Navigating Sikhi as a Black, Queer, Ex Christian

Navigating Sikhi as a Black, Queer, Ex Christian

– The other black Sikhs I
know were ready and willing to sort of, like, just
immerse themselves into Sikhi, which means taking on
parts of Punjabi culture, if we’re being honest. And I was like, hey, I
see you, Punjabi culture, I respect it, I love it,
there are a lot of parallels, there are a lot of overlaps, but also, black American is a
culture, and it’s mine, and I don’t wanna lose it. (mellow electronic music) – Hey guys, it’s Kat, and
we’re here today with Smalls to talk about the intersections of being black, woman, and Sikh. – Hey, y’all. – So, you’re black, you’re
a woman, and you’re Sikh. What, first of all, what is a Sikh? Like, what does that mean? – What is a Sikh? So, a Sikh is a, basically a student. It’s somebody who practices
Sikhi, or commonly, especially here in the
West, known as Sikhism, but it’s actually Sikhi
is the proper name for it, though if you say either– – Oh, wow, yeah, I’ve always said Sikhism, so that’s interesting. – Yeah, so Sikhism is what
the colonizers brought over, but Sikhi is how our
gurus always refer to it, it’s how it’s referred in our texts, and amongst us mostly, Sikh or Sikhi. – Interesting, so what is Sikhism? Obviously we’re probably
not as familiar with it in the West as we are with Christianity, so if you could sum it up,
how would you sum it up? – Woo, okay, so it’s a
monotheistic religion, right? It’s about 500 years old, and it’s one of the five major religions, though of the five, it’s
probably the least known, the least popular, and
the most misunderstood. We’re often mistaken for Muslims, especially if we’re wearing a turban. And most Sikhs are brown. It was actually founded in India, in the northern part of
India, in Punjab, right? So, it was actually brought to the West or introduced to the West by Yogi Bhajan, who was a yogi master
who came out here to LA. And of course, there were already Sikhs living out here in the West, but he brought it out here and actually began teaching it, and so that’s sort of
how it was introduced to folks who weren’t just Indian. (gentle music) – So, you weren’t raised
with this religion? – Oh, no, no, no, I was raised Christian. – Oh, wow. – Yeah, I was born into
a Christian family, a black Christian family, Baptist, which I think is an important
distinction to make. But I was raised Baptist in California, so it’s a little bit
different than Southern– – Okay, so you’re like a little chill. – Yeah, a little bit
chill, little progressive. – Almost nondemoninational, you know. – Yeah, like, it was okay
to wear pants in church, and like, it was a little bit more chill. It was a very youth-driven, youth-focused. But I grew up with Christianity and I left that in about 2010, actually. – Interesting. So, like, what drew you
to another religion? – Well, I left because
Christianity wasn’t working for me. I had been trying for years to
sort of resolve and reconcile some things and issues that
I had with it and I couldn’t. I was talking to all kinds of people, my pastor and my dad, took some theology. I’ve always gone to Catholic school. – Wow. – So, went to a Catholic university– – So, you were raised Baptist, but you went to a Catholic school, and now you’re Sikh? – Yeah, yeah. Well, actually, I went
to a Christian, Lutheran, then Christian again, then Catholic, and then a Catholic university. – Oh, gee. Oh my gosh. – So, that gave me a lot. And even in high school, I
took a world religions course, which is how I was first
introduced to Sikhi, and in college, theology
courses were required, so I was very, you know, sort of exposed to a lot of things, and I just couldn’t reconcile a lot of things. So, I left it, thinking I
would just do the, like, I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious, like I would go that route, but it didn’t really work for me, or it wasn’t, I didn’t feel
like it was working for me. I wanted more. I wanted community, I
wanted some structure, I wanted fellowship. I finally had the relationship
with God that I wanted, but I wanted the rest of it, the stuff that I remembered
from Christianity that I loved, you know, going to church,
and being around people, and having somebody to talk to, and having Bible study. So, I spent about three years looking for, like, a new religion, just sort of trying on
a religion for size. – So wait, how many
religions did you try on? – Ugh, I don’t even remember. So, I tried Islam, Buddhism, Taoism. Of course, I looked into some other ones, but I knew right off the top, like, those aren’t gonna be for me, like Jainism, and Rastafarianism. – So, what did trying on these, like, what did that look like? – It looked like a lot of research, a lot of questions, a lot of learning, and then, for the religions where I said, oh, this might work, so Islam was a really close contender, right, and I practiced that for quite a while. But again, I got to the point where there were just things about
