The Sikh’s PR problem – DAWINDER


By Dawinder Sidhu


In 2013 the popular retailer GAP featured a turbaned Sikh actor in a major advertising campaign. Sikh-Americans were thrilled. When the company responded to the vandalism of the ad in New York by using the original photo as the background of its Twitter page, Sikhs’ spirits were buoyed even further.

Sikhs’ reaction to the ad and to GAP exhibiting solidarity with the community makes sense. But, as a Sikh myself, I wondered: Was this ebullient reaction justified? Is there any basis for the assumption that the ad made a difference? Worse, will the self-congratulatory impulse that consumes the community’s online activists lead to complacency and an avoidance of more effective measures?

Curious, I asked my research assistant to stand in front of a GAP store in Albuquerque, N.M., where I teach, with a copy of the ad and pose the following question to the first 100 adults to walk by: What is turbaned model’s religion? Of 100 adults, none were able to identify the Sikh religion.

Despite being the fifth largest religion in the world, our relatively small numbers in the United States make this outcome somewhat unsurprising. Per the religion’s requirements, Sikh men wear turbans and have beards. Due to this lack of awareness and the visual similarity between Sikh men and al-Qaida leaders like Osama bin Laden, Sikhs became convenient targets of post-9/11 retribution and discrimination.

A report issued recently confirms what my non-scientific survey suggested: More than 13 years after 9/11, American ignorance of Sikhs abounds, notwithstanding the efforts of Sikh advocates or the assumptions of progress. The report — commissioned by the National Sikh Campaign and prepared by Hart Research Associates — found that 60 percent of Americans “admit to knowing nothing at all about Sikh-Americans.” Further, “Americans’ baseline level of knowledge is either completely null or mostly superficial.”


Our community must evaluate how best to mitigate those reactions. With military conflicts ongoing and the specter of terrorist activity worldwide, these inquiries are persistently necessary. Self examination is healthy in the pursuit of self-preservation.
Dawinder Sidhu is an associate professor of law at the University of New Mexico School of Law. He was born and raised in Maryland and is a member of the Maryland bar. 

The full article, entitled ‘The Sikh’s public relations problem’, was published by Baltimore Sun on 6 March 2015. 


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  1. Ignorance among Sikhs abt themselves is also not surprising..Two centuries later we have successfully failed to educate others we not bangalis ,but Punjabi and sikhs.

    Within ourselves,we have failed to convince our own,we have only one granth and not two or three ,even though it is clear a number of sociopaths are full tummy of nothing more than cheap liars..

    I m more no suprised when one after another Sikh lies,that Sikhs are the fifth largest religion.

    Sikhs are not the fifth,but the 7th largest religion.

    But that should not be a block,as the 9th largest religion Jewish ,has no problem being known in the world.

    So,just what is lacking among Sikhs?Commitment yo put wrong things right.Instead we pick up others luggage and qurrel busy over silly issyez,that should not ever be an issue

  2. Gurfateh.

    Part of the problem is that Sikhs by and large refuse to say..
    We are NOT Muslims”…but subscribe to…stopping abruptly at..”we are Sikhs”….
    The so called Patit Sikhs ( not amrtidharee/not wearing Dastaar/turban/clean shaven etc ) have NO PROBLEM… one even asks them whether they are Sikhs or Not. They dont look “Muslim”…no problems…So even if a hundred of them passed by no one would raise an eyebrow…but let just one dastaardharee fully bearded Sikh pass by and all eyebrows will def be Guru Gobind Singh Ji Himself did declare…MY Khalsa will stand out in a crowd of a Hundred Thousand !! Thats precisely why a Sikh does stand out..BUT just because many in the West dont recognise a Fully bearded Sikh ( None would recognise a clean shaven “sikh” either ) means Sikhs have a long way to go. But I wouldnt pay much dues on that too..even American Presidents have exhibited minimal knowledge about non-American countries…much less about Sikhs etc. American Education system is too inward centred…all they learn about is American history, American Presidents etc…so its not surprising they havent heard about Guru Nanak or the Sikhs….Many thousands of Sikhs fought for and died in Europe/Asia Pacific during the two World wars..still not many Europeans would recognize a Sikh offhand..Neaere to home..the almost daily quabbling about beards facial hair and karras in Malaysian Schools brings out the sad thruth..malaysians also dont know much about Sikhs even though we have been here for more than 2 centuries…we are still Bengali to most…
    SIKHS have to take the bull by the horns and start educating others about who they are…and efforts by GAP are a starting point…a good one to begin the information dissemination…it may take a century more..but it will lead somewhere…Hopefully ?? Jarnail Singh Arshi Gyani Selayang