U.S. Sikhs launched a million-dollar “We are Sikhs” initiative on Vaisakhi Day April 14, the Sikh New Year, that celebrates the founding of the Sikh community by Guru Nanak in the Punjab region of India in 1469.
Organized by the nonprofit National Sikh Campaign, the initiative is a response to increasing hate and violence against Sikhs in the United States since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Nine out of 10 Sikhs have experienced “negative reactions or hate language.”
Although the religion originated in India and bears no connection with Islam, Sikhs, in their turbans and beards, are often mistaken for Muslims and affected by anti-Muslim sentiment. There have been 300 death threats and several religiously-inspired murders of Sikhs.
Sikhism, the fifth-largest religion in the world, came to the United States in the 19th century. Sikhs have served in the U.S. Army since World War I in which 138,000 fought with the Americans and other Allied forces. A large number of Sikhs also fought under Allied command in World War II, earning a reputation for valor. In January 2017, the United States Army granted permission for Sikh army personnel to wear beards and turbans on active duty.
Despite 500,000 Sikhs in the U.S. and 20-30 million worldwide, a study by the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) and Stanford University Peace and Innovation Lab revealed that 70 percent of the public could not correctly identify a Sikh. Most Americans pronounce the word “Seek,” but it is correctly pronounced Sik-kh, which means “disciple” in Punjabi.
Funded by Sikh leaders and their families, National Sikh Campaign strategy is led by AKPD Media, responsible for the media and messaging strategy for both Obama campaigns and FP1 Strategies that worked on the Bush campaign. Research was conducted by the Peter D. Hart Research firm. The aim of the new campaign is to build a genuine Sikh image in the United States and reduce discrimination and violence against the religion and its adherents.
The rollout consists of:
- Television advertising in regional and select national networks
- Regional and national media and targeted digital and social media promoting and demonstrating that Sikh values are American values
- Activation of the Sikh community to become involved in community social programs and establish relations with local, state and federal government officials.
For more information, visit the National Sikh Campaign website.