BAKERSFIELD, Calif (KERO) — In the first month after the 9/11 attacks, the Sikh Coalition documented over 300 cases of violence and discrimination against Sikh Americans throughout the United States.
Now, the Bakersfield Sikh Community is reaching out to the public in hopes they will better understand that their appearance does not make them bad people.
“The turban is actually a sign of protection and trust. It has nothing to do with terrorism," Chaten Singh said.
This is Chaten Singh, a temple volunteer with a goal of educating the public about Sikhism.
“We don’t want to get blamed for something just because we look like someone, but its totally different ideologies," Singh said.
He says members of the Sikh community all over the United States have been victims of hate crimes.
"Its mainly verbal attacks they'll say something like go back to your country or in some cases they physically attack. I don’t think people are discriminating based on religion, its more because of the appearance," Singh said.
Sikhs are often discriminated based on appearance for their outfits, turbans, and having long beards. Punjabi content creator Harmeet Kaur says those looks can lead to Sikhs being mistaken for extremist groups.
“The reason there was an increase in hate crimes against Sikh Americans after 9/11 is because there was actually an influx in hate crimes against Muslims. Terrorists is a label that we get associated with a lot. It’s important to note that we’re just everyday American citizens like you sitting at home," Kaur said.
“The Sikhs have a similar take on terrorism just like all of Americans. Our faith seeks for peace and harmony all across the world," Singh said.
Kaur says men and women wear turbans for two reasons: to be recognizable and for spirituality.
“We want to be recognizable because if someone is ever in need the promise is there that if you see someone in a turban they will help you out and they will do the right thing," Kaur said.
Kaur says the population of Sikhs in the U.S. is small, but are one of the most targeted groups.
“Per the FBI, Sikhs are actually in the top 5 groups most targeted against, they are actually third coming in after Muslims and Jews," Kaur said.
Every age group is affected.
“According to a survey by the Sikh Coalition, done in the Bay Area, 69% of school going Sikh children that wore turbans were discriminated, harassed or bullied, 69%.”
Kaur hopes more people practice diversity, education, and inclusion.
“We as American citizens have the responsibility to teach the next generation to be more accepting and tolerant so my hope here is that when you see someone who looks different from your family you take it upon yourselves to learn more about their culture.”
Singh says Bakersfield has a high population of Sikhs who are actively involved in the community, especially with organizations hoping to educate the public.