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Racism is alive and well in the United States of America.
It has always been.
Naïve are those who think otherwise.
The white man landed in America, and the red man became the target.
The red man’s land was taken, his way of life mocked, and he forgot who he was.
To this day, the red man is lost and is relearning as I am.
The white man brought the black man to America as a slave.
The black man forgot his language, his culture, his essence.
The black man fought for his freedom, with a heavy price.
The black man was granted freedom in 1865…
Or was he?
Laws don’t raise consciousness.
Laws don’t change hearts and minds…
So, what does?
I’m going to share reflections from the Sikh tradition.
In 1675, a delegation from the Hindu faith tradition appealed to the Ninth Sovereign of the Sikhs, to protect them from the Mughal religious persecution. The Ninth Sovereign shielded them, took on the brutality of the State, and left the earthly realm. So colossal was the martyrdom, that Mother Nature rose in protest. The might of the persecutors waned and eventually, they lost.
On the 22nd of August in 1922, Sikhs began leading peaceful protests to free their gurduara (place of learning and worship), — Guru ka Bagh near Amritsar. One hundred or so Sikhs would arrive daily at the gurduara. The police would stop them and, slash them with heavy brass-bound sticks and rifle-butts. This treatment was given to the entire batch of the volunteers until they all prostrated on the ground. During this time, the Sikhs displayed unique self-control and bore the bodily torment. None winced or raised a hand in defiance. This went on for days.
On the 12th of September in 1922, Rev. C.F. Andrews (1871-1940), an English missionary and educationist, sent a detailed account to the Press on the British brutality at Guru ka Bagh: “...It was a sight which I never wish to see again, a sight incredible to an Englishman. There were four Akali Sikhs with black turbans facing a band of about a dozen policemen, including two English officers... They [Sikhs] were perfectly still and did not move further forward. Their hands were placed together in prayer and it was clear that they were praying. Then, without the slightest provocation on their part, an Englishman lunged forward the head of his lathi [stick] which was bound with brass. He lunged it forward in such a way that his fist which held the staff struck the Akali Sikh, who was praying, just at the collar bone with great force. It looked the most cowardly blow as I saw it struck. The blow which I saw was sufficient to fell the Akali Sikh and send him to the ground. He rolled over and slowly got up once more and faced the same punishment over again. Time after time, one of the four who had gone forward was laid prostrate by repeated blows, now from the English officer and from the police who were under his control. The others were knocked out more quickly. On this and on subsequent occasions the police committed certain acts which were brutal in the extreme. I saw with my own eyes one of these police kick in the stomach a Sikh who stood helplessly before him. It was a blow so foul that I could hardly restrain myself from crying out aloud and rushing forward. But later on, I was to see another act which was, if anything, even fouler still. For when one of the Akali Sikhs had been hurled to the ground and was lying prostrate, a police sepoy stamped with his foot upon him, using his full weight; the foot struck the prostrate man between the neck and the shoulder. The vow* they had made to God was kept. I saw no act, no look, of defiance. It was true martyrdom for them as they went forward, a true act of faith, a true deed of devotion to God….What was happening to them was truly, in some dim way, a crucifixion. I see hundreds of Christs being crucified every day by the Christians themselves. A new heroism, learned through suffering, has arisen in the land. A new lesson in moral warfare has been taught to the world...”
On the 13th of September in 1933, Sir Edward Maclagan, Lt-Governor of the Panjab, visited Guru ka Bagh and ordered the beating of the volunteers to be stopped. The British eventually left India in 1947, leaving behind a bloody legacy. These are, repercussions that the Sikhs are still dealing with to this very day.
Raising consciousness and, changing hearts and minds needs wisdom, self-control, patience, and above all, seeing and recognizing the One in all.
To say that racism is only in America would be an injustice. It is prevalent worldwide—subtle in some places and more apparent in others.
It is the 21st Century and supposedly, we the people are better educated and yet:
Chicago has burned.
