Friday, March 15, 2019

Being Sikh in the Black Community

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa. Waheguru ji ki Fateh. I had previously planned to release a blog today on the subject  “How to be Tyar bar Tyar in the 21st Century”, but in light of recent events in New Zealand, I think that it’s best if we postpone discussing that subject. For those who might have been affected by the event, please know that the Sikh community stands with you and supports you.

I’ve instead decided to talk about something that has recently affected me in the realm of social media. You see, a couple of days ago my interview with BBC was released and listened to by Sikhs all over the world. And since I get anxiety about watching videos, or even listening to interviews of myself, I have not sat down and listened. A lot of people told me it was good, but that it also leaned towards the negative side of things. So in response, I did a Youtube video focusing more toward the positive experiences I’ve had as a convert (which I’ll link below)

My Experience with Punjabi Sikhs

Everything was well and good...until I got one notification. Someone had responded to the interview not on my social media account but on another page. They had also mentioned or “@“ me. I went and read the thread she had written and became irritated. This was an African American Sikh lady out of California who I had spoken to one time before. And the topic had solely been on hair. We had disagreed with each other back then and she basically stated that I had chosen religion over culture (and for her vice versa). That was that. More than a year later, we both had interviews and they both released on or near the same day. One of my friends had pointed hers out to me and I was like “cool”. And then I got the notification hours later. Didn’t really think it was going to be about anything. Until I read one of her following comments.

“In my interview..., I mentioned some black folks have been willing to fully immerse themselves into Sikhi which means taking on parts of Punjabi culture. This is one of the bw (black woman) I was thinking about when I said that....". That instantly sparked a tiny flame of anger within me. I also proceeded to read some other comments she had written about me, and I'll be honest. I got pissed off and reacted. I showed the thread to my homegirl and she agreed with me that the thread was showing me in a demeaning light. And that none of the statements were true. In my head I thought:

"How could she be saying this? She's literally only spoken to me once and is judging me solely based on what she sees on social media. And what Punjabi culture is she talking about?! I don't do bhangra. I don't wear Punjabi suits. I wear bana when attending Sikh functions but that's apart of my rehat. And heck, bana ain't Punjabi. I don't cook any Indian/Punjabi food for the most part. So what is her deal? She (nor 95% of people on the internet) do not see my personal life. And her saying this is basically like calling me a brown "oreo"*...This hurts."

And it especially hurt since this was not only someone from the same race but from the same religious community. On top of that, it should be noted that the majority of her social media is composed of people within the black community. For the majority of black Sikhs, we face this kind of attitude from people within our own race. In general, in order to be considered "black", you must be three things: democrat, Christian, and straight. Well, I am straight. But politically I'm independent (leaning left) and religiously I'm a Sikh. So I instantly do not fit into the mold (nor do I ever want to). And the moment you step out of that bubble, you are instantly considered "less than". As in, less than black. Your own community looks at you weird and some ridicule you. But here's the thing. When it comes to most African Americans, they are stuck in a bubble and are ignorant in regards to other cultures/religions. They don't know things such as "Sikhism do not equal Punjabi culture". Heck, even some Sikhs don't know that. All they see is that you're hanging out with Punjabi people a lot more, eating, singing, and praying with them. This sort of reminds me of how many of my white Sikh brothers and sisters are viewed as "traitors" by some within their own race. It's sad. It's really sad. But it's the reality we face.

For me, becoming a Sikh doesn't mean abandoning my culture. I still go to my relatives' houses, eat, and talk loud. I still go to the beauty supply and stock up on hair products (heck, even more so now). I still like to listen to Gospel music or jazz. My mother and I still sit down and watch shows like Martin, the Bernie Mac Show, Ricky Smiley, Good Times, etc. etc. All of my family and my non-Sikh friends still call me Jasmine since I love both of my names and never plan on changing my first name legally. I still love sitting down with older black folk and discussing their upbringing and our history. Yada. Yada. You get the picture.

The fact of the matter is that being a devote Sikh does not mean taking on parts of Punjabi culture. It means bringing the light of Sikhi into your own culture and uplifting it. I believe as the black community becomes more educated and diverse, I will no longer have to discuss these sort of things (whether in person or online). The bottom line is that I'm black, I'm Sikh, and that I couldn't be happier about it.

