Sikh Captain America says his mission is simple — fight hate and intolerance

Vishavjit Singh knows how dangerous labels can be. That’s why he dresses up as Sikh Captain America and tries to get everyone he meets to combat a pervasive enemy: hate and intolerance.

There’s a new superhero in town — and he’s got a turban and beard

(Provided by Vishavjit Singh)
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There's a new superhero in town — and he's got a turban and beard.

Vishavjit Singh is a New York City-based performance artist and cartoonist, perhaps better known as the Sikh Captain America. Since 2013, he's been dressing up as the superhero and engaging everyone he meets.

His mission? To get us to confront our prejudices. Or, as he puts it on his poster, "to kick some intolerant ass."

It all started after 9/11. At the time of the attacks, Singh was living and working outside the city. He'd recently recommitted to the Sikh faith he'd grown up with and started wearing a turban.

He remembers watching the planes hit the twin towers in horror — and the angry stares he got from a co-worker.

"By the end of the day, or before the end of the day, actually, we realized that, unfortunately, there was going to be a backlash, to those who might look like, the enemy in this case," said Singh.  

The stares continued. Some people even started calling Singh "terrorist."

He spent the next couple of weeks working from home. He also started making cartoons, including one of Sikh Captain America.  Fiona Aboud, a photographer, saw the image. She asked him if he'd be willing to dress up as Captain America.

Captain America takes Manhattan

At first, Singh resisted. But then a man with ties to white supremacist groups killed six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012.

"That hit me really hard, because I felt, this could be me," said Singh.

So he penned an op-ed, arguing for a new superhero who could reflect the diversity of 21st century America and fight hate and intolerance.

Aboud saw it and asked him to reconsider her request. This time, he agreed.

We have to ask ourselves: Did I judge somebody today? Did I act on my prejudices today?- Vishavjit Singh

In June 2013, Singh donned the Captain America uniform and walked around the city. He was surprised by the reaction he got.

"For the first time in my life, I felt that everybody — all these strangers who inhabit the same city where I'm in — are treating me as somebody who's special and one of their own," said Singh.

Vishavjit Singh visits the Google campus dressed as Captain America, the famed Marvel movie and comic book character. (Provided by Vishavjit Singh)

But not everyone was so open.

One boy told Singh he couldn't be Captain America because he wore a turban and a beard. But pushing back against that stereotype is the whole point, says Singh.

Meditating on prejudices

As he told the boy, "remember this: For the rest of your life, you are going to have this image of me dressed up as Captain America in a turban and beard. And you'll never be able to delete that image voluntarily. And maybe next time you see somebody who looks like me, you might first have this image of Captain America come to your head and inform your perceptions of who that person might or might not be."

Singh continues to travel around, dressing up as Captain America. He hopes his story will inspire others to confront their prejudices. In fact, he wants it to be our daily meditation.

"We have to ask ourselves: Did I judge somebody today? Did I act on my prejudices today?" said Singh. "If you were to do this like, brushing teeth, or taking a shower, I think we would be much better off in the comings months and years."