it I couldn’t reconcile. – Like what? – So, a lot of the things around gender. And a lot of the rules, and rituals, and I had left Christianity in part because of those rules and rituals. I felt like they got in the way of my relationship with God, like we were so busy, you
have to find a church home, and they have to do this, this, and this, and trying to find that church home just led to more frustration, and I looked up one day
and I realized, like, I’m so deeply embedded to
the religion part of it that I have no idea what my
relationship with God is. Like, it wasn’t at all
where I needed it to be. So, Islam got me there,
but there were still a lot of rules and rituals
that got in the way, there were a lot of things about gender I wasn’t vibing with. But that was the closest
one, that was the closest. And then I had almost given up. I was like, I just, I guess I can’t, like, I can’t go back to
Christianity, I don’t know. And I’d given up, and I was just kinda playing around online one day and I Googled, like, what
religion should I be, or how to know which religion,
something really silly, and a quiz popped up. It was like, which religion are you, like which religion should you be? And it was a list of, like, questions. It was a little bit more sophisticated than a Buzzfeed quiz, with all your ideologies,
and your core beliefs, and your values, and
what’s important to you, not just do you believe, but how important is this belief to you? Is this something that
is negotiable for you or not negotiable? And Sikhi, I took the quiz multiple times because I was so surprised by the results, but Sikhi was always in the top three. And I looked it up, I was like, Sikhi, with the brown folks and the turbans? Like, I don’t know, really? That’s the one that’s for me? And I read it, and even in reading it, I just kept going to other sources because I couldn’t believe, like, it sounded too perfect. Like, on paper, I was like, you know, one of the major principles has to do with justice, or something that’s really
important, I should say, for Sikhs and for Sikhi is justice, social justice, social equity, equality among gender, and race, and creed, and even religion, religious freedom and believing that, you know, there’s no one right way. Like, you must live this way, you must believe this to get here. Sikhi wasn’t about that. It was really, really focused on your relationship with God, who you were as an individual, what you brought, like being
a good person, being honest, and then social justice, which seemed, I was like, somebody designed this religion for me, I’m pretty sure. And yeah, and so, I looked at the quiz, I looked at the results, I studied, and I learned, and I read, and I said, I think this is it. Like, it felt right, you know? I think it was like really figuring out other aspects of my identity where I finally, when I heard the word, or I heard the term, it
felt right, you know? And that’s the same thing
that happened with Sikhi. But I was still so skeptical, and I was also worried
about the lack of diversity, and how all of this would
play out in practice, like in praxis in real life, that I said, I’m gonna
practice this for a year before I even tell anybody. – Interesting. – So, I told my close friends, and I started practicing. I got about eight months
in and I was like, nah, I’m sold, like, it’s
official, let’s do it. – And so, like, what
about it appealed to you? The social justice, I get all that, but I guess it’s, um, there’s
other religions, I’m sure, like, Buddhism I know is very, from my understanding about that, why that over Buddhism? – Right, so Sikhi was founded
at a time during, like, a ton of oppression in India, right? And it was, our founder, Guru Nanak, sort of began this journey of really sculpting this religion
and shaping this religion as a response to what was going on. There was a lot of religious oppression, there was a lot of caste oppression, a lot of social injustice, a
lot of social inequalities, a lot of people practicing
and doing a lot of rituals that weren’t making them
better people necessarily. They were just doing them because you needed to be doing them. And so, in the sense, so, I know you said Buddhism, so for Christianity, I like
to compare it to Christianity ’cause that’s the one
I’m super familiar with, it seems to be a bit more passive. – Being a good person, you mean? – Yeah, well, being a good person, but also, the Bible talks about turning the other cheek, you know? Somebody does something to you, if you see something
happening, pray about it. It’s like a little bit more passive. – Oh, I see, instead of action, it’s very, like, well, you know, just let it roll off the
back of your, you know. – And I know that there’s the scripture, you know, faith without works is dead, but just in terms of the emphasis, there was much more emphasis on not just action, and not just living right and being a good person,
