It’s the year 2015 and while it seems like we have made so much progress in racism and discrimination, this year brought to light how far we still have to go. Darsh Preet Singh broke down barriers when he became the NCAA’s first-ever turbaned Sikh-American basketball player. He’s kind of a big deal — I mean, his Trinity University jersey is hanging in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC! Despite his accomplishments, this hateful meme was made using his photo:
That is where Darsh’s friend Greg Worthington comes into play. He is the kind of friend most of us would love to have, as he went to Facebook to defend Darsh with this post:
We got a chance to ask Greg some questions regarding his post:
Todd: I know you’re referencing your friend Darsh with that post, but is there anything else you were referencing? Why did you create that post?
Greg: I responded the way I did to make an example for everyone to see. I didn’t just want folks to see that this affected Darsh. I wanted them to see that this affects so many others because people who make these memes don’t understand what kind of harm this does to all of us, but especially to people like Darsh. I wanted everyone to see that the xenophobic, racist and other hateful sentiments that are very prevalent in our society right now have no place in our culture.
Everybody says “It’s a joke!” But we often say that there is at least some truth in jokes and with racist jokes that is definitely the case. The truth in this joke is that, in the US, too many people are afraid of anybody with brown or black skin and who looks like some sort of ‘other.’ And when we ‘other’ people (read ‘other’ as a verb here), we denigrate them and make them less human. So we end up hating them and ultimately hurting them, even when we think it’s harmless.
Look at recent news: We’ve seen plenty of cases of hate and discrimination. A Sikh gurdwara was vandalized in Los Angeles with anti-ISIL graffiti. A cab driver was shot in Pittsburgh for being an immigrant who was Muslim. A man in New York City went around harassing customers about their religious beliefs and slapped an employee for being Muslim. And let’s not forget the massacre at the Sikh gurdwara in Wisconsin back in 2012, where a white supremacist shot and killed six people.
What people don’t realize is that telling jokes like these perpetuates these same beliefs about Middle Eastern, South Asian, and other brown peoples that drove these domestic terrorists to be so hateful. Even Latinos have been mistaken for being Arab or Muslim, called a terrorist, and told to go back home. I recall hearing a story where this happened to a Puerto Rican woman who was currently a serving member of the military.
When we laugh, we’re basically saying it’s okay that these stereotypes exist. Then people act like it’s no big deal. But the fact of the matter is it is a big deal because it ultimately contributes to our racism problem. Our hateful racism has been out of control for quite some time. I found a great opportunity to push back and hard, so I took it.
Todd: Why do you think your post went viral?
Greg: I have no doubt in my mind that my post going viral has everything to do with the worldwide Sikh community. Early on, I was getting messages from members of the Sikh community asking to make liking and commenting on the post available to the public so they could do more than just share it. They wanted to tag their friends and family in the comments. As time passed, I got more and more thank you messages from other Sikhs as the time passed (which wasn’t much time, of course), both in my inbox and on my wall. Most of the shares that I’ve seen have been in the Sikh community. And the Sikhs who were active in sharing the post and in writing me thank you messages were from all over the world. I’ve received dozens of these messages and I wouldn’t be surprised if I counted them and it was really in the hundreds. A funny story about how fast and far this spread with the Sikh community involves my father-in-law. He lives and works in Seattle and has a Sikh colleague. He showed him my post a couple of days after I’d posted it. His Sikh colleague told him, “Oh yeah, I saw that already.”
Todd: What do you think about the #BeLikeDarsh posts created by others?
Greg: The #BeLikeDarsh campaign is a brilliant idea and was started by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, who also created the new memes that are being used in the campaign. What they basically did was capitalize on my post to take the redemption process of the racist meme of my friend, Darsh. The people who created this meme took a picture of my friend and disgraced it. My post was able to make an example of this racist meme and essentially redeem what the creators of the racist meme had disgraced. The Smithsonian APA Center took a huge step further and created multiple new memes and turned Darsh’s desecrated image into a new inspiring image that mirrored the ‘Be Like Mike’ campaign of the 90s.
So naturally, I loved it. And of course, they support Darsh like a beast because they’re the ones who are preserving his college jersey from Trinity University to honor and showcase his accomplishment. The #BeLikeDarsh craze has even inspired the young son of journalist Frances Kai-Hwa Wang to take on a new hero. He told his mother that he had now had two favorite basketball players: Jeremy Lin and Darsh Singh.
We also got the chance to ask Darsh Preet Singh some questions regarding this viral story:
Todd: What were your thoughts when you saw the initial meme?
Darsh: It really had no impact on me. In the context of living life as a turbaned Sikh in America. Many people do or say things out of ignorance or fear. It has no bearing on who I am or what I stand for, so it doesn’t really have an impact on me.
Todd: Can you believe Greg’s post went viral? What are you thoughts on his post?
Darsh: I thought it was very kind of Greg to post what he did. He gave a name and a face to the image and challenged the notion of the other through his words. Greg has clarity in his personal values and believes in radical love, so I was not surprised by it at all. He’s that kind of guy, and I’m fortunate to have him as a friend. I had no idea it was going to go viral. The real amazing piece to me was how one person standing up for what he believed to be right empowered others to stand up as well. There’s so much humanity in why this went viral, and that’s what is most inspiring.
Todd: Despite the hate in that initial meme, we have seen a lot of support for you since that came out and the #BeLikeDarsh hashtag going viral. How does that make you feel?
Darsh: Surreal. The SmithsonianAPA team did a wonderful of reframing the narrative into something positive. My sincerest hope is that people will explore their own value systems and stand up for what is right with compassion and love in the future.
As they both talked about, that hateful meme inspired the #BeLikeDarsh campaign and it has brought us some amazing memes. Check out some of them here:
— Smithsonian APA (@SmithsonianAPA) December 8, 2015
— Lakhpreet Kaur (@LakhpreetK) December 9, 2015
— Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf) December 8, 2015
— Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf) December 8, 2015
— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalRick) December 8, 2015
He dreams of someday hosting his own radio talk show, but in the meantime he works in his pajamas and loves anything and everything about reality television (well, except the Kardsahians, but we don't think he's alone in that one). From Big Brother to The Bachelorette, he can fill you in on all the details you never thought you needed or wanted.
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