Under pressure from the Sikh community, Walmart pulled a turban-themed costume from its website that has been called offensive to 9/11 victims and perpetuates negative stereotypes about turbans and beards that have led to violence and discrimination against Sikhs and other minorities.
Sikh advocacy organizations sent letters and made phone calls to several retailers selling the item to request its removal. Amazon.com listed the costume as “Fun World Adult Mens Osama Bin Laden Middle East Costume Turban + Beard,” while Walmart described it as “Turban Beard Adult Halloween Instant Costume.”
The costume appears to be manufactured by Fun World Costumes, and is for sale on the sites of retailers such as Sears and Rite Aid, among others.
“We disabled this item for purchase and are in the process of immediately removing it from our site,” a Walmart spokesman told sources in an email, adding that the costume was not available in stores. “We sincerely apologize to any customers who may have been offended by this costume.”
Sikh Americans face an extremely high degree of ignorance surrounding their religious practices and beliefs, and a recent survey by Stanford University found that about 70 percent of Americans misidentify turban-wearing Sikhs as Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or members of the Shinto faith.
The complaint to the retailers comes in the wake of a brutal hate crime against a respected member of the American Sikh community, Dr. Prabhjot Singh, a professor at Columbia University and dedicated advocate for the underserved. His attackers shouted “terrorist,” and “Osama” and pulled at his beard and turban in an attack that required him to get jaw surgery.
The turban is an important part of their religious identity for some Sikhs. In one case this year, Jagjeet Singh, who declined to take off his turban after Judge Aubrey Rimes of Mississippi Pike County Justice Court told him to “remove that rag,” explained that to remove his turban would be sacrilegious and shameful.