*Oreo is a demeaning term people (more often African Americans) use towards AAs to say that they are black on the outside but another race on the inside.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Happy Women's History Month

Waheguru ji ka Khalsa. Waheguru ji ki Fateh. In the United States, March is declared as Women's History Month. And as someone who is a woman and a Sikh, I've decided that I am going to focus this month on learning the history of women in regards to Sikhi. Unfortunately, there are not that many Sikh resources out there that focus on solely Sikh women. I find that when the Sikh narrative is told, women are 95% of the time left out. And when there is a woman included, it is usually focused on ladies like Mai Bhago, Mata Sahib Devan/Kaur, Mata Gujri ji, or Bebe Nanaki. The reality is that there are way more women who are significant to Sikh history then what is presented. And we as a community must make sure there is equal representation. Because as Guru Nanak Dev ji says:

"Among all the women and men, the One's light is shining."

So how exactly can we make sure women are equally represented?

1. Educate Yourself

There are books out there focused on Sikh women (though few). They are not that expensive and are not that long. I highly recommended Principal Sewan Singh's book "Noble and Brave Sikh Women", because it focuses on significant female figures from a historical perspective rather than a mystical perspective. And not just women living during the Gurus times, but after as well.

Noble and Brave Sikh Women

There's also "Sundri". A historical fiction written by Bhai Vir Singh.

Sundri (English)

Lastly, the book "The Guru's Gift" explores the lives of not just Sikh women who wear dastars in North America, but the general view of women in Sikhism as well. The co-authors themselves are anthropologists who are not Sikh, so it's interesting to read what they have observed from their perspective as well.

The Guru's Gift: An Ethnography Exploring Gender Equality with North American Sikh Women

 There are also articles out there on Sikh women. One is "10 Bada*s Sikh Women in History" written by the editor in chief for Kaur Life, Lakhpreet Kaur. I highly encourage everyone to look it up and read it. It's a very quick read.

In regard to videos, I encourage everyone to check out the short film animation "Kaur" produced by Sikhnet. Follow the main character, Saibhang Kaur, who struggles with pursuing her passion for science since she is told it's a "boy thing". In order to encourage her, Saibhang's grandmother recounts to her granddaughter the story of Mai Bhago and how she led an army of 40 men into battle.

Kaur - by Sikhnet

2. Leadership Does Matter

Can someone tell me why the majority of our leadership within the Panth are still male? Can someone tell me why the title of "Sant" seems to be exclusively for Sikh males? Can someone tell me why we went from having a significant number of female preachers (such as Bibi Bhagbhari) under Guru Amar Das ji to having very few? The Sikh community is slowly changing this, but as females, I feel that we can not wait for change itself. It is time that we stop hiding back in the langar hall kitchen and claim our seat at the table. We are Kaurs! Whether you define that as "princesses" or "lionesses", our Gurus have given us the power to have a voice as well. Several of the major world religions have a one up on us in regard to female representation. And seeing that this is the 21st century, Sikhs should be ahead of all of them. And I mean ALL of them. So to all the females who are reading this, be a Granthi. Be a warrior. Be a Sant. Be an educator. And to all the males who are reading this, encourage your sister, your aunts, your mother, your wives, and your female friends, to pursue these routes. And if anyone tries to block them, stop them.

3. Celebrate 

As Sikhs, we love to honor our Gurus, our shaheeds, and others who have done significant things in the past. And even those who are doing significant things now. We hang up pictures of them. We celebrate holidays revolving around them. And we tell their stories again and again. This is one thing I love about being a Sikh. But what does this have to do with women? Oftentimes if you walk into a Gurdwara and they have pictures up of martyrs or just great Sikhs in general, 99% of them are Singhs. If you are on a Gurdwara committee or have any say about it, how about you hang up pictures of females as well? What a difference it would make if a little Kaur could walk into the Gurdwara and see someone up on the wall that looks like her. And even though none of the Gurus were female, let's have a dialogue about their wives. They did significant things as well. Mata Kheevi ji (Guru Angad's wife) is actually mentioned in the Guru Granth Sahib.

"Balwand says that Khivi, the Guru's wife, is a noble woman, who gives soothing, leafy shade to all. She distributes the bounty of the Guru's Langar: the kheer - the rice pudding and ghee, is like sweet ambrosia."

In addition, when we observe certain holidays, remember the women. When we celebrate Mela Maghi, remember Mai Bhago who led the 40 liberated ones. When we celebrate Vaisakhi, remember the mother of all the Khalsa Sikhs all over the world. When we celebrate the birthday of Dhan Dhan Guru Nanak Dev ji, let us remember the one who loved him so much and later became the first Sikh, Bebe Nanaki. As Abigail Adams urged her husband John Adams, "Remember the Ladies!"

Forgive me for my errors and mistakes. Waheguru ji ka Khalsa. Waheguru ji ki Fateh.