Why Am I Called The “White” Hindu?

It comes up over and over, people wondering why I’m calling attention to my race. After all, in Hinduism we are all One God. Gender and race don’t give us different amounts of God. Everything is part of that One universal God.

I started writing on the Internet in 2009. At that time I was frustrated and lonely, feeling like I was the only non-Indian Hindu around! I felt like Indians were wary of me or didn’t believe that I was a Hindu or fully a Hindu. A lot of times I felt unwanted. I heard so often that one cannot convert to Hinduism. So what was I, then? (By the way, saying that there’s no such thing as conversion in Hinduism is NOT HELPFUL. You’re dismissing all the difficulties and concerns that come with starting out in one religion and now being in another. Yes, I understand that you don’t need to go through a ceremony to be a Hindu, you can just declare yourself to be one. But to say that there’s no such thing as conversion is hurtful).

A lot of that has eased over the years as I’ve been able to talk about my fears and concerns with wonderful people like you. Having a blog really allowed me to find my place in Hinduism.

Maybe calling myself out based on my race no longer makes sense. But it is the name I started with, so I’ll stick with it. It is NOT intended to be divisive. I absolutely believe in unity and that in reality, my pasty skin color is not important.

But this blog is about more than just Hinduism. It is about identity and our race plays a role in that. I continue to be fascinated with the role of culture and race in our experiences in our lives.





Here is a copy of a post from my old blog in December of 2010:

Race

 There was a comment yesterday on one of my older posts that I wanted to address. Here is the comment and my response to it:

Svaha said… Ambaa, Why call yourself a “white” Hindu? Why is skin color so important as a means of identifying yourself? Sanatana Dharma is about unity, not separateness. Its not about the externalization of God, but the recognition of universal and internalized divinity. Its great that you want to identify yourself as a “Hindu” (whatever that means), but please do not insult our core religious beliefs by bringing confused notions of race and skin color into the mix. December 27, 2010 1:32 AM 

Aamba said… Well, Svaha, the reason I named the blog White Hindu is because at the time I felt that it was my skin color that was keeping me from being accepted as fully Hindu. It was extremely frustrating to me, so this was a way of taking back that word, taking control over how people see me. However, in the year since I’ve kept the blog, I have become more and more entrenched in Hinduism and have found the acceptance I was looking for. I now rarely feel kept back and taken less seriously because of my skin color, though it does still sometimes happen.  The other reason to put race into it is that this is not a blog about the definition of Hinduism, it is a blog about the intersection of culture and religion and ethnicity. That is the issue I am interested in exploring. How are religion and ethnicity related? How do people perceive them? How does one move into a religion that was not given to him or her by ethnicity? December 28, 2010 2:45 PM

The thing is, this blog is about race. I’m not interested in pretending that we don’t somewhat judge each other based on ethnicity. It happens, it is part of our world.Yes, Hinduism is universal and accepts all people as equally a part of God, but that is not always how it is practiced. People are still imperfect and do judge one another and make assumptions about one another.

I am confident and sure of my religion. It has been part of me all of my life. What I came to the Internet to explore is the cultural aspect of Hinduism and how I might fit in there. I think my skin color is relevant to this discussion and I don’t think that it is a confused notion of race. Different races exist and we are all still trying to figure out what that means and how it effects our lives.

There are many who are uncomfortable when we label ourselves by ethnicity. I do not label myself as white in order to keep others back or to separate myself. I would rather not be separate, but many times I still am. I felt that my skin color was an elephant in the room, as the expression goes. No one wants to mention it or acknowledge it, and yet it has an effect on how I am perceived.  People wonder about me and question me in ways that I don’t think they would if I were Indian.  They think, “Who does she think she is?” They think the same things they think when they see a white rapper with cornrows!

That is what fascinates me. Expectation v.s. reality. I’m sorry to people who are made uncomfortable by my direct reference to race, but that is exactly what this blog is about: what it means to be a non-Indian Hindu.

{Featured Image from http://www.bharatstudent.com/cafebharat/photo_gallery_3-Hindi-Movies-Marigold-Photo-Galleries-1,4,367,7.php Ali Larter and Salman Khan in Marigold}


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About Ambaa Choate

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Rohan

    The name of the blog ‘The White Hindu’ is catchy , kinda the reason why im here lol

    • Ambaa

      :) Thanks!

