Although racism has always been a reality for minorities around the world, many people have become more aware in recent times, as movements like Black Lives Matter and #StopAsianHate battle hard against all forms of oppression based on race or ethnicity.
Like many others from minority groups, Canadian-Indian star Arjan “Singh” Bhullar — who will challenge Brandon “The Truth” Vera for the ONE Heavyweight World Championship at ONE: DANGAL on 15 May — felt the impact of racial discrimination while growing up.
The Commonwealth Wrestling Gold Medalist’s parents moved from India to Canada to provide a better future for their offspring, but the early years in North America were not easy.
“Yes, my family faced racism after moving to Canada. It was a different time. Back then, racism was out in the open — physical, verbal, and emotional,” Bhullar says.
“It was common to have to travel in packs because of a risk of physical altercation. That stuff was all normal.”
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Although “Singh” believes that there are now fewer overt expressions of prejudice on the streets, he knows that minority groups still face many hurdles in the societies that their parents or grandparents immigrated to.
“Do I see changes in the situation racially now? Yes and no,” Bhullar explains.
“Yes, because it’s more systemic rather than outright. You won’t get as many physical altercations because that racism is easy to stamp out and identify. But it is in the order within organizations, opportunities, and [who is] being given the seats of power and decision-making.”
When it comes to dealing with less direct forms of racism, “Singh” continues to push back by standing proud and representing both his heritage and his nation.
“Probably my most impactful incident would have been at the Olympic Games [in 2012] when I decided to wear a turban out to the opening ceremony and I had some members of the U.S. basketball team have a reaction to that, let’s just say,” he recalls.
“I have tried to find strength in what I am proud of and who I am, and realizing that there’s nothing wrong with being different, nothing wrong with being unique, and nothing wrong with representing your culture and who you are.”
Proud to be Canadian, Indian, and Sikh, Bhullar has represented all three around the world at international sporting competitions – and now on the global stage of ONE Championship.
He knows that his success has given him a bigger platform to educate others and, ever the optimist, the 34-year-old prefers to believe that dialogue with others can create positive results.
“We’re working towards changing [the racism people face], and success changes everything,” the American Kickboxing Academy representative offers.
“Embrace that a lot of it is ignorance, not knowing, not understanding, and not having that conversation with someone about all this.”
The Sikh Indian World Title challenger is motivated by the chance to inform people about his own background, identity, and community, while showing that there are more things that bind humans together than divide them.
In fact, Bhullar thinks the most powerful tool in this fight is something that every human has the capacity for.
“The only way you can eradicate racism is with love, conversations, and understanding. Love is greater than hate. I am a big believer in that,” he states.
“The way we can create a better tomorrow is to have leaders, athletes, or anyone with a platform spread love. The more love we show to each other, the more we can come together and understand that there are powers that like to divide and conquer.”