It’s a story describing an experience that many Sikh guys have had — having the dastaar (or pagri, or turban) pulled off as someone’s idea of a joke:
Iâ€™m riding the F train like usual in Brooklyn when dozens of kids â€“ perhaps in junior high â€“ get in my subway car on their way home from school. The train is bustling with adolescent energy.
As the train stops at 4th Avenue, I hear a boy yell â€œGive me that!â€ as he and his friends run out the train door. The next thing I realize, my dastar has been yanked completely off my head. My uncovered joora dangles, and I am in complete and utter shock. Everyone on the train is staring at me. Other kids from the school are both laughing and shaking their heads in disbelief. Not knowing how to react, I stand up quickly, look out the doors of the train car and see a group of young boys of color running down the stairs. Startled and confused, I pick it up my dastar from the grimy platform and get back in the train. (link)
The part that I found most thought-provoking was the following:
I get off at Smith and 9th Street with my dirty dastar in my hands, not knowing what to do. My eyes fill with tears immediately. I feel naked and exposed, so small, so humiliated, and so so alone. . . . I get to a corner of the platform and break down in despair, remembering fifth grade vividly, feeling so angry and exhausted from living in this country. The twenty something years of this shit is going through me at once â€“ the slurs, the obnoxious stares, the go back to your countries, the threats, the towel/rag/tomato/condom/tumor heads, all of it. But somehow pulling off my turban hurts more than anything. Maybe itâ€™s the symbolism of my identity wrapped up in this one piece of cloth that, like my brown skin, I wear everyday.(link)
Skin is a good metaphor in one sense, though the sense of shame entailed in this type of experience is actually more like having a private part of your body exposed — in other words, it’s like being forcibly disrobed. Part of what makes it complicated is the fact that the perpetrators generally don’t know the symbolism of the turban, though they definitely know that what they are doing is going to result in humiliation. But maybe the sense of hurt Sonny is talking about is not about symbolism or Sikh theology, but about the more contemporary concept of “identity”: this turban, irrespective of why I wear it, is who I am. It’s what I wear every day; it’s what makes me, me. It’s about having that sense of self dismantled and disrespected for no apparent reason — for someone’s idea of a joke.
I think this story, while definitely unique in some ways to the Sikh experience, is an experience that other people who are visibly marked as different (either for ethno/religious reasons or for any other reason) can also identify with. Also, I wonder if being vulnerable in this way is at least partially analogous to the way the threat of sexual harassment can affect women. (Note the phrase “partially analogous” — as opposed to “exactly similar”)