Nationalism in crisis: Baseball caps okay, Turbans are not.

Lauren Hsiao-Ling Nowak from our class presented an acute example of how nationalism, under perceived crisis, structures social relations at the scale of the workplace. Workers for the MTA who practice Sikhism wore their turbans to work for several years without incident. Following September 11th, 2001, the MTA began ‘cracking down’ on Sikhs wearing their turbans while working, stating that it was against ‘company policy’. Lauren writes:

The video clip below is about employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) for the state of New York who practice Sikhism. Many times, those who have heard of Sikhism confuse it with hinduism or Islam, but it is neither. It is a religion from Punjab India, and believes in the equality of all humans and rejects discrimination on the basis of caste, creed and gender. Sikhism requires you to wear a turban and never cut your hair.

Sikh workers were threatened with being terminated from their jobs if they continued to wear their turbans, targeted on the basis of their appearance. MTA officials determined their headdress was not part of the uniform, even though they were not the only people wearing something ‘unofficial’ on their head (other workers wore Russian winter hats, or baseball caps supporting the Mets & the Yankess ).

Many of you may be thinking, “why didn’t they just take their turbans off?” but like I said earlier, Sikhism is the only religion that REQUIRES you to wear a turban. Although nationalism is often said to be diverse and bring sense of commonality and belonging, in this example, we can see this idea can be greatly infringed upon in a smaller scale, within the workplace of subway stations in New York.


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