but in fighting for others, which I felt like that was
my purpose since I was nine, just having sickle cell,
having a disability, and being an advocate starting so young, I’ve always felt like that was my purpose, like, serving other people, advocating for other people, defending other people,
as well as myself, right? So, that’s really what appealed to me, that it was, like, you know, one of the five Ks, as they call it, part of the Sikh uniform,
especially if you’re Khalsa, is a weapon, it’s a sword,
and that’s to defend people. If you see something happening, yeah, you’re supposed to step
in, you’re supposed to be, you’re not just a bystander, you don’t sit back and just pray about it, you actively go and you do something, you defend that person, you
stand up for that person. Like I said earlier, a lot of times, Sikhs are mistaken for
Muslim, and you know, we don’t say, oh, I’m not Muslim, don’t harm me, right, because we should be– – [Interviewer] Hurting anyone. – Persecuting anyone anyway, right? But that, to me, just kinda just shows the thought process when
you’re practicing Sikhi. It’s not about saying, hey,
I’m not Muslim, leave me alone. It’s like, okay, I’ll take this, but also, I need to do something about this. – Hearing you talk, I’m thinking, ’cause I was raised very Christian, and I went to Christian private school, so I was deep into it, and I remember the feeling that I had about religion at the time, ’cause not only was I Christian, but like, when I went to secular school, you know, ’cause that’s
how I thought about it, you know, I was really preachy, and I was preachy, really, on the basis of I have the truth, this
is the absolute truth, there is no other truth, and that’s that, and as great as it would be if things were another way, this just is the truth. – Just like, religious elitism. – And so, like, hearing
you talk, you know, you’re talking a lot about
finding something that appeals to you or fits
within your worldview. I guess, how do you feel about, ’cause I guess, like, the
feeling I had in Christianity was very, like, you know,
you may feel this way, but the truth is this. – [Smalls] But this is the right way. – This is the right way, you know, like, and I guess there are people who could hear you talk
about religion and think, well, you know, you’re just trying to find something that suits you and your worldly way of viewing things, and not necessarily what is objectively true. So, how would you sort
of respond to people who might have that reaction? – I would say you’re exactly correct, that’s exactly it, because
that’s what Sikhi teaches. I know the Christian proselytizing, right, mission work, and going out, and teaching, and spreading the good word is paramount to being a good Christian, right, to being a faithful servant. The problem with that is that, if you take the world into consideration, cultures are so different. Everybody’s so different. Like, I don’t believe, and I never have, that’s the thing, even
when I was Christian, even when I was deep into it, I always had a problem
with that part of it, because I never felt like
this is the only right way, and if you do not go this way, if you do not do these things, if you do not believe this, if you do not know Jesus, you are going to burn
in a fiery pit forever. That never really worked
for me because I thought, well, what about people who never have the opportunity to hear about Jesus, or God, or Christianity? You’re telling me God, like, you’re telling me on one hand, God created the world and
it is as God wants it, but then God would make it so that there’s these whole sets of people who don’t even have a
chance to go to Heaven? So, those things, they
never really gelled with me, and in fact, Sikhi teaches the
opposite, religious freedom. So, in our religious
text, in our scriptures, there’s actually, parts of it are from Muslim saints and Hindu saints, so it’s not just Sikhi, it’s not just Sikh leaders and Sikh saints. So, that was, and this is the thing, like, when people ask me why Sikhi, literally everything about it. Like, the religious freedom
being such a big part, it’s a major thing, you know? Like, the fact that
you could be Christian, and this person could be Muslim, and I could see value in all
of those religious practices, because ultimately, at the end of the day, I really believe most religions have the same core beliefs, right? Especially monotheistic religions, we have the same core belief where you believe there’s a higher power, you believe there’s some
type of supreme being, and then how you go about getting to where you wanna go,
whether it’s rebirth, or Heaven, or whatever, it’s
generally the same idea. Right, that’s what the religion is about, and so, Sikhi just says that there’s more than one way to do that. There’s more than one road to take to get to where you’re trying to go.

