Recent statistics from The National Sikh Campaign’s (NSC), We Are Sikhs effort have shown a drastic improvement in helping to educate the American public so they can understand their Sikh American neighbors better.
Although Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, it is the least understood major faith in the United States and because of that, Sikhism and the Sikh American community have had to face a significant number of hate crimes and bullying incidents since 9/11.
Since April, the We Are Sikhs campaign has been holding grassroots events in gurdwaras across the United States and airing ads on CNN & and Fox News nationwide, that show Sikhs as neighbors and proud Americans.
The We Are Sikhs campaign then ran a comprehensive effort in the local media market of Fresno, California, where tens of thousands of Sikhs live and where violence towards Sikh Americans has been occurring frequently in the past few years, including two deaths in the recent months.
To test whether the effort in California’s Central Valley was successful, We Are Sikhs conducted two polling surveys through Hart Research Associates. One poll was conducted prior to the launch of the digital and television advertising campaign and the other was conducted after the completion of the ad campaign.
The surveys’ highlights included: 59 percent of Fresno residents say they know at least something about Sikhs who live in America; 68 percent saw Sikhs as good neighbors and 64 percent saw Sikhs as generous and kind; The amount of residents (78 percent) who saw the ads are nearly twice as likely to say they know at least something about Sikhs who live in America than those who did not see the ads (40 percent); Out of the 78 percent who saw the ads, 57 percent are more likely to associate a bearded man wearing a turban with Sikhism and 67 percent believe that Sikhs believe in equality and respect for all people with 60 percent believing that Sikhs have American values; The amount of Fresno residents who know nothing about Sikhs decreased, especially among older residents, whites without a college degree and Republicans; Prior to the campaign less than half of Fresno residents believed that Sikhs believe in equality and that Sikhs have American values.
Thus the campaign was able to successfully establish Sikhism as an independent faith in the eyes of about 58 percent of participants. A similar nationwide survey was taken in 2015 before the campaign had shown that a solid majority of Americans had no clue about Sikhs or Sikhism and would associate Sikh physical identity with extremism.
“Despite tense race relations and an extremely polarized political environment, the We Are Sikhs campaign has been able to make headway in creating awareness of Sikh Americans, who can commonly be identified by their turbans and beards,” said Geoff Garin, President of Hart Research Associates.
“This effort is a testament to the Sikh community’s commitment to reaching out to people of all faiths to help them recognize that we all have shared values, and that is a ray of hope that proves that understanding can bring people of all walks of life together,” he added.
“This research shows that Sikhs anywhere can successfully create an appreciation of our values of equality, tolerance and service, and consequently an improved perception of our unique articles of faith among all Americans, whether liberal or conservative, young and old,” said Gurwin Singh Ahuja, co-founder of the National Sikh Campaign.
“We have demonstrated that an inclusive position is the best and only way to educate our neighbors on the benefits of diversity and religious freedom,” he added.
“We are thankful to all Sikhs for their confidence in this strategy and a well-planned approach to create awareness about Sikh faith. This is the first time that an immigrant community like ours has reached out to all Americans to create understanding. This is not an end and we must continue on this path,” said Dr. Rajwant Singh, co-founder and senior adviser of the National Sikh Campaign.
The ads showed Sikhs as part and parcel of American society while explaining that Sikhs and turban stands for equality and respect of all religions.
These ads were shown based on the survey and the input received by the focus groups convened by the NSC and they narrate who Sikhs are in a manner to which common Americans can relate to.
Some examples include: “I’m obsessed with ‘Star Wars,’” says a turbaned man who appears in one of the videos.” “I’ve seen every episode of ‘SpongeBob,’ because that’s what my daughters like to watch,” says another. Sikhs are also seen as fans of “Game of Thrones.” The ads were tested before the launch and had shown a significant increase in people having respect for Sikhs.
Thousands of Americans also visited WeAreSikhs.org and left positive notes after watching the ads on TV and many are now following the social media sites of the campaign.