UK: WHITE students met “disgusting racism” when they wore Sikh turbans in the city centre.
The students from Plymouth College of Art designed and made eight turbans for Councillor Chaz Singh over the past year, as part of their extended diploma in fashion and textiles.
But when they went out wearing the colourful headdresses to “find out how it felt” they were greeted by racist abuse from some members of the public, they told The Herald yesterday.
Stephanie Ashton, 17, said: “We had disgusting remarks. White students were abused and called names and ‘dirty’.
“People were staring and you could see the disgust on their faces,” she said. “Old people were coming out with it straight away. You could see they weren’t educated.”
Chaz Singh, Labour councillor for Drake ward and last year’s deputy Lord Mayor, said he no longer had a problem with overt racism because of his role in the city’s life.
“The important thing is to educate people – and this exercise has been an education.”
He said schools needed to engage with people like himself to educate their pupils.
“More exposure in schools would help to combat the kind of racism the students encountered,” he said.
“When I talk to children in schools, I say to them, ‘Go home and tell your parents what you have learned’.”
Julia Stean, course leader, said: “Chaz came in with his wife and talked to us about Sikhism and identity.
“We have been looking at how we judge people, and wearing turbans let the students see how it feels to be judged.”
And Stephanie added: “When somebody says something bad now I’m not afraid to challenge them.”
The students yesterday showed off some of the unique designs they created for Plymouth’s only Sikh city councillor.
The designs range from a map of Britain with Plymouth in bold to the Cross of St George.
Students created the designs and screen-printed them on to lengths of plain white cotton a staggering seven and a half metres long by one metre wide.
Turbans are a key part of the Sikh religion.
Sikh men are not allowed to cut their hair, which is considered sacred.
Cllr Singh demonstrated how the long fabric is folded and wound around the head – a process he said could be done in just five minutes in the morning … with practice.
He said the success of the turbans project had “gone global”, with interest coming from Washington in the United States and Ontario in Canada.
“Nowhere else has done a project like this,” he said.
First-year student Kelsey McConnell, 18, said she valued the professional experience of making the turbans, and getting something to put in her portfolio for university.
But she said that when they were measuring Cllr Singh for a StGeorge’s Day red and white jacket “he was a real diva”.