Skip to main content

President Obama, come to Oak Creek

By Valarie Kaur, Special to CNN
August 17, 2012 -- Updated 1929 GMT (0329 HKT)
Community members pay respects to the six shooting victims during the memorial at Oak Creek High School last week.
Community members pay respects to the six shooting victims during the memorial at Oak Creek High School last week.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Valarie Kaur: Politicians, others came to Oak Creek after Sikh shooting, not Obama
  • She invites Obama, says his presence will send message of support, affirmation
  • Kaur: Shootings in Aurora drew Obama; not coming to Wisconsin hurts Sikhs
  • Kaur: Sikhs' values reflect American values too; Obama must help demonstrate this

Editor's note: Valarie Kaur is the founding director of Groundswell, an initiative at Auburn Seminary that combines storytelling and advocacy to mobilize faith communities in social action. Her documentary "Divided We Fall" examines hate crimes against Sikh Americans after 9/11. Kaur studied religion and law at Stanford University, Harvard Divinity School and Yale Law School, where she now directs the Yale Visual Law Project. Follow her on Twitter: @valariekaur.

(CNN) -- Last Saturday morning, when media crews outside the Sikh gurdwara (house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, packed up their trucks to chase the news of Mitt Romney's choice for vice president, Sikh Americans were left reflecting on six days of unprecedented national attention. After the shooting of six people in a Sikh gurdwara, a stream of national leaders, from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Gov. Scott Walker, came to offer condolences and support. But there was one person missing.

It was you, Mr. President.

Let me be clear: Your administration's response to the massacre has been strong and swift. Attorney General Eric Holder addressed mourners with compassion and resolve at the Friday memorial.: "In the recent past, too many Sikhs have been targeted and victimized simply because of who they are, how they look, and what they believe," he said.. "This is wrong. It is unacceptable. And it will not be tolerated." Joshua Dubois from the White House expressed his full commitment to helping us with sustained interfaith and education outreach.

Valarie Kaur
Valarie Kaur

The FBI and Department of Justice were at the top of their game, investigating the attacks as both an act of domestic terrorism and a hate crime.

But we need more than government cooperation. Our community needs the deeper spiritual and emotional assurance that we are welcome to live, work and worship as fellow Americans. The gunman, Wade Michael Page, was a member of a white supremacist group that wishes to destroy our very claim to call this country home. After the attack we endured, Sikh Americans, and all brown and black people in America for that matter, need our president to directly show the nation that we belong here.

Watch: Volunteers help temple mourners cope

President Obama, you flew to Aurora, Colorado, to mourn publicly with the families before the dead were buried. You hugged your daughters closer that night, imagining them in that theater. In response to the massacre of Sikhs in Oak Creek, you and Mitt Romney issued statements of support, but did not suspend campaigning in Wisconsin, as you did in Colorado.

Holder: Sikh temple shooting a hate crime
Volunteers help temple mourners cope
Sikhs leave one bullet hole as reminder
Gunshots heard in Sikh temple 911 calls

Of the major networks, only CNN sent an anchor to report live from Oak Creek, and none of the networks covered the murders as extensively as they did in Colorado. We worry that because the victims were brown-skinned people with "foreign" names, the tragedy hasn't elicited the same attention from public officials and the media.

I believe you can help the nation feel our pain. You can show this tragedy is an American tragedy, because none of us should have to fear gunfire in their own churches, synagogues and mosques. If Trayvon Martin could have been your son, and the kids in the Aurora theater your daughters, then the aunts and uncles shot while praying on that Sunday could have also been your own.

We wish you were there on Thursday morning when community members entered their gurdwara for the first time since the massacre. You would have witnessed the spirit of chardi kala in the Sikh faith -- even in darkness, a rising resilience -- and shared this spirit, which is also part of the American character. Sikh women and men walked into a crime scene: blood on the carpets, there were bullet holes in the walls, and shattered windows. They flew into action, ripping out carpets, painting over bullet holes, scrubbing floors, and within hours, they served the first langar (open meal), breaking bread beneath portraits of those who have died for our faith.

Opinion: Why American Sikhs will survive

We wish you were there later that night for the town hall meeting organized by your Justice Department. Nearly every Sikh American told officials that the attack on Sunday was not isolated or "senseless," but one in a long pattern of intentional acts of hate and discrimination in the last decade and long before.

Our children are bullied in schools, our men and women are profiled at airports and barred from military service unless they give up their turbans, and our people endure racial slurs and hate crimes that are not specifically tracked by the FBI. You would have heard the community's cry for help and publicly called upon all Americans to recommit to curbing the alarming rise of hate and fear in this country.

News: Holder calls Sikh temple shooting a hate crime

We wish you were there on Friday morning for the memorial for the dead. Three thousand people filled the Oak Creek High School gymnasium, a sea of people sitting in reverence and sorrow before six open caskets.

We are deeply moved that you ordered the flags lowered to half-mast, an expression of respect and honor. But for Sikhs, and for Muslims who watched eight mosques attacked in eleven days, the threat is not over.

"All politics aside, a personal visit, even with the victims' families, the temple, the people, for [the president] to take pictures with people who have turbans and beards does so much for our safety," said Amardeep Kaleka, whose father was killed bravely fighting the gunman.

I returned to New York this week. One cab driver pointed to his brown skin and said to me: "This is not just about Sikh people. This is an attack on me too."

Belief: Sikh iReports speak to long-held fears in their community

President Obama, I believe you can help our nation find lasting lessons in Oak Creek. Now that we've had time to grieve, people who care are turning to one another and asking: What do we do now?

"It is that fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper, [and] I am my sister's keeper, that makes this country work," Attorney General Holder said, repeating your words at the memorial service. President Obama, I believe that your wisdom, compassion, and voice can help Sikhs and all Americans chart the way forward.

You may find the starting point when you visit the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek -- a single bullet hole remains and below it a sign: "We Are One."

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Valarie Kaur.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1338 GMT (2138 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT