This Week In Hate — August 4 — The Complexity of Documenting Hate

Pre­pared for SAALT by Rad­ha Modi

SAALT, as well as oth­er nation­al advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions, are tak­ing the lead in col­lect­ing and doc­u­ment­ing hate inci­dents across com­mu­ni­ties as fed­er­al agen­cies fall short on this front. Orga­ni­za­tions use news clip­pings as a com­mon way to col­lect and doc­u­ment hate inci­dents. Often hate inci­dents do not make it to the news cycle in real time, and orga­ni­za­tions only learn about some inci­dents weeks to months lat­er. In addi­tion, the report­ing of hate inci­dents is a dynam­ic process with shifts in the safe­ty, ease, and struc­tur­al access around report­ing for com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. Fur­ther, the defin­ing and iden­ti­fy­ing of what con­sti­tutes a hate inci­dent is also vari­able across orga­ni­za­tions and media out­lets. Con­sid­er­ing all of these com­plex issues, the num­ber of hate inci­dents against those who iden­ti­fy or are per­ceived as Mus­lim, Sikh, South Asian, Asian, Mid­dle East­ern, or Arab are in flux.

Recent­ly, SAALT dis­cov­ered past inci­dents that were not orig­i­nal­ly doc­u­ment­ed in the organization’s data­base. These missed inci­dents have now been cat­a­loged in an effort to bring our com­mu­ni­ties the most up-to-date and accu­rate num­bers in the dynam­ic land­scape of doc­u­ment­ing hate.

Per­sis­tent Pat­terns of Hate

It is impor­tant to note that while the num­bers have changed from our pre­vi­ous reports, the over­all pat­terns have remained the same. As shown in Fig­ure 1, the total num­ber of doc­u­ment­ed hate inci­dents post-elec­tion, tal­ly­ing at 135, has sur­passed the total num­ber of hate inci­dents of 130 that occurred dur­ing the year pri­or to the elec­tion (see below for clar­i­fi­ca­tion).

Anoth­er pat­tern that has remained con­sis­tent is the preva­lence of ver­bal and writ­ten assaults against com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. Fig­ure 2 illus­trates that the total num­ber of ver­bal and writ­ten assaults is almost dou­ble that of the pre­vi­ous year before the elec­tion (57 post-elec­tion ver­bal hate inci­dents com­pared to 29 pre-elec­tion ver­bal hate inci­dents). The sanc­tion­ing of hate rhetoric from gov­ern­ment offi­cials local­ly and fed­er­al­ly as well as the pass­ing of anti-Mus­lim and anti-immi­grant leg­is­la­tion is com­men­su­rate with the increased nor­mal­iza­tion of ver­bal abuse of com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers on the streets. On July 27, 2017, three Soma­li Mus­lim women were harassed by a white woman at a local Wal­mart near Far­go, North Dako­ta. The white woman screamed to the women that “Mus­lims were going to hell” and “We’re going to kill ya.” Threats such as these are becom­ing more com­mon­place as phys­i­cal assaults and prop­er­ty dam­age inci­dents also involve ver­bal or writ­ten hate filled harass­ment.

In addi­tion, as we remem­ber the five year anniver­sary of the mas­sacre at Oak Creek this week, the vio­lence against the Sikh com­mu­ni­ty con­tin­ues with the increased anti-immi­grant and anti-Mus­lim rhetoric under the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. This past week the body of 68-year-old Sikh man, Sub­ag Singh, was found with signs of trau­ma in an irri­ga­tion canal in Fres­no, Cal­i­for­nia. Sub­ag Singh went miss­ing on July 23, 2017, after leav­ing his house for a morn­ing walk. While local police have yet to assign the mur­der of Sub­ag Singh as a hate crime, the threat of hate vio­lence against local Sikh com­mu­ni­ties remains across the US.

The 130 total from the pre-election year in the current database does not match the 140 total hate incidents covering the some of the same time period in our Power, Pain, and Potential report. Two issues led to this discrepancy. First, the 140 total in the Power, Pain, and Potential report also documented the uptick in hate incidents one week post-election.The 130 pre-election number in our current database does not include the first week following the election. Second, a handful of incidents categorized as hate incidents are now categorized as hate rhetoric in the current database. As SAALT standardizes the distinction between hate rhetoric and hate incident, the database is consequently updated and reflects these changes.


Remember Oak Creek: Organizing through Grief and Pain

By Deepa Iyer

I vis­it­ed Oak Creek, Wis­con­sin, for the first time in August of 2012 to attend the memo­r­i­al ser­vice for the vic­tims of the mas­sacre at the Sikh Tem­ple of Wis­con­sin. At the time, I was the direc­tor of South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT), and I trav­eled to Oak Creek to make a per­son­al com­mit­ment that our orga­ni­za­tion would stand in sup­port of rapid response efforts on the ground and advo­ca­cy around end­ing hate vio­lence at the nation­al lev­el. I joined hun­dreds of peo­ple to remem­ber and hon­or the lives of Suveg Singh Khat­tra, Sat­want Singh Kale­ka, Ran­jit Singh, Sita Singh, Paramjit Kaur, and Prakash Singh, and to send our sup­port to Baba Pun­jab Singh who was severe­ly wound­ed and who still remains in a coma.

Since that day in 2012, I have been back to Oak Creek many times thanks to the open­ness of the com­mu­ni­ty there. They have wel­comed me — a com­plete stranger and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a nation­al orga­ni­za­tion (both jus­ti­fi­able rea­sons for wari­ness) — into their town and their gur­d­wara dur­ing the anniver­saries every August and in between.  Our con­ver­sa­tions in homes, over lan­gar at the gur­d­wara, and on trips to the air­port, have helped me to under­stand how this com­mu­ni­ty of sur­vivors and first respon­ders mus­tered the courage to respond to hate vio­lence. They chan­neled and processed their grief and pain into com­mu­ni­ty build­ing. Five years lat­er, they con­tin­ue to build bridges, to care for sur­vivors left behind, and to express sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er vic­tims of vio­lence around the nation.

As I reflect on Oak Creek on this five-year anniver­sary, so many feel­ings and images come to mind.

