Waking in Oak Creek

How do you teach about religious prejudice, bigotry, and hate?

August 5, 2017, marks the fifth anniversal of the massacre at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The shooter,  a 40-year old White Supremacist named Wade Michael Page, entered the gurdwara as they were preparing for a communal meal that had been scheduled for later in the day. Children’s classes were set to begin at 11:30, just over an hour the first 911 call. By the time the gunman killed himself, he had murdered six worshippers: Paramjit Kaur, 41, Satwant Singh Kaleka, 65, Prakash Singh, 39, Sita Singh, 41; Ranjit Singh, 49; and Suveg Singh, 84. According to CNN, all of the male victims wore turbans, a symbol of their faith. Four of the victims were Indian immigrants. Another victim, Police Officer, Lt. Bryan Murphy, who was shot multiple times at close range, survived.

This was not the first time Sikhs were targeted for hate. Four days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot in killed in Mesa, Arizona, in the first of several attacks on Sikhs across the United States.  According to Pro Publica, “There are an estimated 500,000 Sikhs living in the U.S., many in New York and California. In recent years, Yuba City, California, a small city in the middle of the Sacramento Valley, has become a major hub for Sikhs — Yuba City’s annual Nagar Kirtan parade, a key holy event, draws as many as 150,000 people from around the world.”

While recent polls suggest that people in the U.S. have become more tolerant of people of different religions, the hate-motivated shooting of a 39-year-old Sikh man in Kent, Washington in the Spring of 2017 serves as a reminder of the danger of unchecked bigotry.

Our colleagues at Not in Our Town produced an extraordinary documentary about the attack in Oak Creek and the community’s response.  The entire 34 film is embedded below.

Visit their website for resources to support using the film in the classroom. And, for context on anti-Sikh prejudice see “Sikhs in America: A History of Hate.”

Listen to “Sikh Americans Hope to Reduce Hate Crimes With Ad Campaign” from National Public Radio to hear how Sikh’s are working to respond to prejudice and raise awareness of hate crimes.

For another resource exploring religious bigotry, see Facing History and Ourselves’ Give Bigotry No Sanction. 

Adam Strom is the Director of the ReImagining Migration Project. Throughout his career, Mr. Strom has connected the academy to classrooms and the community by using the latest scholarship to encourage learning about identity, bias, belonging, history, and the challenges and opportunities of civic engagement in our globalized world. The resources developed under Strom’s direction have been used in tens of thousands of classrooms and experienced by millions of students around the world including Stories of Identity: Religion, Migration, and Belonging in a Changing World and What Do We Do with a Difference? France and The Debate Over Headscarves in Schools, Identity, and Belonging in a Changing Great Britain, and the viewer’s guide to I Learn America. Before joining the ReImagining Migration Project, Strom was the Director of Scholarship and Innovation at Facing History and Ourselves.

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