Sonny Singh speaks at diversity week, talks about religion and oppression

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As part of religious diversity celebration week, guest speaker Sonny Singh guided Rowan University students in a discussion that confronted Ethno-religious oppression. The event, “Confronting Ethno-Religious Oppression in the United States,” took place in the Owl’s Nest on Nov. 29 and was run through the Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution. About a dozen students were present.

Throughout the discussion, Singh regularly used his religious identity as an example to feed the discussion on the intersections between race and religious oppression. As a practicing Sikh, he said it is impossible for him to separate his religious and ethnic identity. Singh is also regularly thought to be Muslim.

Singh explained that oppression has been institutionalized throughout hundreds of years. Although it may not be occurring on an interpersonal level, many aspects of oppression have been institutionalized for centuries.

After having the audience take a “religious test,” meant to demonstrate how practicing Christians have institutionalized privileges in the United States, he challenged the audience to admit what surprised them.

Freshman business major Sean Clyde said he was surprised to learn how commonplace Christian holidays have become in American culture. Clyde was referring to a question which stated, “My religion and religious holidays are so completely ‘normal’ that, in many ways, they may appear to no longer have any religious significance at all.”

Shakwat Chowdhury, a senior math education major and president of the Muslim Student Association, noted how Islamic holidays are seldom indicated on American calendars.

“Christmas is included, but I rarely see Islam holidays on U.S. calendars,” he said.

Singh also asked the audience how many people heard of shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Aurora movie theater shooting and the Oak Creek shooting. Each of these shootings took place in 2012. Only a handful of audience members heard of the Oak Creek shooting. Singh suggested this was unsurprising, as the incident killed six people in a Sikh temple, a religious and ethnic group that is often abhorred and thought of as an “other.”

Singh said part of the issue was the way the mass media handled the incident. The Oak Creek shooting was in and out of the news cycle within 24 hours, whereas the other shootings were cycling for weeks. Singh also pointed out how headlines are often written differently if incidents have to do with Muslims or other abnormal religions.

“Is this really the media’s fault? Or is it the people in control of the mass media – who are usually looking to make a profit and report what sells?” Singh asked.

Gardy Guiteau, the director of the Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution Initiatives, ultimately decided to hold the evening’s discussion because of its relation to the religious diversity week. He thought Singh’s decades of experience of social justice experience in New York City made him a worthwhile candidate to host the religious discussion – and said he hoped all those who participated in the discussion would be able to carry the knowledge learned and apply it elsewhere.

“Diversity isn’t going to change,” Singh said as the discussion wrapped up. “It gives me hope that we can come together and discuss differing viewpoints and perspectives. That’s what’s at the heart of being a spiritual person.”

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