I remem­ber the peo­ple we lost. I didn’t know Paramjit Kaur but Kamal, her son, has shared many sto­ries about her. Once, Kamal recount­ed a sto­ry about his mother’s efforts to find a job. “She used to be a house­wife for a few years after we moved here because she had a prob­lem with Eng­lish,” he told me. “It’s fun­ny how she got the job because she had to do a phone inter­view. She was afraid they would call while we were in school and she wouldn’t under­stand what they were say­ing. So it hap­pened to be that the day she got the call, I was home.… She put it on speak­er and they kept ask­ing her ques­tions and I kept trans­lat­ing for her.” With Kamal’s assis­tance, Paramjit passed the inter­view hand­i­ly and start­ed her job as an inspec­tor at the med­ical fac­to­ry. That is part of Paramjit’s sto­ry – an immi­grant moth­er in a work­ing class com­mu­ni­ty who strug­gled with Eng­lish but who was deter­mined to care for her sons.

My reflec­tions on Oak Creek five years lat­er are also ground­ed in the phys­i­cal pres­ence of the Sikh Tem­ple of Wis­con­sin. There is the bul­let hole that has been pre­served in one of the doors lead­ing to the prayer hall. There is the con­ver­sa­tion that I had with a man days after the mas­sacre who told me that he and sev­er­al oth­ers were car­ry­ing their own guns now to pro­tect the gur­d­wara. There is the pres­ence of secu­ri­ty cam­eras and bul­let-proof win­dows in the phys­i­cal struc­ture.

The gur­d­wara stands as a reminder that South Asian places of wor­ship – envi­sioned, fund­ed, and sup­port­ed by our par­ents, uncles and aun­ties – are now vul­ner­a­ble to vio­lence and harm. It stands as a mark­er of the impact of white suprema­cy on South Asians in Amer­i­ca, much like how the 16th Street Bap­tist Church and the Moth­er Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Car­oli­na rep­re­sent the effects of anti-Black racism.  It stands as a trib­ute to the Sikh val­ue of chard­hi kala — resilience and opti­mism in the face of adver­si­ty.

Reflect­ing on Oak Creek also means learn­ing from the com­mu­ni­ty of sur­vivors and first respon­ders. In the months after the mas­sacre, Harpreet Sai­ni tes­ti­fied in Con­gress about his mother’s hopes. He said: “[A]s a hard-work­ing immi­grant, she had to work long hours to feed her fam­i­ly, to get her sons edu­cat­ed, and help us achieve our Amer­i­can dreams. This was more impor­tant to her than any­thing else… But now she is gone. Because of a man who hat­ed her because she wasn’t his col­or? His reli­gion?” His tes­ti­mo­ny and the efforts of orga­ni­za­tions in Oak Creek and beyond led to the FBI’s deci­sion to add new cat­e­gories, includ­ing Sikh and Hin­du, to iden­ti­fy vic­tims of hate crimes.

Pardeep Kale­ka who lost his father began an orga­ni­za­tion called Serve 2 Unite that runs pro­grams about inclu­sion. Man­deep Kaur has worked with a group of vol­un­teers includ­ing Navi Gill, Rahul Dubey and many oth­ers to orga­nize a 6K walk/run com­mem­o­ra­tion event each year to bring the com­mu­ni­ty togeth­er, hon­or the vic­tims, and pro­vide stu­dent schol­ar­ships. Com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers con­tin­ue to take care of the younger chil­dren who lost par­ents in the mas­sacre. The may­or of Oak Creek at the time of the mas­sacre, Steve Scaf­fi­di, has writ­ten a book with tips on how cities can pre­pare for and respond to hate vio­lence. And in the after­math of the mur­der of nine peo­ple at the AME “Moth­er Emanuel” Church in Charleston, South Car­oli­na in 2015, com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers orga­nized a sol­i­dar­i­ty event at the gur­d­wara.

This week­end, let us remem­ber Oak Creek and all that it stands for, five years lat­er. At the same time, let’s recom­mit our­selves to jus­tice because hate vio­lence con­tin­ues to affect South Asians and oth­er com­mu­ni­ties. Here are some ways you can get involved:

*This week­end, vis­it your local gur­d­wara to be in com­mu­ni­ty, and send a dona­tion to sup­port the Chard­hi Kala 6K in Oak Creek
*Hold a dis­cus­sion on your cam­pus or your place of wor­ship about hate vio­lence tar­get­ing peo­ple of col­or, faith-based com­mu­ni­ties, queer and trans com­mu­ni­ties, and immi­grants
*Report and doc­u­ment hate and big­otry
*Work with your own place of wor­ship to build pre­ven­ta­tive and rapid response plans to deal with hate vio­lence
*Write a let­ter to the edi­tor of your local news­pa­per about the impor­tance of build­ing wel­com­ing and inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ties for com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, immi­grants and refugees
*Raise your voice against the cur­rent cli­mate of hate that leads to bans, walls, and raids

Deepa Iyer is the for­mer exec­u­tive direc­tor of SAALT. Her book, We Too Sing Amer­i­ca: South Asian, Arab, Mus­lim and Sikh Immi­grants Shape Our Mul­tira­cial Future, con­tains a chap­ter on the Oak Creek com­mu­ni­ty. Learn more about Deepa’s work at and @dviyer on Twit­ter.

Remember Oak Creek — Sikhs are here to stay

By Jo Kaur

For many of our com­mu­ni­ties, liv­ing in Amer­i­ca is more dan­ger­ous today than it was in 2012. This is a solemn fact that we must con­tend with as we com­mem­o­rate the five-year anniver­sary of the Oak Creek mass shoot­ing. Not only is dis­crim­i­na­tion ris­ing across the coun­try, but the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is no longer a reli­able part­ner in enforc­ing civ­il rights laws, reduc­ing hate vio­lence, and/or tar­get­ing domes­tic ter­ror­ism.

