Tag Archives: Sikh

Dressing Up Religious Identity the American Way

The versatility of clothing makes it a preferred means for constructing and negotiating identities; not only individual identities (just think of a teenager’s anxieties when choosing clothes!), but also collective ones.                                                                          -Jean-François Bayart

So I saw this article on Patheos.com a couple of days ago titled “Why Do Hindus Wear Turbans [Google Questions Answered]”. Ambaa “the White Hindu” points out that there seems to be quite the confusion on the cultural identification of those who wear turbans.   According to research from Stanford University, 70% of Americans ‘misidentify’ turban wearers as “Muslim (48%), Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto.”   However, this seems quite problematic.  Some Muslims actually do wear turbans and many people around the world wear turbans for all sorts of reasons not necessarily having to do with religious affiliation.

My issue lies in the religious identification vis-a-vis religious garb.  Despite all the good intentions of Ambaa or a similar article from the Huffington Post defending Sikhs from discrimination, they are actually just as much participating in the same system of essentializing an entire group by a peice of clothing.  The turban becomes the identifier for religion, the central and usually only important part of a groups identity, whether it be the turban identifying Muslimness by some or indentifying Sikhness by others.  Religion becomes the entire identity of the other.  I’ll try not to get into the irony of the Orientalism of “the White Hindu” (yes Orientalism despite her defending against Orientalism) who has self identified as a white woman of European descent and is “appropriating Indian culture” for her own (I don’t think she is appropriating Indian culture since, but see how I seamlessly make race rather than religion the means of identification of an entire group).  Perhaps religion as the primary indicator of indentity is a proverbial wink identifying us as Americans rather than saying something about the ‘other’.

This of course is only a problem if we think people are more than their clothing or their religion.  If that is the case, did you correctly identify the religion of the person wearing the turban in the photo at the top? If you guessed Christian you are right!


Is “Star Trek: Into Darkness” Guilty of Whitewashing?

This movie has been out for a few months now, so if you don’t know by now, you don’t care, but Benedict Cumberbatch plays Khan Noonien Singh in the latest Star Trek movie. Khan was meant to be of Indian descent in the original Star Trek series (Singh is a predominantly, almost exclusively, Sikh surname), and was played by Ricardo Montalbán, a Mexican with Spanish ancestry. The argument is that Khan isn’t supposed to be white because he is supposed to be a genetically superior creation (we all remember what happened the last time white guys thought they were genetically superior), and by making him white J.J. Abrams was sorta kinda in a roundabout way endorsing white people as being superior genetically.

On the other hand, I have heard that Benicio Del Toro was Abrams’ first choice for playing  Khan, and that he only went with Cumberbatch when Del Toro couldn’t do it. Now maybe I am just an idealist, but I like to think that J.J. wasn’t being racist when he cast Cumberbatch, and that he doesn’t see white people as being genetically superior. Maybe Abrams thinks that genetic superiority has nothing to do with ethnicity, and simply picked a great actor to play a great villain.