News From Masters
Vishavjit Singh, a cartoonist whose work punctures stereotypes about Sikhs, urged Middle School students to avoid labeling others based on religion, race or outward appearances.
Mr. Singh was the guest speaker at an assembly held in Doc Wilson Hall as part of the Middle School’s celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. on January 11 and 12.
Born in Washington, D.C. in 1971, Mr. Singh was living in White Plains, NY and working in New York City at the time of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
“When 9/11 happened, my life changed profoundly,” he said. “People on the street gave me threatening looks. They looked at me as if I was the enemy.”
Soon afterward, he saw an editorial cartoon depicting a Sikh man and denouncing the hate crimes being committed in the U.S. against anyone perceived to be Muslim. At that moment, he said, he was inspired to begin creating cartoons based on news events and his personal experiences.
Mr. Singh showed several of his cartoons to the students. One featured a 92-year-old Sikh man who held the record for fastest marathon runner in the over-90 male category. Another was a spoof of “The Scream” painting by Edvard Munch, with a Sikh man “screaming at the sight of ignorant Americans freaking out at his turban.”
A third cartoon depicted a mock New Yorker magazine cover showing a Sikh New York City police officer. Mr. Singh said he drew the cartoon after learning that the city’s police department barred officers from having beards or wearing religious head coverings. (He noted that turbans are now allowed but beards remain forbidden.)
“We take labels and we come up with racist policies,” observed Mr. Singh.
The cartoonist also showed photographs of himself as “Captain America,” dressed in a blue stretchy suit and holding a shield in one hand. His one-day stint as a Sikh version of the superhero came about after he presented his cartoon of a “Sikh Captain America” at New York Comic Con, a pop culture convention.
Afterward, Mr. Singh said, he became “Captain America for the day” and went to Central Park, where strangers hugged him, photographed him with their children and even invited him to weddings. “We love storytelling,” he said. “That’s why I was treated that way.”
“You guys are not labels,” Mr. Singh told the students. “You are all walking and talking stories.”
In closing remarks, he advised: “Don’t judge anyone based on their looks. Instead, ask them, ‘tell me your story.’ ”
After his presentation, Mr. Singh led two cartooning workshops – one for grades 5 and 6 and another for grades 7 and 8.
Please check next week’s issue of The Messenger to learn more about Masters’ MLK Jr. Day celebration.