The rise of Don­ald Trump and the fuel­ing of white nation­al­ism across the nation has placed our fam­i­lies in more dan­ger. The seeds of hatred that grew in the heart of the Oak Creek killer, who iden­ti­fied with white suprema­cist and neo-Nazi ide­olo­gies, are con­nect­ed to the divi­sive­ness and rise of hate groups that we see today. It’s still shock­ing to accept that a fel­low Amer­i­can was hate­ful enough to march into a Sikh gur­d­wara — on a peace­ful Sun­day morn­ing — with the sin­gu­lar pur­pose of killing as many moth­ers, fathers, and grand­fa­thers that he could find. Our aun­ties, uncles, our baba jis.

Make no mis­take – Sikhs were tar­get­ed and killed because of our brown skin, our reli­gious head­wear, and most notably the grow­ing and vir­u­lent forms of insti­tu­tion­al racism that have defined Amer­i­ca. The con­stant dehu­man­iza­tion of brown-skinned peo­ple with reli­gious head­wear, the degra­da­tion of actu­al or per­ceived Mus­lims by our politi­cians, the media, and Amer­i­can soci­ety at large has con­tributed to the onslaught of hate vio­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion that occurred in Oak Creek and that we see unfold in the Trump era.

What can indi­vid­u­als do? We should look toward the Oak Creek com­mu­ni­ty. I will nev­er for­get a con­ver­sa­tion that I had with an Oak Creek police offi­cer after the shoot­ing. He told me that when the Oak Creek gur­d­wara first opened its doors, their non-Sikh neigh­bors were a lit­tle wary. Who were these brown peo­ple with tur­bans and col­or­ful out­fits? Where were they from? What was their deal? Stereo­types, with­out con­ver­sa­tion or con­nec­tion, were made. The offi­cer felt ashamed that it took a hor­rif­ic act of domes­tic ter­ror­ism to con­nect with such a beau­ti­ful com­mu­ni­ty. Now he vis­its the gur­d­wara week­ly to have cha (tea) with his Sikh neigh­bors. Indeed, the rela­tion­ship between Sikhs and non-Sikhs in Oak Creek has been an inspir­ing, heart­warm­ing sto­ry of neigh­bor­ly love. But the offi­cer is right – it shouldn’t take mass tragedies for us to con­nect with our neigh­bors who may look dif­fer­ent from us.

If some­one does­n’t know your “deal,” it’s much eas­i­er to dehu­man­ize you and your peo­ple, make harm­ful stereo­types and assump­tions, and cast you as a vil­lain and ene­my of the state. But it’s not the sole respon­si­bil­i­ty of Sikhs or demo­nized com­mu­ni­ties to make you com­fort­able with us and to help you rec­og­nize our human­i­ty. To assuage your con­cerns. The heavy lift­ing of aware­ness work must be shared by our allies and part­ners.

Whether we like it or not, Amer­i­ca is a plu­ral­is­tic, mul­ti­cul­tur­al soci­ety. Peo­ple of all races, reli­gions, nation­al­i­ties and back­grounds live here. That’s a beau­ti­ful thing. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, our politi­cians gov­ern as if only the white non-His­pan­ic major­i­ty mat­ters. It is indeed rare to find rep­re­sen­ta­tion at fed­er­al, state, or local lev­els invest­ed in gov­ern­ing all peo­ple and con­sid­er­ing how state­ments and poli­cies impact our var­ied inter­ests. With­out lead­ers mak­ing active and reg­u­lar efforts to infuse anti-racism and anti-Islam­o­pho­bia edu­ca­tion and poli­cies into our nation­al con­ver­sa­tion and pol­i­tics, big­otry will con­tin­ue to spi­ral out of con­trol.

While the Trump admin­is­tra­tion con­tin­ues to per­pet­u­ate its dai­ly agen­da of mak­ing Amer­i­ca unsafe and unwel­come for reli­gious minori­ties, peo­ple of col­or, peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties, and LGBT folks, the seeds of hatred in Amer­i­ca con­tin­ue to grow and more peo­ple will become embold­ened to com­mit hate vio­lence. As for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore recent­ly shared with media out­lets, the work to reduce cli­mate change will go on with or with­out Pres­i­dent Trump, and regard­less of our with­draw­al from the Paris Agree­ment. And so too must the work to end hate vio­lence and big­otry in our soci­ety.

It’s up to us now. Togeth­er, we have accom­plished quite a bit since Jan­u­ary and we must con­tin­ue to fire up the ener­gy and wis­dom that we need for the long-term fight. As we com­mem­o­rate Oak Creek, let us be hum­ble; let us reflect and think about the voic­es we are leav­ing out of the con­ver­sa­tion. Let us reflect and think about the voic­es we need at the table and/or build a larg­er table. Let us con­tin­ue to see the best in oth­ers and to show up for our fel­low com­mu­ni­ties, whether to com­bat hate vio­lence or police bru­tal­i­ty. It’s not easy work, but the pur­suit of love and jus­tice nev­er has been and nev­er will be.

We owe our best ener­gy, love and com­mit­ment to the beau­ti­ful souls that we lost that day on August 5, 2012: Paramjit Kaur Sai­ni, Suveg Singh Khat­tra, Ran­jit Singh, Kat­want Singh Kale­ka, Prakash Singh, and Sita Singh. We owe our fiercest ener­gy and our pas­sion to Baba Pun­jab Singh, who remains par­a­lyzed fol­low­ing the shoot­ing and can com­mu­ni­cate only by blink­ing his eyes.  The Oak Creek Sikh com­mu­ni­ty is resilient and pow­er­ful and a bea­con of light for all of us. The glob­al Sikh com­mu­ni­ty – the descen­dants of Guru Nanak Ji, of Guru Gob­ind Singh Ji, con­tin­ue to wear our arti­cles of faith with humil­i­ty and to live out our pur­pose – to see the divin­i­ty of all, to see our ene­my as our sister/brother, to fight oppres­sion and demand uni­ver­sal equal­i­ty for all peo­ple. As Sapreet Kaur, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of the Sikh Coali­tion said of the Sikh com­mu­ni­ty, “Amer­i­ca is our home, and we are here to stay.”

Sikhs are here to stay, and ready to play an active role in the sto­ry, direc­tion and des­tiny of Amer­i­ca.

