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Above: The image of the missing man published and broadcast by the media alongwith the story.

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We Have Dropped The Ball ... Again!
California Media Widely Describes Sikh as Middle Eastern

by MAHEEP KAUR

 

 

 

The following story appeared in the mainstream media in various parts of California, U.S.A., yesterday - Tuesday, February 28, 2012.

Lathrop police are looking for a 69-year old man who has been reported missing.

Jarnail Singh was last seen Monday afternoon leaving his home on the 300 block of American Farms Avenue to go for a walk and never returned.

Singh has only been in the country for two months and does not speak English.

He was last seen wearing a light brown turban, gray sweat suit and white vest.

Singh is described as a Middle Eastern male with light complexion, gray hair, brown eyes. He is five-foot-eight and weighs 150 pounds.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Lathrop Police Services or the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office at (209) 468-4400.

 

First and foremost, I hope and pray that S. Jarnail Singh is found healthy and safe, and reunited with his family as soon as possible.

I have reviewed aprrox. a dozen versions of this story as it was published and broadcast and, but for one exception I could find - The Stockton Record - all of the rest identified the missing Sardar as “Jarnail Singh” and then went on to describe him as a “Middle Eastern man.”

The Modesto Bee did it. And the CBS Sacramento. News 10. KCRA Sacramento ... 

There is no mention of his being a Sikh or from Punjab, even though the story does say that he is a recent arrival to the United States.

The mis-description, I’m sure, is in error, a mere mistake, an oversight. With some carelessness and negligence. Yes, it does reflect standards that are less than what we expect from our professsionals.

I don't mean to suggest that being labelled "Middle Eastern" is a slur. It is not. Jews are Middle Eastern. Arabs are Middle Eastern.

Sikhs are not. We are of Punjabi origin. And we are Americans.

And we all know that the oft-repeated mis-description of us has become the basis of wide-spread post-9/11 hate crimes against Sikh-Americans. A number of innocent citizens have been killed as a direct result. And the carnage continues.   

Moreover, describing the missing man as "Middle-Eastern", given the ground reality, may discourage some good souls from putting their best efforts into looking for him. Or worse, it might even jeopardize his safety.

I do hope the media will correct this error forthwith - and that our representatives will ensure that it is.  

While I leave these issues to be addressed by those mandated with the responsibility, I have some deeper and more serious concerns.

What is the Sikh-American community doing to monitor the media?

And to educate it?

Sikh-Americans living and working in California are, without question, on the average the most affluent Sikhs in the world.

Concerns over media’s mis-reporting of Sikhs and Sikh stories are not new. They go back for almost three decades.

What is the Sikh-American, including the Sikh-Californian, community doing to address this fundamental problem?

Those who know and understand the working of the media will tell you that it is a problem that CAN be solved. It will require a fund of $ 20 million or so, I’m told, to turn the tide in less than 12 months.

Why haven’t our Sikh corporate leaders done anything about it?

There are dozens who are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, each one of them. And each one knows - Steve Jobs, one of their own, reminded them of this fact of life only the other day! - that they can’t take even a needle with them when their final bus to the airport arrives.

So, what are they waiting for?

They don’t need a committee. They can’t blame it on the gurdwaras. Or on disunity. Or the Indian consulates that have made it a point to meddle in and complicate our lives.

All they need to do - any one of them, or each one of them, on their own - is to tackle the issue as if it is a corporate challenge at their own workplace.

The cost of the exercise for many of them will be no more than a hiccup.

It needs to be done …. TODAY!

Please.

My second gripe is with the institutions we have now built in the U.S. They are not massive or heavily staffed or resource-rich.

But keeping an eagle eye on the media today is a relatively easy job requiring no more than one staff member dedicated to the task.

By institutions I don’t mean gurdwaras. It is not their mandate.

But it is within the bailiwick of The Sikh Coalition, and SALDEF, and United Sikhs, and SikhRI. And what is the World Sikh Council doing?

Everytime a mis-reportage such as yesterday’s occurs within their midst, it is a glaring reminder that they have dropped the ball.

I hope this piece - well-intentioned and pointedly meant to single each of the above-mentioned players out - will not generate excuses and apologia.

Instead, I hope, each will go to work this morning - if a copy of this piece is not on their desks when they walk into their offices this morning, their failings are worse than I have imagined - and DO SOMETHING MEANINGFUL on this issue.

Please.      

 

February 29, 2012    
 

Conversation about this article

1: Jurat Singh (Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.), February 29, 2012, 8:50 AM.

Isn't mis-describing this missing senior citizen as "Middle Eastern" akin to turning him into a target for the ignoramuses that are bound to be around in the vicinity? Is this mis-reportage mere carelessness? The Stockton Record had no difficulty in catching the error. The good folks in Sacramento and Modesto, for example, can't tell a Sikh from an Arab? After a hundred years plus of Sikh settlement within their own neighbourhoods? Something is rotten in Denmark, if you ask me ...

