Turbans, Hoodies, and Misdirected American Aggression

The first day I heard about the mass shooting of Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin I was moved to write a piece detailing the range of emotions I felt as the details of the shooting emerged. As reports described the religious background of the worshippers, the history of the gunman and the callous way that innocent lives were taken, I felt as though the event would raise the ire of the public. I thought the shooting would invoke an awareness of the connections between this event and others across the country where lives have been lost for no justifiable reason.

However, it's been over two weeks since the Sikh shooting in Wisconsin and the coverage of the story has quickly vanished from the general media rotation and the event seems to have been erased from our national consciousness. While many sympathize with the victims and their families, they justify their lack of emotion with the idea that the shooting was merely the act of a lone crazed gunman. Unfortunately, this general perception is flawed.

We live in a nation that prides itself on being inclusive to all. However, at the same time, we tout slogans and belief systems about the "American way" and "American dream" that is anything but inclusive. Our history tells us that people from across the globe who come to the United States have changed their names, are forced to lose their accents, others deny where they're from, some change the way they dress. For many, this process has been a formula for success; America has been inclusive to them because they have chosen to conform.

For many Sikh Americans, fully conforming to the American way of life is impossible. The turban they wear represents their faith and spirituality identity. They cannot succumb to a physical image of Americanness because their faith requires them to wear certain clothes. This inability to physically conform makes them easily recognizable. Unfortunately, they are not recognized for their beliefs in peace for all men and universal brotherhood. Because of what they wear, they are misidentified as haters of America. Because of what they wear, they are targeted and victimized.

I am not suggesting that the Sikh shooting in Wisconsin was based solely on physical appearance alone though the white supremacist background of the shooter might tell us that. However, I do argue that the physical image of the Sikh and the association of that image to be anti-American and anti-establishment certainly had a part to play in this shooting. For those who see themselves as the image of America, and who do not see others as an image of themselves, difference invokes anger. When that anger is coupled with access to weapons and a media generated belief that others are threatening your American lifestyle, we have cases like the Sikh Shooting... and the Trayvon Martin case.

For young Black males in America, the hoodie is a uniform of sorts. It is worn when one feels uncomfortable, or wants to be hidden from the world. In many cases, it is a signal to others who adorn themselves with the same uniform, that there is a shared solidarity to being a part of the culture of urban youth. Just as the turban represents a piece of the Sikh identity, the hoodie and the fitted baseball cap are a piece of the Black male identity. I make this connection not to position hoodies as religious, but to say that the clothes urban youth wear are a piece of who they are. Just like the Sikh victims, Black males in America are identified as anti-American, dangerous, and threats to those who appear "normal". Their presence invokes anger in those who see them as violent, crude, and in many cases a threat to America.

The Sikh Shooting and the Trayvon Martin shooting are different in many ways. In one case it was one gunman who shot many innocent people. In the other, it was one man who shot just one person. In one case the victims may have been identified because of their religious dress. In the other, the victim may have been identified by his cultural dress. In one case the shooter's motive was speculated to be frustration and anger with his victims, in the other, the motive is speculated to have been anger about having someone who looked a certain way in his compound. Wait ... maybe these two cases aren't so different after all. Maybe all the lives that were lost were victims of misdirected American aggression against those who choose not to conform.