Gurjot “Jo” Kaur is a civ­il rights attor­ney based in New York City. Jo worked as a Senior Staff Attor­ney at the Sikh Coali­tion, the largest Sikh civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tion in the U.S. and pro­vid­ed legal and advo­ca­cy sup­port to Oak Creek sur­vivors and their fam­i­lies. Fol­low­ing the shoot­ing, Jo also rep­re­sent­ed Harpreet Singh Sai­ni, the first Sikh Amer­i­can to tes­ti­fy before the U.S. Sen­ate in a hear­ing on hate crimes and domes­tic extrem­ism.

Remember Oak Creek — Side By Side

By India Home

On the 5th anniver­sary of the Oak Creek shoot­ing we remem­ber the words of Pradeep Singh Kale­ka, the eldest son of the late Sat­want Singh Kale­ka who was the pres­i­dent of the Sikh tem­ple in Oak Creek and who lost his life dur­ing the tragedy in 2012. Pradeep stat­ed in 2016, “Build­ing safe and inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ties takes sac­ri­fice, ded­i­ca­tion, hard work, and delib­er­ate prac­tice.”

These words res­onate even more today as our diverse com­mu­ni­ties con­tin­ue to come under attack, not just from white suprema­cists and nation­al­ists, but from this admin­is­tra­tion.  As an orga­ni­za­tion that serves South Asian elders, includ­ing Sikhs, India Home pledges our sup­port and sol­i­dar­i­ty to our com­mu­ni­ties’ efforts. For Vaisakhi this year, India Home helped bring the Sikh mes­sage of inclu­siv­i­ty and dig­ni­ty for all to a wider audi­ence through a pro­gram we ini­ti­at­ed at the renowned Rubin Muse­um in Man­hat­tan. Sikh elders told the sto­ry of the Khal­sa and explained Sikh beliefs to a large, diverse audi­ence.

We remain com­mit­ted to fight­ing side by side with our com­mu­ni­ties for jus­tice and dig­ni­ty for all.

In sol­i­dar­i­ty,
India Home board and staff

The mis­sion of India Home is to improve the qual­i­ty of life of vul­ner­a­ble South Asian old­er adults through social ser­vices.

Remember Oak Creek — Our Stories Are Tied Together

By Sabi­ha Bas­rai

I got the news of the mas­sacre at the Sikh Tem­ple in Oak Creek just before I was about to lead a work­shop for Bay Area Sol­i­dar­i­ty Sum­mer (BASS) — a social jus­tice polit­i­cal train­ing camp for South Asian youth. My work­shop was to be about mes­sag­ing strat­e­gy and visu­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion — how to tell our sto­ries and reclaim our nar­ra­tives. The oth­er train­ers and BASS coor­di­na­tors were jug­gling logis­tics and bring­ing the youth togeth­er to get start­ed. But every­one qui­et­ed down as the news rip­pled through the group. We stopped in our tracks and found our­selves sit­ting on the floor in a cir­cle. We thought about the fam­i­lies at that tem­ple. We thought about our own rela­tion­ships with fam­i­ly and faith and what our reli­gious cen­ters have meant to us. I did my best to help hold the space as our BASS youth worked through these ques­tions and let the grav­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion sink in.

As I lis­tened to these bril­liant youth, I remem­bered what it was like for me when I was their age and 9/11 had just hap­pened. I remem­ber the racism and hate speech I endured. I remem­ber the sad­ness and frus­tra­tion over the loss of life and war mon­ger­ing rhetoric that dehu­man­ized Mus­lim Amer­i­cans. I remem­ber the way Sikhs were tar­get­ed because they are per­ceived as Mus­lims.  I wished I could pro­tect these youths from those feel­ings of fear, sad­ness and con­fu­sion. But I also rec­og­nized our com­mu­ni­ty resilience as I saw them find­ing their polit­i­cal voice and artic­u­lat­ing their com­mit­ment to social jus­tice for all.

On the anniver­sary of the Oak Creek mas­sacre, I mourn the vic­tims and I express sol­i­dar­i­ty for all those impact­ed by racial pro­fil­ing and the vio­lence of white suprema­cy. I promise to con­tin­ue my work in sup­port of racial jus­tice and remem­ber that our strug­gles inter­sect and our sto­ries are tied togeth­er.

Sabiha Basrai is a mem­ber of Design Action Col­lec­tive — a work­er-owned coop­er­a­tive ded­i­cat­ed to serv­ing social jus­tice move­ments with art, graph­ic design, and web devel­op­ment. She is also Co-Coor­di­na­tor of the Alliance of South Asians Tak­ing Action where she works with racial jus­tice orga­niz­ers to fight against Islam­o­pho­bia.

Remember Oak Creek — Time is not a neutral force

By Jah­navi Jagan­nath

This sum­mer, we stood at a vig­il for Nabra Has­sa­nen, a 17-year old Mus­lim Amer­i­can girl bru­tal­ly mur­dered near her local mosque. Two years ago, we mourned in pews of a church, shak­en by the mur­der of eight Methodist African Amer­i­cans in their AME church. Five years ago, we prayed and loved and came togeth­er in the after­math of the Oak Creek mas­sacre, when a neo-Nazi white suprema­cist mur­dered six Sikh Amer­i­cans in their gur­d­wara in Oak Creek, Wis­con­sin. Today, we must stand togeth­er again.

At Nabra’s vig­il, a woman stepped up to the podi­um and read a poem describ­ing a time in which we stood up. She spoke about intol­er­ance, hatred based on race and reli­gion. She called us to look, to open our eyes—and to act upon what we saw. She fin­ished the poem, closed the note­book, and said, “I wrote this poem four years ago. I didn’t want it to still be true today, but here I am. And here it is.”

