Harris-Perry: We are all Sikh now

Melissa Harris-Perry
by Melissa Harris-Perry

All eyes are on Wisconsin’s favorite son, Congressman Paul Ryan who is now the Republican vice presidential pick. But we shouldn’t let the relentless news cycle make us forget the other story from Wisconsin. 

Just one week ago, Oak Creek, Wis., was rocked by violence at a Sikh house of worship. Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old former Army sergeant with known white supremacist affiliation, entered the temple carrying a 9-millimeter semi-automatic handgun. Page killed six people and critically injured three others. After being wounded by the police, the gunman took his own life. 

Many were quick to call this incident a case of “mistaken identity” suggesting that these Sikh Americans were targeted because they were confused with Muslims. Valarie Core, a Sikh filmmaker and advocate who has chronicled violence against her community for more than a decade responded. In the Washington Post, she wrote

“The notion of ‘mistaken identity’ is not just wrong, it’s dangerous…. [it] implies that there is a correct target, and it further implies that hate violence should rightfully be directed at Muslims. This is absolutely unacceptable. … we must end violence against all innocent people - Muslim, Sikh, and anyone else - and build a world without terror.”

At a memorial service for the Sikh victims on Friday attended by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General Eric Holder, the shooting was called an “act of terrorism” and a “hate crime.” The F-B-I is investigating the shooting as “domestic terrorism” but has indicated that no law enforcement agency was aware of the shooter’s intentions. We do know The Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked a spike in extremist, hate groups in this country in the past few years. 



And in times of economic struggle and political polarization too many find meaning in outrage and hate. With guns at the ready this hate can too easily turn into violence. As Valerie wrote: “The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Matthew Shepard, Bul-beer Sing Sodi, and the Sikh Americans in Wisconsin all rise from the same crisis in our social fabric: individuals driven by fear and hatred of people different from them believe senseless acts of violence are warranted and justified.”

We are all Sikh now because the struggle for human dignity is universal. Knowing the other is a responsibility we all share. Building safe communities is a collective effort. Let’s learn from the response of Oak Creek’s Sikh community who adhered to the principle of resilience or “Charrdi Ka-la.” Just after the killings, these men and women went back to their sacred space. They began to rebuild, repaint and repair.

Leaving a sole bullet hole as a reminder of what was lost. A reminder. Hot, new political news or not, we must remember, or we are doomed to repeat.  


Harris-Perry: We are all Sikh now