2: Baljinder Kaur (California, U.S.A.), February 29, 2012, 8:56 AM.

I hope I'm wrong, but this man's life may be in serious jeopardy as a result of the mis-description in the local media where he went missing. The police and other authorities should be immediately apprised of this fact, because they may not catch this complication on their own.

3: Kanwarjeet Singh (Franklin Park, New Jersey, U.S.A.), February 29, 2012, 10:18 AM.

Everytime I read this description of a Sikh as an Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, etc., I cringe. One time is a mistake, two times is stupid but three times is plain intentional. I think most Sikhs are getting frustrated with this mischief. The world fully knows us as Sikhs but some simply don't want to recognize us (a la India), others are plain ignorant (as some of the media is). The reporters can at least do some research before printing things. Months and months of efforts by SALDEF, United Sikhs, Sikh coalition, etc. gets washed out in one stupid misdescription.

4: K. Singh (Boston, MA, U.S.A.), February 29, 2012, 10:27 AM.

Few points I would like to address: 1) Yes, I do hope that they find that Jarnail Singh, soon and safe. 2) I think we need to contact the media in California regarding their comment. I have already contacted Sikh Coalition as I am part of the Volunteer Advocate Team and will work on addressing it. Re the author's other comments: These Sikh advocacy organizations have done yeoman service to date. That being said, there is definitely much more that needs to be done, but we must realize there are only a few people who are involved full-time with these organizations and they alone cannot change the world. It is up to each one of us, to volunteer our time, effort and money, tunn, munn and dhunn, to help them with their efforts.

5: Dolly (Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.), February 29, 2012, 10:52 AM.

No one, simply no one, can question the quality, dedication and effectiveness of the work done by the Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, United Sikhs, SikhRI, and the like, to date. (The uselessness of the so-called World Sikh Council is another story!) No one can, no one does. But the author is saying, from what I can gather, is that with all the experience they have gathered to date, it is time for them to move to a larger and higher playing-field. Continuing along the current game-plan is not going to be productive anymore. They need to change strategy and solve a different problem than the one they are addressing currently - or do it at a different, far larger scale. There's no time for excuses ... it HAS to be done. And I'm afraid it is not going to be done by volunteers. All such ventures HAVE to be funded by the affluent in the community ... that is how communities move on.

6: Harinder (Uttar Pradesh, India), February 29, 2012, 12:16 PM.

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" - Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) - abolitionist, orator and columnist for The Liberator, in a speech before the Massachusetts Antislavery Society in 1852. Keep up the vigilance, Sikh-Yankees!

7: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), February 29, 2012, 12:28 PM.

I hope they find S. Jarnail Singh safe and sound.

8: Kirpal Singh (Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S.A.), February 29, 2012, 12:48 PM.

This is sad. Sure, media and community needs to increase awareness about Sikhs. We as citizens of our adopted countries need to regularly plan "Open Houses" and attend "Open Houses" of other communities through our gurdwaras at least every 3 months to educate and be educated about others. We cannot blame our host communities entirely about the ignorance, as it is mutual.

9: Gurjender Singh (Maryland, U.S.A.), February 29, 2012, 2:42 PM.

First of all, I pray that find S. Jarnail Singh safe. As mentioned by comments # 4 & 5, I would like to request Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs, SALDEF and Justice for Sikhs to make a combined effort for media representation of Sikhs through TV shows, talk shows, etc. These organizations are doing a good job at their own level. But to fully address our challenges, they must act together. They can form a group whereby they can jointly work on larger projects, and try and address our global concerns.

10: Shalinder Singh (Canada), February 29, 2012, 4:05 PM.

Every time the media does this, our institutions need to immediately take them to court for negligence. It's the only language Americans understand. When they end up with a heavy penalty or punishment, then only they be careful in the future. Othewise, I don't see any end to this problem. The media has reach to millions of people and they can make or break the image of any community with their ill intentions. Take them to court!

11: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), February 29, 2012, 8:10 PM.

I request that sikhchic.com keep us updated on the situation of S. Jarnail Singh. There is a reason why Americans are known all around the world as the most ignorant lot in the western world. They feel that other people should learn about them but that they should not have to learn about others. This isn't just a problem associated with the stereotypical American redneck. I have a history professor who studied at Notre Dame and he told me about how surprised he was about the ignorance of even Americans who fell into the category of left wing intellectuals.

12: Aryeh Leib (Israel), March 01, 2012, 3:52 AM.

I absolutely agree with the thrust of this article, and with those who say that education of the press and of the host community at large is the responsibility of the Sikhs themselves - as, who else will see the necessity of doing so in as serious a manner?

13: Vishavjit Singh (New York, U.S.A.), March 01, 2012, 10:36 AM.

Thanks for bringing this story to light. Its frustration inspired a cartoon image - http://www.sikhtoons.com/ignorance-is-not-bliss.html

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California Media Widely Describes Sikh as Middle Eastern"









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