When the Oak Creek tragedy hap­pened, I read about it, briefly dis­cussed it, and let it fade back into the news. It got swal­lowed in the 24-hour news cycle for most of my peers and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers; our Hin­du com­mu­ni­ty didn’t care beyond a mut­tered con­do­lence because “we don’t wear tur­bans.” Our white sub­ur­ban news sources men­tioned the shoot­ing and glossed over the fact that it was moti­vat­ed by hate. I found myself out of touch with a South Asian iden­ti­ty; rather, I was Indi­an, I was Hin­du, I dis­tanced myself rather than stand­ing with. At the time of the shoot­ing, women in the Sikh Tem­ple of Wis­con­sin were cook­ing Lan­gar, the com­mu­nal meal eat­en after prayer. That same day, we fin­ished our bha­jans and shared a meal, with­out men­tion of the mur­ders hap­pen­ing halfway across the coun­try.

The dis­tanc­ing of iden­ti­ty was baked into me as I grew up. “Put on a bin­di, you look Mus­lim with­out one.” “It’s fine that we get pulled aside at air­ports. They’re just being care­ful.” “You should mar­ry who­ev­er you want, except a Mus­lim.” The well-mean­ing peo­ple who built this into me as I was a child were the same peo­ple who were infu­ri­at­ed when Srini­vas Kuchib­hot­la and Alok Madasani were shot—but they hold the same bias­es against Mus­lims that moti­vat­ed the mur­der in the first place. I didn’t know how to explain—it’s not that “we” look like “them.” It’s that there IS no “us” and “them. There can’t be.”

I find no way to accept the apa­thy we showed in the time of the Oak Creek tragedy, but now have found a stronger base of a South Asian iden­ti­ty that stands in sol­i­dar­i­ty and not sep­a­ra­tion. Today, we remem­ber Paramjit Kaur, Sat­want Singh Kale­ka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ran­jit Singh, and Suveg Singh, broth­ers and fathers, a moth­er and wife, peo­ple who loved music and prayer and the out­doors. We remem­ber Pun­jab Singh, a vis­it­ing Sikh priest and teacher who has been par­a­lyzed since the shoot­ing. The Sikh com­mu­ni­ty in Oak Creek has always been one of open doors and sup­port, but has reached its roots broad­er and deep­er into the larg­er com­mu­ni­ty since the shoot­ing. Over time, peo­ple who have been most deeply and per­son­al­ly impact­ed have gone on to pur­sue lives of help­ing oth­ers and liv­ing ful­ly, embody­ing the spir­it of the Sikh prin­ci­ple “Char­di Kala”—relent­less opti­mism in the face of adver­si­ty.

I have drawn inspi­ra­tion from this, try­ing to weave it into my life. I remind myself that opti­mism is essen­tial for move­ment. Time is not a neutral force. I find myself con­stant­ly at a trem­bling bal­ance of inspi­ra­tion and des­per­a­tion, hope and despair, think­ing about the poten­tial I have and the poten­tial we as a com­mu­ni­ty have, to make change. We move through time, and as long as hate is born and reborn into our soci­eties, our poems about pain and intol­er­ance and loss will stay rel­e­vant. Time is not a neu­tral force. Thus, we will keep track­ing acts of hate, lob­by­ing to con­gres­sion­al offices, hold­ing each oth­er up as com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers as we try to make changes in all the ways we do. Every minute we spend in work­ing for a bet­ter world, with less igno­rance and less fear and more acceptance—those min­utes are not in vain.

At times, this is a para­dox. I think about the fact that these friend­ships, coali­tions, part­ner­ships exist. I think of col­lab­o­ra­tive art and of com­mu­ni­ty account­abil­i­ty and the unbear­able gid­di­ness that comes as one freely exists in this world. Though these can be achieved, though we have enough food to share and water to dis­trib­ute and kind­ness to give uni­ver­sal­ly, we choose not to. I feel an ache that we have cho­sen fear and hatred as our tools, build­ing soci­etal struc­ture that intrin­si­cal­ly denies equal­i­ty and joy. The poem of the brave woman who spoke at Nabra’s vig­il will stay rel­e­vant until we stop choos­ing hate. Orga­niz­ers and com­mu­ni­ty move­ments didn’t just hap­pen: they take work. It is our respon­si­bil­i­ty to do this work, to cre­ate a world in which her poem will be about the past, and not about the present.

This is a large call to action. The tremen­dous opti­mism and despair and the col­li­sion this caus­es in my head at times becomes too much—at those times, I find com­fort in this:

“We have the resources at our dis­pos­al to cre­ate a non­vi­o­lent world, a world in which all peo­ple are ade­quate­ly fed and clothed and housed and edu­cat­ed and val­ued. These are not insol­u­ble prob­lems, and this is not an impos­si­ble dream. It’s a dream worth dream­ing, although the improb­a­bil­i­ty of this attain­ment will like­ly break your heart time and time again. Just as such a dream is worth dream­ing, such a life is worth liv­ing. A life lived in pur­suit of non­vi­o­lence, of jus­tice, and of equal­i­ty. It will be a life of aching, suf­fer­ing, dis­ap­point­ment, and sad­ness. It will be a ful­fill­ing life, too, though—a life of com­pas­sion, and truth and beau­ty and mag­nif­i­cence and won­der­ment and love. And the very act of liv­ing such a life will give you the strength to with­stand its mul­ti­tude of heart­breaks.”1

-K. Estabrook — The Schol­ar, the Teacher, the Saint: The Life, Work, and Non­vi­o­lent Phi­los­o­phy of James M. Law­son, Jr

On this five year anniver­sary, we stand with the Sikh Tem­ple of Wis­con­sin. We say the names of Paramjit Kaur, Sat­want Singh Kale­ka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ran­jit Singh, and Suveg Singh, remem­ber­ing them as whole peo­ple and not mere­ly num­bers. We, as a South Asian com­mu­ni­ty, must stand with rather than sep­a­rat­ing. Our lib­er­a­tion is bound togeth­er, and it’s our time to remem­ber that time is not a neu­tral force: we have the poten­tial to cre­ate the world we want.

