While this tragic event again demands that Americans confront issues pertaining to gun control, it also demands that we confront issues about who are the easy targets and why they are perceived that way. Though we do not know (yet) if this was a hate crime or if it was the insane, irrational, act of a deranged person, we must ask why, of all people and communities, were Sikh targeted.
Were they targeted because they fit the stereotypical (and imaginary) image of a turban wearing Taliban/ Muslim terrorist? Or were they targeted merely because they look different?
If the United States is supposed to be a melting pot, a place of tolerance, a country for the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, then no one should stand out or be the target for looking different.
Ironically, Sikhs were among the first immigrants from South Asia to enter the United States. After all, Sikhs began working on the railroads in Oregon and as farmers in California at the end of the 19th century. Having lived in the United States for more that 130 years they ought to be among the ordinary, the common, the least different. So why are 'we' not used to them by now?
Why do so few Americans know so little about Sikhism?
As a Professor of Hinduism and the religions of India, I am concurrently delighted and discouraged when I come across students who know next to nothing about religions/ beliefs/ practices other than their own. On the one hand, it is wonderful, as a teacher, to teach students who seek to learn. On the other hand I worry about what stereotypes the students have about India, Hindus, and, for that matter, me.
As soon as I learned about this horrific event I called up my wife, who is of Indian origin, and was with our two toddlers. Be careful, I told her. Who knows if Indians will be easy target for others now?
The shooter has been 'put down.' He is dead. We may never know the reasons for his despicable actions. I do know that I will be 'different' unless or until Americans become more educated and more accepting.