Setting the Bar for Discrimination: Don’t Let Sexism Become the New Racism

by Vidhisha Babbili – 

Our understanding of American racism has changed immensely in the past 150 years. During the Civil War, perhaps someone who refused to own slaves was the wokest white man. Then slowly, the bar for “non-racism” started rising. Would you dine with a black man? Drink from the same water fountain as a black man? Let a black woman keep her seat on the bus? Let colored people have a say in the government that rules them?

Donald Trump claimed he was the least racist person ever interviewed by a group of reporters. It’s true. Because in Donald’s eyes, a racist is someone who lynches black children. Not someone who ends DACA, a program that protects undocumented kids. Not someone who bans Muslims from entering the States. Not someone who prefers Norwegian immigrants to Haitians.

The bar is low.

But keep in mind both Republicans and Democrats backed racist legislation before the Trump era. Trump is the Regina George of American politics — I know he can be really mean sometimes, but theres good and bad to everybody, right? He’s just more upfront about it.

[Read More: ‘#TakeAKnee is About Racism—And Don’t Let Donald Trump Tell You Otherwise’]

Luckily, we are now recognizing covert racism in action despite authoritarian denial. Whether through economic policy, housing, education, healthcare, immigration, or criminal justice, we are acknowledging that certain lives don’t matter. Much of society is no longer in denial that racism is alive and thriving. Institutional racism is being understood by more Americans, and, as a result, those in power are having to answer for it.

Women could not vote until 1920, so the first 132 years of U.S. policy was decided by white men exclusively.

Not much has changed.

It seems that in order for a woman to be deemed a victim in a situation of male entitlement, she has to be physically attacked. Threatened. Forced. She has to be enslaved.

The bar is low.

Questioning the actions of male crime victims is considered heartless, ignorant victim-blaming. Let’s take police brutality victims, for instance. Well, why did he have a gun? Why didnt he just cooperate? Why did he run? But he had a record. He was selling crack! He was wearing a hoodie!

I have a favorite white guy. He’s that guy who is sincerely invested in what happens to non-white members of society. But he takes his empathy even further to a level of humility. He says, I will never understand the non-white experience; therefore, I will stand by you, I will fight for you, but I won’t speak for you or pretend to get it. My privilege will always prevent me from truly understanding where you come from.

Why does this level of empathy not extend to all women? Why does a woman need to be raped before a man’s actions are considered inappropriate? Why does a woman have to be an idiot or have an agenda for going to a man’s house? Why does a woman have to respond the way you would if you were in her place? Was she asking for it?

Social movements evolve. The #MeToo movement won’t be hindered by a story that is “not as bad” as the others. (Grace, the victim in the Aziz Ansari incident, never claimed #MeToo.) Think back to the fire cartoon used to explain #BlackLivesMatter. Even the smallest fires must be extinguished to prevent the whole neighborhood from burning down.

Even in my progressive Indian family, guys can do whatever they want, and girls must play it safe. Indian parents advise their daughters to dress conservatively, come home earlier, and not drink alcohol, but do they teach their boys to not be creeps? (Apparently not, Mr. and Mrs. Ansari.)

Should I keep the bar low, and be content that my family wouldn’t disown me if I got raped? Is that how we achieve progress? By compartmentalizing and dismissing everything that’s “not as bad”? Will we fail to learn where male entitlement originates and why it is flourishing? Will we pretend that the playing field is even just because a woman’s place is no longer in the kitchen? Will we move past this phase of denial? Is lynching the only real racism? Is your bar low?

Ladies, if you want women to feel empowered enough in these moments to make their anger and disapproval known, do you really think you will get them there by shaming them? Calling Grace’s narrative “revenge porn”? Rethink your strategy.

[Read More: ‘It’s Not About Aziz and Grace: Debunking Myths and Getting Real About Consent’]

Reread the original story and every time you see the word “Aziz”, replace it with “Trump”. Then it might register that Grace did verbally say no repeatedly, and you won’t be so defensive of your precious woke comedian. The same comedian who says in his book, “Modern Romance”:

Your most casual encounter could lead to something bigger, so treat those interactions with that level of respect.”

As an Aziz fan who had faith in his goodness, you refuse to walk away from him even after hearing this story. Yet you expect a smitten fan, who had that same faith, to immediately walk away from his apartment? The imbalance of power is laughable.

As a girl, I have to speak louder, more often, and make sure I get it just right every time I try and make myself heard, and even then, it doesn’t usually work. If I am heard, I’m “emotional” or a “bitch”. We have been catering to men our whole lives, whether it be in conversation, relationships, or sex. A woman’s voice, needs, and desires are rarely validated and paid attention to, and the longer we sweep these incidents under the rug, the longer that dynamic continues. Ladies — stop letting this slide.

I refuse to leave the door open even a crack for racism to seep into our lives. If you think a long history of institutionalized racism is not controlling the way we interact in society today, then you’re wrong. If you think a long history of institutionalized sexism is not controlling the way we interact in society today, then you’re wrong. Raise the bar.

Vidhisha Babbili is a first-generation Indian-American who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas area. You can connect with her on Twitter @vide0head.

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Oak Creek: A Story of Hate, Hope and Healing

Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting. 

[Read Related: Oak Creek Gurdwara Massacre’s 4th Anniversary: Young Sikhs Express Optimism for the Continued Struggle Against Hate and Ignorance]

In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance event centered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.

In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships. 

Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality. SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.

[Read Related: Anti-Sikh Hate is on the Rise: Here’s What we can Do]

While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.

Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular

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Kiran Kaur Gill is an accomplished professional with exemplary executive experience. In her role as Executive Director, she is responsible … Read more ›