Jahnavi Jagannath is a ris­ing senior at Rice Uni­ver­si­ty, where she stud­ies Pol­i­cy Stud­ies, Soci­ol­o­gy, and Ecol­o­gy and Evo­lu­tion­ary Biol­o­gy. Study­ing this broad (and seem­ing­ly odd) com­bi­na­tion of dis­ci­plines, she is inter­est­ed in the inter­sec­tions of race, gen­der, and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice, and hopes to pur­sue law or pol­i­cy in the future. She cur­rent­ly serves as a pol­i­cy intern at SAALT. She tries to main­tain relent­less opti­mism in her life and work, and looks for­ward to the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be a part of her com­mu­ni­ties in Hous­ton and Mem­phis to fur­ther progress.


Remember Oak Creek — Tragedy and Resilience

By Anir­van Chat­ter­jee

Where were you five years ago, on August 5, 2012?

From sto­ry­telling on the streets of Berke­ley to the mass mur­der at the Oak Creek Gur­d­wara, it’s the fifth anniver­sary of a day I won’t eas­i­ly for­get.

I start­ed the day feel­ing anx­ious. For years, my part­ner Bar­nali Ghosh and I had been col­lect­ing sto­ries of Desi activists in our home­town of Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia. There were so many! Some­one could even do a walk­ing tour, we joked. And then we tried to make it hap­pen.

We start­ed pulling togeth­er sto­ries of Berkeley’s South Asian activism. We found a strik­ing pho­to of pro­test­ers in saris in Kar­ma of Brown Folk.

Bar­nali dove into UC Berkeley’s archives, dis­cov­er­ing sto­ries of Ghadar Par­ty free­dom fight­ers. I inter­viewed our friend “Tin­ku” Ali Ish­ti­aq, a Bangladeshi Amer­i­can activist I’d met dur­ing an anti-war protest. Bar­nali drew a map of Berke­ley, and we marked points asso­ci­at­ed with each sto­ry, hop­ing to find a walk­a­ble path con­nect­ing them. Then we turned our research into a script, incor­po­rat­ing sto­ry­telling, visu­als, and street the­ater.

On August 5, 2012, we tried run­ning our very first Berke­ley South Asian Rad­i­cal His­to­ry Walk­ing Tour for the par­tic­i­pants of Bay Area Sol­i­dar­i­ty Sum­mer—emerg­ing Desi activists ages 15–21. We gath­ered on Tele­graph Avenue and began to walk, shar­ing sto­ries of queer activism, stu­dent move­ments, and con­nec­tions to non-Desi strug­gles. Along the way, we bust­ed out some street the­ater to bring the sto­ries alive. The young activists were lov­ing it, and my ner­vous­ness slow­ly fad­ed.

On the UC Berke­ley cam­pus, we told the sto­ry of Kar­tar Singh Sarab­ha, a young Sikh man who moved to Berke­ley in 1912 hop­ing to study at the uni­ver­si­ty, but end­ed up becom­ing a free­dom fight­er orga­niz­ing Indi­an immi­grants against British colo­nial rule. Bar­nali nar­rat­ed, and I played the part of the young rev­o­lu­tion­ary who had walked the streets that we were walk­ing today. By the time the sto­ry end­ed, we were both inspired and emo­tion­al­ly exhaust­ed.

It was near the end of the tour when I saw one of the par­tic­i­pants star­ing at her phone as we were about to cross the street. She showed me what she was look­ing at—a text from her moth­er say­ing some­thing ter­ri­ble was hap­pen­ing at a gurud­wara in Wis­con­sin, and that she should stay safe. I took in the news and tried to project an air of calm. I assured her that it was fine, that we were all there togeth­er, and asked her to avoid shar­ing the bad news with oth­ers until after the tour had end­ed.

The last sto­ry on the tour, at Berke­ley High School, was par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult. First, we set the scene by ask­ing par­tic­i­pants to read excerpts from Amer­i­can Back­lash, a report by SAALT doc­u­ment­ing the wave of vio­lent xeno­pho­bia that rocked our com­mu­ni­ties after 9/11. Then we told the sto­ry of post‑9/11 back­lash attacks at Berke­ley High, and how a group of pri­mar­i­ly Sikh and Mus­lim stu­dents built a mul­tira­cial coali­tion to take on hate and rebuild safe­ty for impact­ed com­mu­ni­ties.

Past and present were col­lid­ing. I kept think­ing of Sikh fam­i­lies under attack in a place of sanc­tu­ary, even as we were shar­ing sto­ries of a cen­tu­ry of Sikh Amer­i­can resis­tance to racism and colo­nial­ism.

The tour end­ed, and we returned back to camp. The Bay Area Sol­i­dar­i­ty Sum­mer orga­niz­ers shared the bad news with every­one, and made space for us to talk and mourn togeth­er.

We have run 120 more Berke­ley South Asian Rad­i­cal His­to­ry Walk­ing Tours since that ter­ri­ble day in 2012. Over the past five years of his­tor­i­cal sto­ry­telling, we’ve spent a lot of time think­ing about how easy it is to frame the sto­ry of South Asian Amer­i­ca to tell dra­mat­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tives.

Some of us tell sto­ries of South Asian suc­cess, of immi­grant doc­tors and engi­neers, sub­ur­ban homes and mod­el minor­i­ty dreams, spelling bee cham­pi­ons and brown faces in the White House. We worked hard, and the Unit­ed States has come to love us.

Some of us tell sto­ries of hatred, vio­lence, and oth­er­ing, start­ing with the enslave­ment of Mary Fish­er around the 1690s, the Belling­ham Riots, the Tide of Tur­bans, Dot­busters hate crimes, waves of back­lash after 9/11, and anti-Mus­lim attacks in the age of Trump. The Unit­ed States hates us, and all peo­ple of col­or.

Both of these nar­ra­tives are true, but for us, they’re just not help­ful. We’re very open about our bias. The sto­ries we want to empha­size are about resilience, con­nec­tion, sol­i­dar­i­ty, and agency: Pun­jabi-Mex­i­can and Black-Ben­gali fam­i­lies, immi­grant doc­tors offer­ing care in rur­al com­mu­ni­ties, Indi­an and Irish free­dom fight­ers dream­ing togeth­er of lib­er­a­tion, youth orga­niz­ing against waves of hate, and sub­ur­ban Desi fem­i­nists stand­ing up to vio­lence with­in their com­mu­ni­ties.