42 Replies to “Navigating Sikhi as a Black, Queer, Ex Christian”

  1. I wanna give a big thank you to everyone who joined me for the live premiere!
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  2. This is a really interesting series. I am learning so much, thank you for not just interviewing but listening really well to Smalls. I did not know much about Sikhi but I like learning how the religion really centers justice. You are doing amazing work. Keep Going!

  3. There is literally a temple right across the street from my house… And I knew less before watching this video than I felt I should have. Thank for this.

    I definitely saw myself in her journey as a queer black woman with religion. I'm from the East Coast and Baptist raised and also explored heavily with religion. I eventually found my way to Reform Judaism for many of the same reasons she became Sikh.

    Loving this series.

  4. as a muslim woman, i totally get why some aspects of the quran might not gel with people. i don't agree with everything in it myself and i'm not particularly strict with my religion. but my interpretation of god is that he loves all of his creations, so i don't buy into all that "fire and brimstone" stuff either. muslims generally believe that god gives everyone free will and that you're only judged on the choices that you make. and that's one of the things about islam that i carry with me the most. it was really interesting to learn more about sikhi and its islamic influences. i've actually heard from a few sikhs about how important it is to not be islamophobic when correcting people and saying they're not muslim. i think it's important that we all stand in solidarity with each other.

  5. This was a great segment! Thanks @KatBlaque! If anyone has questions about Sikhi and/or the Sikh way of life, they can contact a representative from the Sikh Resource Society and they will be more than happy to answer questions and even take you on a tour of a Gurdwara. You can contact them through their website at

  6. It is sad to me that we feel the need to “find” a religion to get to God. Religions are man-made ideologies in an attempt to reach God but God already built a bridge to reach us by coming in the world in human flesh through a man named Jesus. I don’t think it’s about finding a religion that suits your needs but it’s all just about serving God and if God calls you to social justice then you should pursue helping people, the Bible doesn’t say not to do that. You can pray and serve at the same time, prayer doesn’t mean being inactive and turning the other cheek doesn’t mean being inactive either. Personally i think “turning the other cheek” means being able to endure suffering but if you can change it you should. However I really love this woman’s passion for serving others, I feel that same passion and i think it’s so important.

  7. As a Sikh who was born into a Sikh family, but later chose it as my faith, this video was so well done.

    Smalls couldn't have explained Sikhi any better, and I am so glad that this video sheds light on our faith and what we believe in <3

  8. So I was born in sikh family Punjab.
    Became an agonostic around 16 then later by 18 atheist later around 20 started reading scripture and writings then realised well I wasnt expecting reading about origin of world and multiple dimensions stuff that was turning point for me .

  9. I know I'm putting so many comments .
    Another reason why I follow sikhi is not because I think god exist but because what kind of people sikhi makes .
    One of the greatest generals of Sikh empire Hari Singh nalwa . When captured a fort in Afghanistan an extremely beautiful woman came to him and asked to marry her and her desire to have a son like him . He was married by that time he replied I'm sorry sister but I cant (monogamy ) .
    SHe says I was hoping to have a son like you and marry you as mentioned offer declined. She says I heard no one leaves empty handed from guru nanaks darbar (first sikh guru and darbar means let's say a meeting place ) .
    HARI Singh nalwa says yes no one leaves empty handed so he mentions from today onwards I'm your son and you are my mother . That day onwards she called her son and he called her mother .