  • Dharmshil

    Who are you to say that to her? Do you even know what our religion stands for? Ignorant mind.

  • Dharmshil

    You are no one to judge her. A gotra isn’t required to be a hindu. This is where it differs from other religions, you can’t come down to just one practice, verse or belief and set it as a parameter to judge whether she/he is Hindu or not. Its about faith, truth and light. You go where you find it. Though conversion isn’t encouraged in Hinduism but one can follow and lead the Hindu way of life. Just being born into a gotra doesn’t make you more of a hindu than she is.

  • Dharmshil

    Ignorant is the word.

  • Dharmshil

    @Ambaa
    You’re as much Hindu as anyone else is. You don’t have to go to a temple, wear a bindi or do other things to prove it. You just need to believe in the Hindu way of life and practice it, if possible. None is the final word as far as Hinduism is concerned. It is your personal wish as to how and what you see and believe in. “Satyam Param Dhimahi” – Truth is the greatest religion. Just try to follow the path of righteousness. While the Vedas (Rig Veda in particular) and Upanishads are sacred texts (along with many other), it would be easy for you to follow the ‘Gita’ which is the core of what we believe. Most importantly, no one has the authority to judge you or say that you’re not a Hindu. Not even the greatest of saints. Those who say it are ignorant. And people will not accept you at once because they are not used to the idea of someone converting to their religion. It takes some time to accept a new member into the family. I wish you all luck. May God bless us all.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you!

  • Rohan

    my advise to you..remove delusion….read- Swami_Vivekananda completely and his teachings and biography-(a complete Hindu and shisya of lord guru Ramakrishna paramhansha )……pls dont take it lightly…

  • Rohan

    India should be in the heart or in the soul of every Hindu….because(mother) India is the Vatican..of Hinduism…if there was no India there was no Hinduism and vice-verse…

  • Paulus Magus

    Well, the Aryans were white, so you’re in classical company.

  • Morg GB

    I can look at this as to ways, but its interesting, first white is a generic term for Caucasian, but whites at least in america and other places, are viewed more homogeneous, calling yourself a “white hindu” may bring attention, that may not be a wrong thing, it can be a gusty move that can involve pride in a great way and a deserving way, if you didn’t call yourself it, then there wouldn’t be much interest not only in you but as a conservative starter.

    Of course, folks used the term “african american” or asian , be it engineer, buddhist, muslim, type of christian, etc. Of course white is generic, are jews mostly considered white, if so the term african or asian jew would not be controversial or atleast to moderate ones. But yes, in this sense white is usually a woman of european descent who isn’t jewish and most often from western europe aka anglo-saxon although that term is disputed (not sure if you have say russian, eastern europe ancestry, or jewish ancestry).

    Historically, however there were many hindus outside the indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia was hindu and had a rich history of hinduism before the spread of islam, balinese hindus are remnants of this.There are a lot of hindus and heritage in parts of burma and other parts. It is also be a sad thought that many historical artifacts were altered for preservation to appease conquerors or destroyed.

    1000 years ago, an indonesian,malaysian,vietnamese,burmese,etc hindu would not be an issue. There is also a degree of overlap between hinduism and buddhism, in countries such as singapore, folks may go to eachother’s temples or have tremendous overlap and respect. It isn’t controversial for non-asians to be buddhists it seems, and since asians overlap many countries it isn’t usually tied to just india and a couple small countries.

    Of course hinduism has many sub-sects, similarities, and differences, there are common traits, I’m not an expert, but if you do follow a particular trait or sect, you can let us know and talk about it, that doesn’t mean one is sectarian as folks often respect each other’s sects but what you identify with.

    There is of course discrimination against white hindus, who are identified as yuppies, hipsters, and not being serious. So calling yourself a white hindu could be a positive reinforcement of pride and start a conversation. It can also start a trend, hey an african american can start a “Black hindu blog” or “Russian Hindu”, asian hindu would be too wide encompassing. Of course many indians do tend to marry whites so I’m not sure why folks who are indian are complaining lol. I also feel that can be a great thing for intermarriages not just whites but asians and so on.

