All About the Challenges of Sikh Americans

Many Sikh children in America are the first generation of their family to be born on American soil, and are proud of their American citizenship. Sikh children face special challenges in school where they stand out because of their distinct appearance. More than fifty percent of Sikh students have been subjected to ridicule by classmates. Sikh Americans are guaranteed civil liberties by the Constitution of the United States of America.

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Sikh Children of America

Sikh Americans and the Statue of Liberty
Sikh Americans and the Statue of Liberty. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

In a quest for freedom Sikhs have spread out around the world. About half a million Sikhs have settled in the US over the past 20 to 30 years. Turban, beard, and sword cause the Sikh to stand out visually. The martial nature of Sikhism is often misunderstood by the onlooker. Sikhs have at times been subjected to harassment and discrimination. Since September 11, 2008, Sikhs have been targeted and victimized by violence. Such incidents are largely due to ignorance of who Sikhs are, and what they stand for.

Sikhism is one of the world's youngest religions. Five centuries ago Guru Nanak rejected the caste system, idolatry, and worship of demi-gods. He had nine successors who helped to establish the Sikh faith. Gobind Singh, the 10th guru, formalized the religion when he introduced baptism and the order of Khalsa. Sikhs initiated into this new order had requirements of keeping hair intact and wearing a turban. They also vowed to keep a small sword with them at all times. They followed a strict code of honor based on selflessly servicing all of humanity.

Sikhs have a martial history. They battled oppression and persecution. The fought against religious tyranny, defending the right of all people to worship by choice rather than by forced conversion. Guru Gobind Singh named the Sikh scripture as his successor, advising Sikhs that the key to salvation could be in the sacred texts of the Guru Granth. Guru Gobind Singh’s legacy of initiation lives on in the spirit of the Sikh’s traditional appearance.

Sikh Americans would like everyone to know that they are patriotic citizens and proud of their country.

All About the Sikh Family

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The Right to Worship

Sikh Americans and the Washington Monument
Sikh Americans and the Washington Monument. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

A patriotic young Sikh American plays happily in the snow. The Washington Monument in the background stands for civil liberties. Though Sikh Americans are guaranteed religious freedom and the right to worship by the Constitution of the United States of America, not all are as fortunate as this child. Statics show that 75% of boys are harassed and bullied in American schools.

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Civil Liberties

Sikh Americans and the Capitol Building
Sikh Americans and the Capitol Building. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

>A Sikh American family shows their pride in The United States grouped together with the Capitol building behind them. Many Sikhs immigrate to the USA in hopes of enjoying freedoms such as the right to worship freely, and civil liberties. Because of their distinct appearance, some Sikhs have faced challenges when wearing turbans in the workplace. Others have been denied employment.

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American Promise of Freedom For Sikhs

Sikh Americans and the Capitol Building Night Life
Sikh Americans and the Capitol Building Night Life. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

Many Sikhs immigrate to the USA for the freedom and civil liberties that life in America promises. This Sikh American family happily enjoys the freedom of frolicking in front of the Capitol after hours while wearing Sikh attire. Not all Sikhs are so fortunate. The Turban is an inherent part of Sikhism and required wear for a Sikh male. The freedom of Sikh Americans is sometimes violated when they are assaulted on the street for wearing turbans.

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Sikh Heritage Blends With American Heritage

Sikh American at Duke University
Sikh American at Duke University. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

Immigrants to the United States leave behind the ease of preserving customs and traditions of their native land. Adapting to a new cultural environment presents many challenges to Sikhs. The turban is essential to Sikh heirtage and devout Sikhs. A young Sikh American demonstrates pride in her both her Sikh heritage and United States heritage as she poses next to the portrait of a one of Duke Universities founding fathers while wearing her turban and traditional Sikh attire.

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Dress Code Challenges of Sikh Americans

Sikh Americans and Apollo 11
Sikh Americans and Apollo 11. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

A Sikh American family take in the sights proud to be associated with The United States and the Apollo 11 Moon mission. Controversy surrounding motorcycle helmet laws in Canada and the USA have led to discussions among Sikhs raising concerns about the future fate of Sikh astronauts.

According to the Sikhism code of conduct and conventions dresscode states that a turban is "required" wear for every Sikh male regardless of initiation status. Not wearing the turban is a punishable offense for the initiated male. With turban sizes ranging from 1- 2 1/2 meters in width and 2 1/2 to 10 meters in length, the challenges of maintaining hair and turban for the Sikh astronaut in space are daunting indeed.

Sikhs have proven time and again they are up to challenges. In October 2009, an appeal overturned a 23 year restriction regarding US Army grooming standards. An exemption granted to Captain Kamaljeet Singh Kalsi allowed him to remain in the US Army while maintaining uncut hair, beard and turban. Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan first Sikh recruit to complete basic training in the US army after demonstrating his ability to carry out orders while wearing articles of faith. Though such exemptions are granted on a case to case basis, lawmakers have joined Sikhs efforts to revise US military groom standards. Perhaps one day in the foreseeable future American will have its first Sikh astronaut, turban included. Meanwhile Sikh air-travelers are often profiled and selected by Transportation Security Administration officers for additional screening of their religiously mandated turbans.

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Sikh Americans Red White and Blues

Sikh Americans Red White and Blues
Sikh Americans Red White and Blues. Photo © [Gurumustuk Singh Khalsa]

Eager Sikh American children joyously sport patriotic red, white, and blue, the national colors of the United States of America.

Regardless of race, an estimated 50% of innocent Sikh children in the United States suffer harassment and bullying due to prejudice and ignorance. They are teased, punched, kicked and called nasty names. Some have suffered broken noses, had their hair forcibly cut, and one boy even had his turban torn off and set on fire.

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The Sikh Day Parade in New York City

Sikh Americans and Sikh Day Parade NY City
Sikh Americans and Sikh Day Parade NY City. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

Parading in the streets, Sikh Americans who take pride both in Sikh heritage and in being American, share their enthusiasm with the city of New York. The Sikh Day Parade celebrated annually in New York City is a way for Sikh Americans to share their heritage in hopes of fostering good relations with their neighbors.

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Sikh Americans Freedom and Democracy

Sikh American and the Empire State Building
Sikh Americans and the Empire State Building. Photo © [Kulpreet Singh]

A young Sikh American stands proudly before the Empire State Building. His hope for a future founded on freedom and democracy is a dream shared by every American. In countries such Australia, Belgium, and France, which profess democracy, steps have been taken to restrict the wearing of religious head coverings. The right to worship freely, guaranteed to all Americans, assures him the right to wear his turban with pride.

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Sikh American Patriot and Old Glory

Sikh American Patriot and Old Glory
Sikh American Patriot and Old Glory. Photo © [Vikram Singh Khalsa Magician Extraordinaire]

American Independence Day celebrated annually on the fourth of July is a day when the American flag figures prominently. A Sikh American patriot takes pride in Old Glory's, red, stripes and white stars, while looking forward to the blue yonder of life of freedom in the good ole USA.

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Your Citation
Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "All About the Challenges of Sikh Americans." Learn Religions, Sep. 9, 2021, Khalsa, Sukhmandir. (2021, September 9). All About the Challenges of Sikh Americans. Retrieved from Khalsa, Sukhmandir. "All About the Challenges of Sikh Americans." Learn Religions. (accessed March 27, 2023).