Recently, I came across a racist meme featuring my friend. His name is Darsh Preet Singh. For those who know Darsh, he is a kind and friendly person. In fact, Darsh's friends would tell you he's nicer than most anyone you know, if not everyone you know. He's also a son, a brother, a husband, a pioneer, a humanitarian. The list goes on. The meme -- which involved a picture of him playing basketball for Trinity University in our hometown of San Antonio, Texas -- painted him as a terrorist. Why? Because Darsh wears a turban (his is called a dastaar) -- which is a religious article of his faith, Sikhism -- and also because he sports a healthy-sized beard (also required in his faith).
The meme's creator obviously assumed Darsh is an Arab Muslim (though, he's really Punjabi) having given him the name 'Muhammad.' This alone is enough to condemn since the meme's statement implies he conflated Islam and terrorism. Unfortunately, many in the U.S. equate Islam with terrorism, despite the heavy prevalence of domestic terrorism committed here by white U.S. citizens both currently and throughout our nation's history. As Darsh's friend, I couldn't let someone spit on him like this without saying something. But I didn't decide to say something just because I'm Darsh's friend. Truth is, speaking my mind is normal for me.
As a Christian, I have a duty to point out anything hateful and extinguish it. Christians are called to be loyal citizens of the Kingdom of God and the law of the land for us is love. Period. In 1 John 4:8 (NIV), the apostle John wrote:
"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love"
In John 4:16 (NIV) he also writes:
"Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them."
Citizens of the Kingdom are commanded to live a life of love and the love we live in (spoken of in 1 John 4:16) refers to Christ Jesus, the ultimate example and manifestation of God's love for us.
It is this love that causes God to hate injustice. In the Bible, there are many stories where someone speaks up and calls people out. What many people don't realize (my brethren included) is the large majority of these biblical stories involve someone speaking on behalf of God calling out people over issues of social justice. Doing a quick search for the word 'poor' in any electronic Bible source will give you a glimpse into just how much God cares about social issues. Spoiler Alert: He cares immensely.
There has been much injustice lately. It happens everywhere and in the U.S., a lot of recent injustice has happened to people who look like Darsh (as well as other Sikhs) or to those who look Arab. There is a hate too many U.S. citizens have for people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, usually to the point of throwing them all together in one big group in which they are labeled as Arabs, Muslims, and terrorists.
Looking through recent news will bring up stories like the Sikh gurdwara (read: place of worship) in Los Angeles vandalized with anti-ISIL graffiti or the Muslim cab driver in Pittsburgh who was shot by a passenger after the passenger mocked the Prophet Muhammad. A man in a New York City café harassed customers about their religious beliefs and assaulted an employee for being Muslim. Let's also remember in 2012, when a white supremacist entered a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and opened fire on Sikhs, killing six people and wounding four. Additionally, a recent presidential candidate has called for tracking Muslims in a national database, investigating Mosques to shut them down, and barring other Muslims from entering the country even if they live here and just happen to be out of country.
All of this hate stems from ignorance and too often we find people fear what they do not know. As these stories exhibit, many in the U.S. are ignorant of our friends, fellow citizens, and immigrant neighbors who are different than us. This ignorance can be fertile soil for fear and hate given other conditions. This whole process is known as 'othering.' We treat those different than us like they are something 'other' than us so that they are just faces and nothing more.
The terrible thing people don't realize is how our jokes contribute to this ignorance and fear. But if we get to know people from communities different than ours, we might begin to bring truth to light and snuff out hate we see and hear every day in our own nation.
It helps to see the man in the racist meme as more than a picture. He is a human being with a name, a story, and a life full of people who love him. It's really easy to look at someone and ignore their humanity. However, this is exactly what racism does. It looks at people on the outside as if nothing else is there. The joke is about how he looks, right? Isn't that what matters most? Wrong. Darsh matters and his story matters.
I know that meme was supposed to be a joke. I know the meme's originator probably doesn't believe Darsh is a terrorist. But it wasn't funny given the fact that this 'joke' about Darsh was meant to deride his race and religion. Even worse, this 'joke' is based in fear-mongering ignorance, which has resulted in murder in our country. I am not sorry about what I said because there's nothing funny about murder. As a Christian, such issues require my voice. Likewise, regardless of your religious beliefs, it requires your voice, too.
So do the world a favor by educating yourself and getting to know networks of people who are different than you. Here we will discover truth and discover a love that encourages us to speak up. By speaking up, justice just might roll like a river (Amos 5:24) and hate just might disappear.