Most advertisements, unless they are truly poignant or provocative, tend to be no more than background noise to me, however I was indeed shocked by the recent Gap advertisement that featured a turban-wearing Sikh man posing provocatively with a beautiful woman who was draped all over him. The ad, to be honest, left me feeling queasy and a bit uncomfortable and uncertain.
In my initial reaction, you could say I felt insulted. How dare this mere clothing company show such disrespect toward my faith and attempt to make money off the Sikh culture? But as I considered the ad further, I suddenly realized that Gap had actually done my people a huge favor in helping us to bridge the gap that has existed between Sikhs and much of Western culture. We have become a fashion statement.
Making The Unfamiliar Familiar
Much of the West is unfamiliar with Sikh traditions and beliefs. We have been lumped in with the faithful of Islam and, after the attacks of 9/11, have been terrorized by those who see our “dastar” and beards as signs we are the terrorists. In fact, Sikhs have been subjected to abuse and bigotry since the first of our faith arrived in America 100 years ago. Our turbans have been drawn onto the heads of ghastly cartoon characters and our ways have been characterized as isolating and standoffish.
Now with that image of Waris Ahluwalia, an attractive and highly successful Sikh, adorning billboards, we have been brought into the mainstream. I am no longer a strange looking individual, but a member of a recognizable group just as others belong to groups. The shade of mystery has lightened.
I have read the complaints of some in the Sikh community who say that they are offended by the representation in the ad of female model who seems to be disrespectfully pushing down on the turban and touching Waris “lustfully.” I have seen much worse depictions deliberately mocking Sikhs as snake charmers. Instead, I view the ad as showing others, in a way they can understand, how Sikhs are a part of the society we live in.
We Are All Equal In Our Own Way
Our faith tells us that we are all God’s children and all are equal in the eyes of the Divine Presence – man or woman; black, white, or brown. Now we have been gifted by Gap with a way of becoming an equal in the eyes of our Western neighbors. This multi-million dollar ad campaign is shedding more light and promoting more understanding than anything our community has been able to do alone.
Consider the current movement toward marriage equality. However you view homosexual marriage, the movement has gained momentum as more gay individuals revealed themselves to the community and became known. This is our chance to carry on what was started by Gap – to become better known and accepted in the greater community.
Questions already are being asked: “What does the turban signify?” “Why not shave?” More questions will lead to a greater understanding. We accept that all faiths can be a path to the Merciful Bestower. Perhaps Gap can be a bridge to understanding.