Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Embracing the Other

My mind has been racing non stop ever since I learned of the tragic Sikh Gurdwara shooting in Wisconsin. This evening I've been thinking about two things in particular. The first is the idea that someone could be so deluded by hatred for an "other", meaning someone different, or outside the mainstream, that they would feel the need to shoot them. The second is the extreme suffering my fellow turbaned Sikhs have been experiencing across our nation.

What struck me about the latter point, after reading the many tales of horrible encounters, was that I do not have similar stories. Like 100% of baptized Sikhs, I always get pulled aside at the airport for extra security, and I certainly have stories about being glared at, followed, or stared at by someone frightened by my appearance, but in general, these tend to dissipate as soon as I flash  a smile, ask how their day is going, or break the ice in some similar fashion. I also notice these negative things usually don't happen in Seattle, or at least my bubble within Seattle, and in general, are not something I would classify as serious or threatening.

As a little background, I only became a fully turbaned and bearded Sikh two and a half years ago, and for almost a year of that time I was out of the country. So I was not with a turban in the virulent wake of 9/11, nonetheless, it still strikes me as curious.

This evening, I had a thought. Today was Seattle Night Out, a Seattle tradition when we block off our streets from traffic, break out the barbecues, and chat with our neighbors. Its a wonderful way for the community to get to know one another.

So while enjoying a lovely evening with my neighbors, it struck me that we Seattleites are extremely, perhaps abnormally, comfortable with the notion of the other. The other, as in -- the one that is different from the main stream. As I looked around, I noticed a few neighbors with colorful tattoos, a lively gay couple with two sweet children, and an ever helpful male neighbor of mine, who happens to have fluorescent purple hair, neon blue nail polish, and black and white knee high horizontally striped socks. And as always, no one, not even the "normal" folks really noticed any of this as this sort of thing is  quite common in Seattle.

I believe Seattle, in a way, acts as a magnet and sanctuary for "others." So then, given all these "others," I suppose its only reasonable that a Sikh turban and long beard doesn't get noticed much either -- after all, its just another other. And perhaps if the shooter had been exposed to more "others," his heart might not have been filled with such hate.
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