NYC Transit Workers Allowed to Wear Religious Head Coverings

Turbans on a staircase, by Flickr user "lamentables", licensed via Creative Commons.Fear is a powerful motivator, and as such the government sometimes responds poorly to the irrational fear of its citizens.  In 1942, due to a fear of all things Japanese during WWII, the federal government rounded up all the Japanese people they could, including native-born citizens, and placed them in destitute internment camps.  Before rounding up Jews and other minorities in concentration camps, the Nazis forced them to identify with yellow badges in the shape of a star, claiming that they were responsible for their country’s problems.  Through these events, we learned the hard way that fear and blame, however unfounded, can lead to atrocity.

Comparisons to such human rights abuses are a stretch in today’s case, of course, and perhaps somewhat unfair, and yet the parallels are striking.  After 9/11, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York City started enforcing a rule known as “brand or segregate”, in which Sikh and Muslim workers were forced to either mark their turbans with an MTA logo or work out of the sight of the general public.  See the similarities?  Fueled by xenophobic sentiment after the 9/11 tragedy, the MTA responded to American fear by taking steps to appease it: hide all the scary foreigners, or at least mark them so the good red-blooded Americans know to stay away.

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