Five years after the Oak Creek shoot­ings, we con­tin­ue to mourn for Paramjit Kaur, Sat­want Singh Kale­ka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ran­jit Singh, and Suveg Singh. But the sto­ry doesn’t end with vic­tim­iza­tion by a White nation­al­ist.

In the wake of the vio­lence, the fam­i­lies of Oak Creek count­ed their loss­es. They mourned. They rebuilt togeth­er. And they con­tin­ued to stand against hate along­side their neighbors—a sto­ry told in Deepa Iyer’s We Too Sing Amer­i­ca. Five years after the Oak Creek shoot­ing, it’s these qui­et acts of resilience and activism in the face of hate that stay with us. And as we decide how to tell the his­to­ries of our com­mu­ni­ty, we hope these are the ones we will remem­ber, retell, and build on.

Anirvan Chatterjee works with the Alliance of South Asians Tak­ing Action and Bay Area Sol­i­dar­i­ty Sum­mer. He and Bar­nali Ghosh curate the Berke­ley South Asian Rad­i­cal His­to­ry Walk­ing Tour.

This Week in Hate — July 27 — The Normalization of Hate Incidents

Pre­pared for SAALT by Rad­ha Modi

The elec­tion and pres­i­den­cy of Don­ald Trump has nor­mal­ized the occur­rence of hate inci­dents across com­mu­ni­ties. Since his elec­tion, SAALT has doc­u­ment­ed 117 inci­dents of hate vio­lence tar­get­ing those who iden­ti­fy or are per­ceived as Mus­lim, South Asian, Arab, Mid­dle East­ern, and Asian. The num­ber of inci­dents has sur­passed the total from the pre­vi­ous year and the aver­age per week is about four inci­dents (not tak­ing into account spikes in hate inci­dents post attacks that are labeled as “ter­ror­ist”). Undoubt­ed­ly, at this rate, the total num­ber of inci­dents will dou­ble by the end of the year.

Con­sis­tent­ly, ver­bal and writ­ten hate speech and threats are the most com­mon type of vio­lence Mus­lims and those per­ceived to be Mus­lim face. The total num­ber of 47 ver­bal and writ­ten threats since the elec­tion is dou­ble that of the pre­vi­ous year. This is a con­cern­ing trend as it may be an indi­ca­tor of the grow­ing sanc­tion­ing of hate speech in the U.S. Just over the last month, an Augus­ta-area Mosque near Atlanta, GA received eight sep­a­rate voice mes­sages threat­en­ing “to shoot, bomb and oth­er­wise attack mosques and attack Mus­lims in Amer­i­ca.” The per­pe­tra­tor has yet to be iden­ti­fied. Atlanta Coun­cil for Amer­i­can-Islam­ic Rela­tions (CAIR) in response has sent out warn­ings to mosques and CAIR offices across the U.S. to be on alert.

The pie-chart on the right demon­strates that the rise in the num­ber of hate inci­dents are region­al­ly rel­e­vant regard­ing occur­rence and report­ing. More than two-thirds of doc­u­ment­ed hate vio­lence occurred in the East­ern and West­ern regions of the U.S. where many immi­grant, Mus­lim, and South Asian com­mu­ni­ties are con­cen­trat­ed. The high­er pro­por­tion of doc­u­ment­ed hate crimes in these regions is due to a vari­ety of issues relat­ed to ease of report­ing, vis­i­bil­i­ty of the crime, and vis­i­bil­i­ty of the vic­tim. As a result, the spot­light on these regions should be viewed crit­i­cal­ly.

The nor­mal­iza­tion of hate inci­dents is a crit­i­cal issue fac­ing mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. A few not­ed signs of nor­mal­iza­tion in the media are: 1. the slow pick up of hate vio­lence reports by news media, 2. the infre­quent report­ing of hate inci­dents by major news out­lets, and 3. the reduced over­all air time on hate inci­dents tar­get­ing com­mu­ni­ties of col­or. Local news media are more like­ly than major nation­al news media to report hate inci­dents. Fur­ther, there is a three to four-week lag between the occur­rence of an inci­dent and the report­ing by local news. This lag may be inten­tion­al on the part of tar­get­ed com­mu­ni­ties to pro­tect vic­tims and report inci­dents to the news once all the details are dis­cerned. Yet, the lag of almost a month in com­bi­na­tion with over­all reduced air time on hate vio­lence, par­tic­u­lar­ly against com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, may also be indi­ca­tions of the nor­mal­iza­tion of this type of vio­lence and thus sup­pos­ed­ly not as news­wor­thy.

This Week In Hate — July 12

Pre­pared for SAALT by Rad­ha Modi

Since the elec­tion of Don­ald Trump on Novem­ber 8, 2016, SAALT has doc­u­ment­ed 110 hate inci­dents tar­get­ing those who are per­ceived or iden­ti­fy as Mus­lim, South Asian, Sikh, Mid­dle East­ern, Arab, or Asian.

This total will soon sur­pass the hate inci­dents doc­u­ment­ed in SAALT’s lat­est report, “Pow­er, Pain, Poten­tial,” which doc­u­ment­ed 110 hate inci­dents tar­get­ing our com­mu­ni­ties dur­ing the divi­sive Pres­i­dent elec­tions from Novem­ber 1, 2015 to Novem­ber 7, 2016.

Three of the most com­mon tar­gets of hate inci­dents have been mosques/Muslim orga­ni­za­tions, women, and youth.  One-third of the doc­u­ment­ed hate inci­dents have been towards women, with a major­i­ty of assaults towards women wear­ing hijabs. The per­pe­tra­tors, often white men, threat­ened the women and tried to pull off their hijabs.  For instance, in Chica­go, a group of young women wear­ing hijabs was ver­bal­ly harassed by a white man shout­ing, “If you don’t like it in this coun­try, leave.”

Anoth­er 25% of the hate inci­dents tar­get­ed mosques and Mus­lim orga­ni­za­tions. Mosques and Mus­lim orga­ni­za­tions have received threat­en­ing cor­re­spon­dence or incurred prop­er­ty dam­age includ­ing van­dal­ism and arson.  One recent instance occurred at the Murfrees­boro Mosque in Ten­nessee, where unknown van­dals spray paint­ed obscen­i­ties on the exte­ri­or of the mosque and draped bacon on the front door han­dle.

