Sikh educator reflects on decade since Oak Creek temple shooting
On August 5, 2012, the Milwaukee area was the location of a fatal hate crime when a white supremacist killed six people at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in Oak Creek. The shooting horrified many including Shauna Singh Baldwin, who was headed to the temple during the attack.
For the past decade, Baldwin has made efforts to educate non-Sikhs about the religion. She says it’s unusual for Sikhs to pursue outreach efforts because they don’t promote their faith.
“We're not an evangelical religion,” Baldwin says. “We're not proselytizers. In fact, it's a very personal thing — your relationship between you and the creator.”
She hosts presentations in local communities to lay out the tenets of Sikhism, which is the world’s fifth largest religion. Baldwin explains to non-Sikhs the differences between Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus.
Baldwin says it’s also not about telling people to go against Muslims either. “We don't mean to say we're not Hindus, and not Muslims, so go after them. That's not the idea, either. So it was very difficult to come up with a message that didn't say we're not Muslims, go find the Muslims."
According to the Sikh Coalition, 99% of people in America wearing turbans are Sikhs. Her presentation illustrates the different styles of headwear including Afghan, Palestinian, Indian and Iranian turbans.
“We have to keep working on being creative, rather than destructive, in every part of our lives, at every moment. That's what Muslims call ‘dhikr’ and we call the ‘remembrance’ in our faith. We keep saying the name of the lord in order to keep reminding ourselves that we are all one," Baldwin says.
She says the misconceptions people have about others in the U.S. is “just plain religious illiteracy.”
Baldwin says, “That's the saddest part. Not to say it doesn't exist elsewhere, too. I've been a minority now in three countries and it's not pretty being a minority anywhere. But that doesn't mean that we don't keep trying, and we don't keep interacting with people.”
According to the National Sikh Campaign, a 2014 research study found that more than half of Sikh children are bullied in schools. Two in three turbaned children report being bullied, which is more than double the national average for all children.
“We thought that believing in the Constitution of America was all that was required to be American. And we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal," she says. “We have to break bread together. We have to come together, there's no hope for it. If we don't, then we condemn ourselves to more of these mass shootings.”
Amid recent mass shootings that targeted Black and Taiwanese communities, Baldwin says it’s important for people to reach out to each other.
As of May 27, there have been 214 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2022 so far, according to Gun Violence Archive. Mass shootings totaled 269 in 2014.
“We can't live in this kind of state of eternal suspicion of our neighbors,” she adds. “This is ridiculous. I think we're going to go downhill if we don't start doing the Sisyphean task of moving that boulder uphill and reaching out.”
Baldwin says she and others have managed to bridge some divides, successfully helping Sikhs and non-Sikhs to better understand each other.
But she says there is still more work to do. “We must share our stories. We must do as much as we can, but each person has to work on this.”