HomeSikh AmericansOpEd: What's really behind the insanity in Florida?

OpEd: What’s really behind the insanity in Florida?

By Harman Singh, Education Director of the Sikh Coalition

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis may have made news recently with his presidential campaign launch, but the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community has been discussing his policy platform for some time now.

On May 9, Gov. DeSantis signed House Bill 1537 into law, which among other curriculum directives requires the teaching of “the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.” At face value, this could be seen as a win for the AAPI community, who have long had our histories, cultures, and contributions to the American fabric glossed over in public school instruction. Examining this bill in context of Florida’s other recent policy changes, however, presents a different story. 

Just weeks before House Bill 1537 became law, on April 22, Gov. DeSantis also signed the “Stop WOKE Act” into law, an anti-Critical Race Theory measure aggressively targeting conversations or trainings around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in Florida schools (and businesses, to boot). Then, On May 15, he signed another law that would prohibit “spending state or federal funds to promote, support or maintain any programs that ‘advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion’” in the state’s public universities, as well as attempt to censor classroom discussions of topics relating to DEI. And of course, earlier this year, the Florida Department of Education turned down an advanced placement course centered on African American studies, which Gov. DeSantis’ press secretary called, “a vehicle for a political agenda.”

Taken together, these developments make it clear that any vision of inclusive education in Florida comes with a significant asterisk. How, then, should that color AAPI communities’ interpretation of House Bill 1537? It must serve as a sobering reminder that the broader fight for justice must always be an intersectional effort.

The Sikh community, for example, is no stranger to exclusion. For more than 10 years, we have been pushing for our faith to be included alongside other world religions in state social studies standards. Though we are the fifth largest organized religion in the world, we’re often left out of classroom discussions; this gap in education can allow ignorance to fester, which in turn contributes to the bullying and othering of Sikh kids at rates well above the national average—especially for those boys and girls who maintain visible articles of faith. 

So far, in 17 states around the country, Sikh parents and students have successfully advocated, testified, and lobbied for inclusion in these standards. But not once have we been well-served to prioritize ourselves over other groups, or champion an end result that only benefits our own children without pushing for the youth of other communities to also see themselves and their stories reflected in educational materials. In fact, the reverse is true: We find our efforts are most successful—whether we’re working in New York, Virginia, or Mississippi—when we band together with other marginalized groups in advocating for change. 

This same dynamic plays out in other advocacy spaces. Anti-hate crime laws shouldn’t just protect Sikhs and other religious minorities, but our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters too; a legal victory that ensures a Sikh man’s right to wear his turban at work must also provide the same protection for a Muslim woman and her hijab or a Jewish person and their yarmulke. This is a truth that generations of civil rights activists have come to understand: Measures that do not protect everyone against discrimination only further it, and a victory in representation for one group that comes at the expense of representation for others is no victory at all.

As a Sikh, I believe in the concept of sarbat da bhala, which literally translates to ‘for the good of all.’ In the context of the 21st-century fight for diversity, equity, and inclusion, this is the value that must undergird our approach to advocacy. A willingness to divide and conquer, to pit communities against each other, and to elevate the few while suppressing the many have long been reliable tools in the toolbox of those in places of power and privilege. It is far past time that we stand together and say ‘no more.’

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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