Mistaken Identities

Being a Sikh means you get called a terrorist because your hair is bound up in a turban on your head. Now imagine being a Sikh teenager in Texas, where if you follow your faith you'll never blend in.

"I'm used to people calling me terrorist," says Prabhjot. "I'm used to it, but I don't appreciate it." Even though he and his brother think their high school, Cy Woods, is as good as anywhere in the area with its anti-bullying campaign, both say things get said away from teachers and even, sometimes, in front of them. Or even by them.

When he was in eighth grade, Prabhjot says, his science teacher became upset with him because he was talking with another student. "She said, 'PJ, be quiet or I'll rip that knot off your head.' She said it in a joking way; I'm not sure how she meant it. "

But when he came home that night and told his father, Surinder Singh was not amused. "He took the matter seriously and brought it to the principal," Prabhjot says. Both the teacher and principal apologized. "She said she didn't mean it in that way, but it's still offensive, and it was a mistake by her. I was surprised it was a teacher saying this; you would think a teacher would know better," says Prabhjot. "But she was like any other classmate."

The hair requirements of the Sikh faith mean an extra set of challenges for Prabhjot and Jagdeep Singh.
Margaret Downing
The hair requirements of the Sikh faith mean an extra set of challenges for Prabhjot and Jagdeep Singh.

The U.S. Department of Education recently released a study of bullying policies throughout the country in which it refers to a National Center for Education Statistics report that says "39 percent of middle school administrators and 20 percent of administrators at the elementary and high school level reported that bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis."

According to NCES data focusing on kids ages 12-18, "Twenty-one percent of those surveyed reported that they had been made fun of by their peers, 18 percent had been the subject of rumors, 11 percent had been pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on and 6 percent had been threatened."

The study said that while people previously accepted bullying as a normal experience that most children outgrew, "researchers now link bullying to a broad range of long-term harms for both students who bully and students who are bullied."

While bullying victims may have trouble making friends, suffer from loneliness and be at greater risk of depression and suicide, it turns out the bullies themselves tend to have "higher substance abuse rates, poorer social skills, greater mental health problems and exhibit increased aggressive-impulsive behaviors as adults, " the report said.

Oh, and then there's the line about how unchecked youthful bullies usually grow up to be someone you don't want to work with or be married to.

Deborah Stewart, assistant superintendent for student services at Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District, says that when they talk to a bully, they try to find the root of the problem. "We have to address that not just as a punitive consequence, but we try to find out why the behavior occurs. What's going on at home? Why do you think you have to treat another student that way?"

That doesn't mean, Stewart says, that the district tolerates bullying. Stewart, who has spent 20 years working with discipline and behavior initiatives, says she's heard all the comments about teasing being a normal rite of passage.

"What we say to them is this: We've always addressed bullying because we've always addressed inappropriate behavior whether it was taunting, teasing, kicking or spitting. We're not going to say: 'Boys will be boys; girls will be mean.'

"Girls may be mean, but here in Cy-Fair we're going to address it. Here in Cy-Fair, it is not going to be tolerated. You can have those old adages, but here in Cy-Fair you're going to add the 'but.' Here in Cy-Fair, Boys will be boys, but."
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Sometimes efforts to combat bullying in the schools get pushed aside by other priorities, says Susan Shaw, associate regional director for education with the Houston branch of the Anti-Defamation League, which has for years been an area leader in promoting understanding of differences and safety in schools.

"The social, emotional stuff sometimes gets pushed to the back because of an emphasis on academics. I've heard a handful of times educators say, 'We really have to focus on academics,'" Shaw says. But she points out that a lot of anti-bullying efforts don't have to take up a lot of time.

"One of our training programs is called 'Becoming an Ally.' We talk about the little things you can do. 'Can I walk to class with you? Do you want to sit with me in the cafeteria?'"

