The Kansas shooting showed our true colors.
When the Muslim Ban first rolled out and protesters filed into airport parking lots, shutting down terminals and chanting against the detention of travellers, I sat down with my grandmother to talk about what was happening.
I told her over FaceTime that I was scared and nervous about the Ban, not just for my friends but for us. “Don’t worry,” she laughed, “you’re Hindu. They’ll know you’re Hindu and they won’t bother you.”
Two Hindu Indian men were shot this week in Kansas by an “America first” white supremacist. One died. The response has been typical from the South Asian community:
- Some denounced it for what it was — an anti-immigrant, Islamophobic hate crime
- Some woke up to the realization that angry white people don’t know the difference between us, and
- Some continued to lose the message the same way they have been for the last 15 years.
In the years since 9/11, hate crimes against Muslims have spiked. We know this. We also know that Sikhs and Hindus have been caught in the crossfire on more than one occasion. For some this has been a catalyst to stand in support with our Muslim siblings, but for others the fear has chased us into a corner where we lash out at Muslims, asking non-South Asians to learn the difference between us and them lest another poor uncle be “mistakenly” killed. Tapan Ghosh, president of the far-right group Hindu Samhati, reportedly advised Hindus to wear identifiers to protect themselves.
“Hindus should show identity by wearing Tilak, women should wear bindi, for security,” Ghosh said.
For security, as if symbols have never backfired. As if turbans have protected Sikh men from hate crimes.
When Adam Purinton opened fired on Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani in that Kansas bar while they were enjoying their whisky, he screamed “get out of my country.” He later told a bartender in another town that he needed a place to hide after killing “two Middle Eastern men.” It is easy, tempting even, to get caught up in his first statement and pin the whole incident to xenophobia. South Asians in the diaspora love to do this, remove all the trappings of Islamophobia to co-opt the pain of anti-immigrant fervor. But it’s not as easy as that.
Purinton thought he was shooting two Middle Eastern men, read: two Muslim men. He grilled them about their right to live in the country and shouted obscenities at them before firing his gun. Their immigrant identity was, to him, tied up in their purportedly Muslim appearance. For him to do what he did, his victims had to be both immigrant and Muslim, but Muslim most of all.
“The situation seems to be pretty bad after Trump took over as the U.S. president,” Madasani’s father, Jaganmohan Reddy, said following the event. “I appeal to all the parents in India not to send their children to the United States in the present circumstances.”
When I talk to my family now about the way this country is going, the veneer has fallen off. We’ve spoken before about how quickly it can turn on us, talking through the situation like a thought experiment in compassion rather than a wholly likely truth. It’s clear to all that being Hindu won’t protect us.
Our complacency will kill us if we don’t recognize it for what it is.