. The tenants of his Sikh faith require hair to be left untouched.
Bahadur is skilled at wrapping his turban. It’s a ritual he takes pride in, spending five minutes each morning working the turban into a long, rectangular form. When unravelled it measures to an impressive 23 feet length by 42 inches width.
How can we overcome racial prejudice in a land of opportunity? How has Bahadur witnessed these obstacles?
Bahadur Singh first moved to Salem in 1999. Especially after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, people were taken aback by his appearance. At this time, there was only a handful of other Sikh families in the area.
Even years after settling into town, he faced hateful people and ignorance. One time, somebody started honking at him when he and his father were leaving the parking lot at Home Depot.
Bahadur said, ‘What’s going on?” He though that perhaps he wanted to warn me that I left something on the hood of my car or my lights were out. But there was nothing amiss. All he said was “Go back to Pakistan. What are you guys doing here?” Bahadur wanted to explain but the harasser ran off.
What would have Bahadur said given the chance?
First of all, he’s not Pakistani. He’s not Muslim- he’s a Sikh! Not that people should stereotype those of the Muslim faith, either. Bahadur wishes he could encourage people with deep prejudices to speak to him. He would ask, “Tell me what you want to know about me.” Communication about our differences is key to our growth as a country.
How can we learn about each other and expand out cooperative endeavors?
Bahadur Singh encourages people to ask questions. He loves when people ask about his personal experience and the Sikh faith. He sees his unusual appearance as a way not only to share his faith, but to invite a dialogue.
Find more from the Statesman’s Journal article on Bahadur Singh, Sikh Leader Builds Community, Bridges of Understanding by Heather Rayhorn.