Ravneet Singh (not his real name) is a middle-schooler in Cy-Fair who's on the debate team and hopes to be a lawyer one day. He assesses his situation in a manner both analytical and quietly heartbreaking for a 13-year-old.

"It's all right," he says, when asked about how others treat him at school. "As you get older, you kind of establish your group of friends, like who will have your back."

Ravneet's family moved to the Cy-Fair district from Katy precisely because his mother was seeking safety in numbers for her son. "In Katy there were only two Sikh boys in the school. So we moved here. In this subdivision there's three families here. So if he's going to ride the bus, there are at least two of them or at least three of them on the bus," she says.

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10 comments
CalviJenitta
CalviJenitta

@Peter I know a few Sikh's some of the nicest people I've ever met !!! Quit drinking haterade...Who can believe this - my friend's step-aunt makes $72 every hour on the laptop. She has been out of a job for 8 months but last month her paycheck was $8840 just working on the laptop for a few hours. For more visit this site... MakeCash17.com

Stacey
Stacey

@manjit .........my classmate's mom makes $79/hr on the internet. She has been without a job for 8 months but last month her paycheck was $7695 just working on the internet for a few hours. Here's the site to read more LazyCash4. com

Manjit Singh
Manjit Singh

Thank you for highlighting this issue in this article. Sikhs are dealing with this everyday and I don't see it going away soon unless, Sikhs are represented in mainstream media, news, ads, movies etc. as positive role models. NBC's "Outsourced" was a good start and we need more please.

I usually carry little wallet size cards that explain who Sikhs are and pass it out to people that call me names like "Osma" or "Bin Laden" or "Taliban" etc. I also see this as an opportunity to create awareness and teach. To Harpal Singh, I say, please look at each incident an opprtunity to teach and engage. Smiling is good, but please don't just move on, but engage these people if you can. Some are in a position to listen and education is every Sikh's responsibility and not just school districts, Sikh Coalition and other Sikh institutions. Non-school is equally good environment, but will has to be there.

Manjit SinghMartinez, California

Jeff B
Jeff B

We will never get rid of bullying because there are too many stupid, bigoted parents. Just pull a Clockwork Orange on the bullies.

justarigger
justarigger

Never seen a Sikh I didnt like. Very personable folks. So what they like there hair long? And protected from the dirt of this earth. Whats wrong with that? What next? Attack folk that only have two collors (burnt and pealing)?

Momazilla
Momazilla

How much I wish we could all feel the way of that poem. Mr. Singh. and as individuals we can try, Sadly that is not the way of this world, Maybe in the next one. Peace be with you.

Far Too Far
Far Too Far

I know a few Sikh's some of the nicest people I've ever met !!! Quit drinking haterade

TK
TK

Don't forget the bracelets they also wear.

GC Singh
GC Singh

It is a shame that Sikhs become a target of hate and bigotry in the west whenever there are problems in the middle east and specially after 9/11.

What the majority of the ignorant people-many of them like frogs in a well do not know that almost 100% of the men who wear turbans and keep uncut hair in USA are Sikhs and not Al-Qaeda, Taliban or terrorist from Middle east. In fact Sikhs have suffered untold miseries fighting the fanaticism and intolerance which such ideology of hate propagates.

Sikhs believe in one universal God and equality of entire mankind, irrespective of race, religion, ethnicity or gender. The following translation of a hymn from Sikh scriptures written almost 400 years ago highlights the basic principle Sikhism.

I see no stranger, I see no enemy;Wherever I look, God is all I see. I don't think of Us and Them,No one do I hate or condemn, I see God's image - each one a friend. Of any religion, caste or race,All I see is God's shining face - His smiling face, His gracious face. Accept as beautiful all His design,I learnt this truth in sangat divine. ( Sangat-* Holy company/congregation)) One Word resounds in me and you - Waheguru ... Waheguru ... (Waheguru* - Oh Wonderous Lord) In him, in her, in me and you - Waheguru ... Waheguru ...

 
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