So, quick recap for those who may have missed it: A Reddit user with the handle european_douchebag posted a photo of a bearded Sikh woman with the comment, “i’m not sure what to conclude from this.” The woman, Balpreet Kaur, subsequently responded. (It turns out she’s a student at Ohio State, a couple hours up the road from me.) She explained that as a Sikh, she doesn’t shave in order to honor the sacrality of her divinely bestowed body; she touted this commitment as a way she avoids getting caught up in external appearances, so she can focus instead on making positive change in the world.
European_douchebag then issued an apology–largely preoccupied, it seems to me, with averting negative publicity from Reddit, but including the statements, “Balpreet, I’m sorry for being a closed minded individual. You are a much better person than I am”; “Sikhs, I’m sorry for insulting your culture and way of life”; and “Balpreet’s faith in what she believes is astounding.”
Reddit Users Attempt to Shame Sikh Woman, Get Righteously Schooled (Jezebel.com)
I posted the picture of a Sikh woman on here and I’d like to apologize (european_douchebag’s apology)
At the risk of raining on the pluralist parade (well, okay, I admit, that’s what I do), I’m a little surprised by how vigorously european_douchebag backpedalled. His initial comment about not being sure what to conclude from this is certainly douchey, as one would expect from his handle. But I don’t find the comment all that offensive. “I’m not sure what to conclude from this” would be a reasonable paraphrase of my own reaction to the unexplicated photo. (Indeed, there’s a fascinating conversation waiting to be had about this photo from a religion-and-transgenderism angle. How potentially unexpected that the Sikh prohibition on shaving could lead to the sacralization of a body that transgresses conventional expectations for female bodies.)
So why such emphatic backpedalling on european_douchebag’s part? My hunch: The moment Kaur identified as Sikh, what had been intended as douchey humor fell under the pall of the recent temple shooting. Douchey humor suddenly became liable to being read as grossly insensitive or bigoted–not just the mild bigotry of a self-proclaimed douchebag snickering at a woman with facial hair, but white-supremacy level bigotry. European_douchebag needed to make sure we understood he wasn’t that.