    Interestingly enough, the association of india and hinduism can be an example of victim of its own success or failures, while many people freely converted to say Catholicism in europe or islam in many parts of the world, there did exist violence, social pressure, and discrimination as part of wars and conquest. Thus for instance even though Jews can be considered white, they use the term jewish to identify race and religion together. This of course leaves hinduism more dominate in india, as of course they didn’t go around fighting wars in other countries of it as much like in europe and asia and there existence resistance to conversion and not so much the other way around although there is some sectarian violence, sadly in india and both sides are to blame as well since certain non-hindus are perceived as radically changing not just religion but saying that a christian wearing a sari is a sinner.

    Anyways that’s my nickel and dime of what I had to add. Let me know your thoughts.

  • akhi

    Don’t worry about gotra and kuldevi/devta just believe in karma.

  • Vidyadhara Buddhiraju

    Amba,
    Yes there is no conversion among the Hindus. Because a conversion means giving up on a past. A sort of magical jumping out of your skin and becoming something else. This is a stupid idea. The notion of conversion belongs among the imperialist notions of monotheism. Carrying the stink of partisan politics to the high heavens.

    On the other hand there is “inclusion” which is a very different idea. And this is not by a process or endorsement. You are always included even if you did not know you were. Even if you refused such inclusion.

    That is the very nature of “sanatana” or eternal. All of existence is an undivided continuum. Perhaps one finds it comforting to go through a formal process of inclusion into a society. But this has never been an item of interest among the ancient Hindus. Because exclusion or inclusion by doctrinal qualification was never a serious theme among the Hindus. A different doctrine would only create one more sub group among the society of the Hindus.

    The thousand year shock of the turkoman-islamic invasions and then the british colonial stranglehold terrorized the Hindus into steel bound compartments. But these are circumstantial habits rather than a natural state of Hindu society. The growing prosperity of Hindustan is quite naturally easing the social divides.
    As the Hindus are restored to their natural easy going ways, the questions of inclusion and exclusion will become irrelevant. And yes there will then be no conversion, just inclusion.

  • Vidyadhara Buddhiraju

    Amba,
    My previous post got deleted, I dont know how.
    Because I have to type it again, I will make it shorter, less expressive.

    Conversion is a partisan idea. Conversion is the unfortunate notion of carrying partisan politics to the high heavens. Conversion implies that you have jumped out of your skin and become something new.

    That is why the Hindus are uncomfortable with the idea. This is not a notion that has a parallel among the Hindus. With the Hindus there is only an inclusion. And even that is not something they are doing to you. They are doing it to themselves.

    When you include someone or something in your own experience of being, you are simply expanding yourself. So if the Hindus accept you it is the Hindus who are becoming larger. It is not that you have changed in that process. Now if you include the Hindus into your being, then you have become larger. Yes we all need acceptance and inclusion from a society. But that is not conversion. Just inclusion. Which is atmost a social event or a process.

    You don’t give up your past or deny it or view it with disfavour, atleast not from an theological view point. Such notions are to put it in parliamentary language, lacking in substance.

    You were always and will for ever be part of the infinite unity of all existence. No matter what happens or does not happen. Whatever doctrine you pick up or refuse to pick up.

    To discover the sanatana dharma is just this. To erase the fiction that you have constructed within yourself that you are somehow separated from the rest of the universe. Therefore to come to the sanatana dharma can perhaps be called a deconversion rather than a conversion.

    Vande Mataram.

    • Ambaa

      Well said!

  • Nishant Patar

    Ambaa. I don’t think it is bad thing about white. Some time by our side is extra privilege. Example, many white people visit in India. Than they rounded by kids and people. Get more stuff. But this thing not happen with Black people. I know this because I use to one of those kids. Many time just happen. Again like they are many blogger wrote Article. But if person is white and write same stuff as Indian but for India. Than they get more traffic. It is kind a ridiculous. But it happen. I have nothing against white people or any race. But I think in society we create class. Where people offer them fixed stuff instead of there true capability. Which create problem for both groups. I assume I did not offended any body, Sorry in Advance.


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