By Valarie Kaur, Special to CNN
(CNN) – The Republican National Convention will make history Wednesday night. Ishwar Singh, wearing a turban and beard, will take the stage and lead thousands of conservatives in prayer.
For the first time in U.S. history, a Sikh American will give the invocation at a Republican National Convention.
The inclusion of a Sikh prayer on the stage comes just a few weeks after a gunman opened fire on Sikhs praying in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six and hospitalizing three more in what could be the largest racially motivated mass shooting in recent U.S. history. Many praise the invocation as a mark of progress in the Sikh community's 100 years in America.
Visuals matter. And in a racially charged political climate, a turbaned and bearded man will be presented to the country by Republicans as a fellow American. This is a remarkable step forward.
But speech also matters. If Mitt Romney and Republican leaders want the historic Sikh invocation to be more than tokenism - and are serious about preventing another Oak Creek - they cannot continue to let hateful speech within their own party go unchecked. In a time when hate groups are on the rise, the Republican Party must accept responsibility for fostering a political climate that often casts people of color as foreign and inherently suspect.