    Back in the days no one was like this especially men with power .

  10. I struggle with belief, specially when it feels like a 'betrayal' against what I grew up with, but undoing the results of that indoctrination is a process. Though, I do identify with paganism and although I don't exactly believe there's a higher power out there (I believe that we can't prove or disprove it), my patron goddess is Isis and she's a goddess of magic, of love, of motherhood. She was worshiped even by slaves, who were not allowed to worship most gods. She was seen as a protector of the defenseless and downtrodden, and a goddess of grief, too. There's even a myth of her helping a minor Greek deity with their gender identity.

  11. this was very informative! Thank you for sharing our this educational content 😀 I wasn’t too familiar with Sikh and having this perspective as an introduction is awesome

  12. Very informative video! My only critique is to maybe leave the information blurbs up a couple seconds longer (the longer ones), I felt they disappeared quite quickly.

  13. This was great! I was glad to see someone black and queer like myself. I’m doing my research about Sikhi also. Wanting to know more about the practices and the communities…like finding other black Sikhs

  14. Great video, one thing I wish you'd cleared up was the pronunciation. Many people, including Punjabi people, pronounce Sikh as SEEK; I went to school with a lot of Punjabi students who said SEEK so I was surprised to discover this ISN'T the correct way to pronounce it. It would have been great if you had addressed this phenomenon for people who have never heard SICK or SICKI used before. Anyway, keep up with the great content!

  15. I was born hindu ..brought up around christianity as teenager and found Sikhism through love of Punjabi culture and visiting golden temple..most peaceful place on earth.Waheguroo ji ..the creator god in Sikhism is my love and happiness.

  16. I took that same quiz and it told me about Quakerism, which I love! Social justice and equality are big parts of it too. I went to a Sikh wedding and learned all about it, and I really love so much about it.

  17. Sikhi is NOT just monotheistic (the one who believes god is one ) . Islam is monotheistic . Hinduism is pantheism ( the one who believe and experience god is in and around this universe , and , god is dependent on universe ) . Sikhism is panentheism – the one who believes that god is one and is in and around us in universe but also god is independent of universe , if universe doesn't exsist , god still exsist. We do believe god is one but also we believe (and some people experienced ) that god is in ourself and around us in this universe.
    Thanks for reading..😊

  18. Excuse me sister but sikhs have been in America for over one hundred years so NO yogi never brought sikhi to the USA , even before he was born the sikh gurdwarey (Temples) were the places where the Indian independence struggle was coordinated and funds raised. Yogi was a yoga teacher who milked tge message of sikhi for his own personal gain.

  19. Welcome to Sikh way of life sister. even though I was born in Sikh family but most of Indian born Sikh like myself or our parents or grandparents don't even understand our Gurus ji's teaching, in the last 10 years or so many good parchark are spreading the teaching based on Guru Granth Sahib ji, so but I can understand is that our Gurus didn't create another religion, I think they tried to bring the whole Humanity together because starting from Guru Granth Sahib ji which have writing of poets from other faiths than laying the foundation of Harimander Sahib (Golden Temple) Guru ji chosed person from another faith to do it, the four doors which shows that everyone is welcome from all corners of the world, the Langer where everyone can sit and have meal together it doesn't matter if person is rich, poor, Hindu, Muslim, Christian or any other faith, so what I can understand that Sikhi is not another faith, Guru Ji teaches us that we all are brothers & Sisters we all have one father people call him God, Allah, Ram, Waheguru etc.,
    May waheguru ji bless the whole Humanity
    We are All One!!!

  20. I don't really understand the need to shop around for a religion, you can have a relationship with God without having to follow any organisation, but what ever floats your boat.

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