Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa
Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh

Sat Nam Readers!

Me in my turban

So here’s the thing.  I work in a small office in a very small town, in Canada’s relatively isolated North.  My co-workers are generally awesome people.  Since becoming visibly a Sikh, most of them have reacted in just the way I had hoped – by treating me no different than ever before.

My most senior colleague, let’s call him Don, is a well respected lawyer.  He’s salt of the earth and a typical Alberta farm boy.  He says the wrong thing about women a lot but he’s got a heart of gold when you get to know him.  Also, when you get to know him you realize he doesn’t mean most of what he says, he’s just sometimes… awkward.  Don has a lovely wife, we’ll call her Kate.  Kate grew up in a family of boys in Alberta farm country as well.  She loves shoes and Las Vegas, she’s funny when she wants to be and she’s a dedicated runner.

Several times a month I get the pleasure of joining Don and Kate for a coffee, whenever our schedules match up.  Since I began wearing the turban though, it’s become awkward with Kate.  She refers to my turban at least once every time we meet and the references are becoming more and more of an issue for me.  A few examples:

“Oh well, that just looks like a hat.”
“Oh well (she uses this phrase as a segue a lot), you could put a big broach on it.  Then you would just look like Princess Grace.”
“I’m going to buy you a big broach for that, then you can go around saying “Oh darling”, like Princess Grace.”
“You could wear a broach on that and no-one would ever know you were whatever, they would think you were just being Princess Grace.”

Princess Grace

For those of you who are too young to remember Princess Grace, let me fill you in.  Grace Kelly was an American actress.  She married Prince Rainier III of Monaco and became Princess Grace.  She was a beautiful woman.  She passed away in 1982 of a stroke.

She sometimes wore very elaborate hats, which was not unusual for her time among the fabulously wealthy and fashionable set.  You can see one of her hats in the picture below.  It looks lovely on her though I can’t say I would choose it for myself even in the days before I wore a turban.

Princess Grace and Prince Rainier III
Princess Grace on the cover of People magazine

She also sometimes wore hats that have some similarities to turbans.  In fact she had a People magazine cover where she’s wearing a white, turban-like hat.  You can also see that picture below.

I’ve never seen a picture of Princess Grace in a turban with a large broach on it.  I’ve never known Princess Grace to walk around saying “Oh Darling” to people in a slow drawl.  I think Kate is confusing Princess Grace with Marlene Dietrich, seen below in a turban-like head scarf with a broach on it.  Marlene, also a beautiful woman at the height of fashion for her day, was famous for her drawl and also famous for her bling and head covers.

Marlene Dietrich
Confusing Princess Grace for Marlene Dietrich… understandable maybe.  However, for these women, Grace Kelly and Marlene Dietrich, their head covers were fashion.  That’s it.  They were accessories, worn when the occasion was appropriate.  Most of the time if the photos are true to real life, Princess Grace of Monaco wore her blonde hair down, around her shoulders, in fabulous curls and without a covering of any kind.  Most of the time, again if the pictures tell anything of the real tale, Marlene Dietrich wore fabulous hats that were unique, often involving jewels and definitely a statement.  
Many women of their time, in Europe and North America wore stylish head fashions.  You’ll see more pictures, of Elizabeth Taylor in a bejewelled number that is reminiscent of a turban, of Sophia Loren in a very shiny head cover, and Greta Garbo in a simple number which suits her well.
Greta Garbo
Elizabeth Taylor
Sophia Loren
Even in more recent years, a number of celebrities have donned hats that look like turbans.  Jennifer Lopez, Solange Knowles, and Sarah Jessica Parker.  
Jennifer Lopez
Sarah Jessica Parker
Solange Knowles
Solange Knowles

The point is this.  My turban is not a fashion statement.  It is a part of who I am and it’s not a joke.  The statements that Kate has made are… well go back and notice how often she uses the minimizing word “just”.  The statements show that she has no appreciation for the significance of my turban.  She sees it as a thing that can and maybe should be disguised… I have no idea why.

I am grateful for my turban, grateful for my faith and grateful for what my turban stands for, including the reminder of the sacrifice of the lives of thousands of Sikhs before me.  
It doesn’t need a broach to hide it or disguise it as something other than a Sikh turban.  
Kate’s comments are a form of racism, have no doubt in that.  She’s doing her best to “normalize” my turban in her mind, to change it from something worn by members of a faith who are primarily Punjabi to something that represents Western to her.  Her comments are demeaning and devaluing and, no matter how kind and funny and lovely she otherwise is, she is just plain wrong.
So what to say to her?  Being nice, trying to explain what my turban means (she just cuts me off and doesn’t listen), none of that works.  It’s not that I care what she thinks but she needs to be called on it, in my opinion, because it’s not okay.  And, dear readers, I’m running out of patience.  
I could avoid her and not join them for coffee anymore.  I could do that, but that would be hiding from the issue.  I could tell her to knock it off, but I know her well enough to know what wouldn’t do anything but get her (and likely Don) angry at me and it wouldn’t open their eyes to the problem.  Right now, I’m sort of stumped for a solution.  
In the meantime though, Grace Kelly, Marlene Dietrich, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Greta Garbo, Jennifer Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker and Solange Knowles are all beautiful women.  It doesn’t matter what they wear though or how striking these women are.  I am not them.  I will never be them.  I don’t want to be them.  I think I’ll just remain me.
Sat Nam Readers!