"You know, this is total crap. No one gives a darn about Sikhs. You're just terrorists. Look at you, wearing a rag on your head." And my article was torn in pieces before being thrown into the air.
Wearing a turban has taught me two things: it's pretty tough, but it is also a way for me to help stop intolerance. My solution to intolerance: I write. Throughout high school, I've found it difficult to tell my peers what it is like to be a Sikh, so I write about it. It is strange to see the effect this has on others: their insight changes. My goal right now is to share the beauty of my culture and its people. If, along the way, I can help stop intolerance, so much the better.
After September 11, I wrote an article for my school newspaper called "Proud to be American, Not Afraid to be Sikh." The results were more than I expected. People wanted to learn more and I felt I was making a difference. There were a few, however, who did not like Sikhism being discussed in the school newspaper.
One day, walking to class, I was approached by a student who started screaming, "You have a bomb under that thing, don't you? Don't lie to me, you're a suicide bomber." A teacher overheard the student, who was suspended immediately. That showed me that this sort of behavior would not be tolerated in school. While I was grateful to be taken seriously, I wondered how many shared his feelings.
Fortunately, I did not have to worry too much since I became involved with the United Nations when a teacher invited me to take part in the Children's Forum and Special Session for Children. This is only held once a decade, and I had the chance to meet students who took the time and effort to come from across the world to take part in the event. They all just wanted to make a change.
I conducted interviews and worked as a journalist at the event, publishing essays about the remarkable people I met. And so, my understanding of how writing can truly help my crusade against intolerance took shape.
My experiences in recent months have taught me that I can be a victim and remain oppressed, or I can be an agent of change. I choose the latter. I am luckier than most since I attend a school that abhors racism and I have a family that has always supported and encouraged me. This has given me the strength to write articles for others who feel victimized, to be the voice for students who want to be understood, and help stop intolerance for those who don't have the will.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.