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What is the Sikh faith?

The Sikh faith is not misunderstood -- it's often not understood at all. Watch "United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell" on Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Posted: May 26, 2018 11:51 AM
Updated: May 26, 2018 11:53 AM

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.

Later that year, we were returning from recess when a classmate pinned me down and intentionally blew his nose on my turban. He was lightly admonished for his actions, but what I remember most was that nobody, including my teacher, understood how devastating it was to have my turban -- a sacred religious article of faith in Sikhism -- desecrated by a bully.

In sixth grade, on my first day of school, a teacher asked me to remove my "beanie." After a chorus of laughter from my classmates, I stumbled to explain that it wasn't a beanie, and that I would not take it off. She relented without apology, but my classmates didn't, and "beanie" became the common word for my turban for the rest of school year.

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.

While Sikh Americans are doing their part to help folks better understand our faith, the question remains: How do we avoid another 7-year-old child being the best option to explain his faith in class? We must ensure that educators are given the basic tools to one day accurately teach Sikhism in every public school.

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.

That's why I encourage parents to let their children watch the episode of "United Shades of America" that focuses on the Sikh community, because it will give everybody a chance to watch W. Kamau Bell, someone not initially familiar with our faith, have personal conversations with Sikhs from a place of empathy.

Looking back at my own experiences growing up, I can only imagine now how impactful such programming would have been for me and my peers back then. It's critical that our kids see the humanity behind our differences. We may be of different shades, but leading with unity is the key to positive change.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 749532

Reported Deaths: 13746
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1030911775
Lake554681006
Allen41636691
St. Joseph36947564
Hamilton36527416
Elkhart29363459
Tippecanoe22862225
Vanderburgh22542400
Porter19331325
Johnson18405388
Hendricks17588317
Clark13200193
Madison13120344
Vigo12604253
LaPorte12394221
Monroe12163175
Delaware10947198
Howard10263225
Kosciusko9614119
Hancock8549144
Bartholomew8162157
Warrick7854156
Floyd7772180
Grant7229179
Wayne7155201
Boone6917103
Morgan6736141
Dubois6211118
Marshall6206116
Cass5991108
Henry5894108
Dearborn588978
Noble580186
Jackson508674
Shelby500897
Lawrence4732121
Gibson444093
Harrison440773
Clinton440055
DeKalb438785
Montgomery434690
Whitley406042
Huntington402281
Steuben399259
Miami392768
Jasper386954
Knox375790
Putnam372160
Wabash360583
Ripley346570
Adams344955
Jefferson335685
White330253
Daviess3031100
Wells295181
Decatur289992
Greene286385
Fayette284864
Posey273735
LaGrange272872
Scott269955
Clay265848
Washington244934
Randolph244683
Jennings235149
Spencer234231
Starke227558
Fountain218647
Sullivan213943
Owen211058
Fulton201542
Jay200932
Carroll193420
Orange188055
Perry186937
Rush175726
Vermillion173644
Franklin170235
Tipton165846
Parke149016
Pike138034
Blackford136132
Pulaski120247
Newton112736
Brown103943
Crawford102316
Benton101014
Martin91515
Warren83615
Switzerland8098
Union72810
Ohio57811
Unassigned0420

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1107225

Reported Deaths: 20091
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1285061459
Cuyahoga1156322204
Hamilton812991245
Montgomery524951040
Summit48356999
Lucas43309817
Butler38903603
Stark33297929
Lorain25641502
Warren24558303
Mahoning22332601
Lake21139385
Clermont20098252
Delaware18819135
Licking16649222
Fairfield16564204
Trumbull16527479
Medina15597270
Greene15256246
Clark14223306
Wood13281197
Portage13229214
Allen11903239
Richland11598211
Miami10837223
Wayne9116222
Columbiana9023230
Muskingum8889135
Pickaway8652122
Tuscarawas8639247
Marion8635138
Erie8052164
Ashtabula7139179
Hancock6996131
Ross6934161
Geauga6832150
Scioto6530104
Belmont6149174
Union583849
Lawrence5723102
Jefferson5669158
Huron5539122
Sandusky5437125
Darke5415129
Seneca5344126
Washington5308109
Athens523360
Auglaize501687
Mercer487285
Shelby476295
Knox4568112
Madison443765
Ashland435197
Putnam4334103
Fulton431871
Defiance431798
Crawford4033110
Brown401961
Logan387377
Preble3847103
Clinton378566
Ottawa372781
Highland359465
Williams347878
Champaign343858
Guernsey324253
Jackson317554
Perry297150
Morrow291340
Fayette285350
Hardin274865
Henry273267
Holmes2699101
Coshocton268459
Van Wert247264
Adams242956
Pike242735
Gallia240550
Wyandot234556
Hocking220162
Carroll196948
Paulding176342
Meigs148240
Monroe136144
Noble135839
Harrison113738
Morgan109624
Vinton85417
Unassigned03
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