Minneapolis has burned.
Los Angeles has burned.
Paris has burned.
Delhi has burned.
Reflection: As long as there is “othering” racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and the other “isms” this will continue. Yes! New laws will be instituted and many will consider that a victory. However, we are far away from raising consciousness and changing hearts and minds. This is where the real work is.
Offering: If every faith-based and non-faith-based community joined hands and “took the knee” in prayer outside every police station, every City Hall and before the Halls of Congress daily, maybe a shift in consciousness can occur. However, this approach needs determination, patience, self-control, and above all, remaining committed to eradicating racism and not being distracted by the noise.
Are we as a people ready for this “crucifixion?”
Here is the Sikh prayer of justice as we take the knee:
ਗਉੜੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ॥
ਗਰੀਬਾ ਉਪਰਿ ਜਿ ਖਿੰਜੈ ਦਾੜੀ ॥
ਪਾਰਬ੍ਰਹਮਿ ਸਾ ਅਗਨਿ ਮਹਿ ਸਾੜੀ ॥੧॥
ਪੂਰਾ ਨਿਆਉ ਕਰੇ ਕਰਤਾਰੁ ॥
ਅਪੁਨੇ ਦਾਸ ਕਉ ਰਾਖਨਹਾਰੁ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
ਆਦਿ ਜੁਗਾਦਿ ਪ੍ਰਗਟਿ ਪਰਤਾਪੁ ॥
ਨਿੰਦਕੁ ਮੁਆ ਉਪਜਿ ਵਡ ਤਾਪੁ ॥੨॥
ਤਿਨਿ ਮਾਰਿਆ ਜਿ ਰਖੈ ਨ ਕੋਇ ॥
ਆਗੈ ਪਾਛੈ ਮੰਦੀ ਸੋਇ ॥੩॥
ਅਪੁਨੇ ਦਾਸ ਰਾਖੈ ਕੰਠਿ ਲਾਇ ॥
ਸਰਣਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਹਰਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਧਿਆਇ ॥੪॥੯੮॥੧੬੭॥
Gauri Fifth Embodiment
Supreme Being burns that [tyrant] in fire-rage. 1
Creator administers complete justice.
Protects Own’s votary. Pause-reflect
Creator’s glory manifests since the beginning and through the eras.
Slanderer dies in high heat-anger being produced. 2
That Creator kills [tyrant] who no one [other than Creator] can protect.
Dishonor prevails here and hereafter. 3
Creator protects and bosom-embraces Creator’s Own votaries.
Nanak: Sanctuary is in remembrance of Creator’s Identification. 4
- Guru Granth Sahib 199
When an overwhelmingly powerful system attacks powerless victims, neutrality is anything but neutral.
Resistance takes many forms.
Courage is manifested in many ways.
The luxury of being “neutral” is over.
Indifference is a death sentence.
Bystanders become enablers.
We are one.
We can build a new reality together.
Can we rise to the challenge?
*The Akali Sikhs had taken the vow at Sri Harimandar Sahib (Golden Temple) before starting and also at the gurduara at Guru ka Bagh to not fight back. They were following the Sikh principle of exhausting all means before picking up arms, in spite of being very capable. This is the difference between the non-violence of the strong (Khalsa - Sovereign who belongs to the Guru) versus the non-violence of the weak (ahimsa or pacifism).
About the Author:
Inni Kaur serves as the Creative Director of the Sikh Research Institute. An influential leader, respected artist, poet, and published author, her eloquent words have been heard around the world, including presentations at Yale, Fairfield and Columbia Universities, and the U.S. Office of the Pentagon Chaplin. Inni Kaur is dedicated to the community and the service of others and continues to be an integral member of several faith-based organizations. She is an active member on the Board of the Interfaith Council of Southern Connecticut, an organization devoted to increasing interfaith understanding. In addition, she serves as a local Justice of the Peace.