The third major tar­get of hate inci­dents has been youth, where 23% of hate inci­dents involved stu­dents and young peo­ple. Many of these inci­dents occurred on the streets, where com­plete strangers were the assailants, which con­tin­ues to be a con­cern as young peo­ple are also fac­ing bul­ly­ing from peers as well. One such inci­dent occurred dur­ing the ear­ly morn­ing hours of June 18th.  Nabra Has­sa­nen, a 17 year old Mus­lim girl wear­ing a hijab, was out with her friends for a late night snack dur­ing Ramadan just a short walk from their mosque in Mary­land. A white Lati­no man approached and harassed the group of friends. All of the youth were able to escape harm except for Nabra who was beat­en and kid­napped. Her body was lat­er found with signs of assault.

With the dehu­man­iza­tion of those who are per­ceived or iden­ti­fy as Mus­lim, South Asian, Mid­dle East­ern, Arab, or Asian occur­ring at the inter­sec­tions of gen­der, reli­gion, race, and age, it is no sur­prise that women are the most com­mon tar­get of hate inci­dents.

From July 5–10, Lin­da Sar­sour, a Pales­tin­ian-Amer­i­can activist who wears a hijab, has endured an onslaught of threats against her for the use of the word “jihad” in a speech on fight­ing against hate and injus­tice and defend­ing vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties.  Right wing media out­lets and mem­bers of the admin­is­tra­tion have been lead­ing the way on incit­ing vio­lence towards her by mis­rep­re­sent­ing her speech as a call for vio­lence. Sarsour’s use of the term, which trans­lates to “strug­gle”, has led to threats to her life, includ­ing vile threats of rape from Islam­o­phobes.

With hate crimes on the rise, Amer­i­cans across the coun­try fear they will be tar­get­ed next. Amer­i­cans, regard­less of race, reli­gion, iden­ti­ty, or nation­al ori­gin, deserve to live in peace and pray in safe­ty.

Hate of any kind makes our coun­try less safe. Those who threat­en our com­mu­ni­ties or pro­mote poli­cies to demo­nize and rip our fam­i­lies apart are try­ing to drag our coun­try back­wards.  SAALT will con­tin­ue to push for laws and poli­cies that pro­tect our shared future, that embrace the ideals of equal­i­ty and free­dom, and make our coun­try stronger togeth­er.

SAALT welcomes the We Build Community 2017–2018 cohort

From June 14–16, South Asian Amer­i­cans Lead­ing Togeth­er (SAALT) coor­di­nat­ed the fourth year of We Build Com­mu­ni­ty (WBC), our sig­na­ture capac­i­ty and skills-build­ing pro­gram that brings togeth­er four diverse com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions from across the coun­try to par­tic­i­pate in a year-long series of work­shops, train­ings, and ongo­ing tech­ni­cal assis­tance to sup­port, deep­en, and strength­en their work. As part of the WBC pro­gram, each orga­ni­za­tion is pro­vid­ed a sub-grant to sup­port and build their civic engage­ment capac­i­ty that con­nects South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties with broad­er move­ments for racial, immi­grant, and gen­der jus­tice.

This year’s WBC cohort includes Asha Kiran, India Home, Jakara Move­ment, and Sap­na NYC, four social change orga­ni­za­tions and mem­bers of the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions who have devel­oped inno­v­a­tive and thought­ful projects to mobi­lize our com­mu­ni­ties via effec­tive civic engage­ment. Learn more about their respec­tive WBC projects here.

In June, WBC par­tic­i­pants engaged in three days of work­shops led by SAALT staff and train­ers on immi­grant jus­tice, cam­paign build­ing, com­mu­ni­ty assess­ments, the pow­er of data, fundrais­ing, and com­mu­ni­ca­tions. SAALT thanks the train­ers who pro­vid­ed vital insights at the WBC con­ven­ing, includ­ing Lind­say Schu­bin­er (Cen­ter for New Com­mu­ni­ty); Ter­ri John­son (Cen­ter for New Com­mu­ni­ty); Rad­ha Modi; and Kaa­jal Shah (K Shah Con­sult­ing).

“It’s been real­ly excit­ing to be part of the We Build Com­mu­ni­ty cohort and meet oth­er orga­ni­za­tions work­ing through­out the coun­try,” stat­ed Tehmi­na Bro­hi, Direc­tor of Advo­ca­cy and Eco­nom­ic Empow­er­ment, Sap­na NYC. “One part of Sap­na NYC’s mis­sion is build­ing a col­lec­tive voice for change and We Build Com­mu­ni­ty is one of the begin­nings of build­ing that col­lec­tive voice for change.”

Tehmi­na Bro­hi dis­cuss­es Sap­na NYC’s mis­sion and how We Build Com­mu­ni­ty helps cre­ate a col­lec­tive voice for change.

Lak­sh­man Kalas­a­pu­di, Deputy Direc­tor of India Home, an orga­ni­za­tion that serves New York City’s Indi­an and larg­er South Asian senior cit­i­zen immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty, not­ed, “Through what we learned at the We Build Com­mu­ni­ty con­ven­ing and through our grant project, we will def­i­nite­ly be able to fur­ther our mis­sion by expand­ing our own ser­vices and expand­ing our reach to South Asian old­er adults across our com­mu­ni­ties.”

SAALT would like to thank our sup­port­ers and donors who make the We Build Com­mu­ni­ty pro­gram pos­si­ble, and to our WBC cohort who con­tin­ue to inspire and hold the line for our com­mu­ni­ties nation­wide every day. Togeth­er, we are work­ing towards the goal of a more just and inclu­sive soci­ety in the Unit­ed States.

Please con­sid­er mak­ing a gen­er­ous dona­tion to SAALT today. Your help will ensure We Build Com­mu­ni­ty remains a key part of the long term goal of jus­tice for all Amer­i­cans.