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}

About Ambaa

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.

  • http://twitter.com/triliana Andrea Mandal

    You are right. Race is not something we can or should sweep under the rug. I’m white and I have no qualms saying so. And yes, how we are viewed in Hindu contexts is not immaterial.

    Case in point: I went to our temple on Pohela Boishakh for a Laksharchana satsang. Among the group of people assembled was an extended family of refugees from Bhutan. There was so much that they could have shared about their own experiences with me and the rest of the group, but they stayed apart from the rest of the group — except to talk to me. And they just wanted to ask me questions – how come I was there, was I married to an Indian, had I ever been to India? Nepal? Did I like it? Could I speak the language? and all this. Here is a group of people who had so much life experience and instead, they wanted to know about me. It made me rather uncomfortable and I tried to change the topic many times, but they would always change it back to make me the focus.

    Similarly, there are other places where race makes a difference. You have spoken before about wanting people to know you are Hindu, and wearing outward signs to show people this. As I have mentioned before, my relationship with Hinduism and the term “Hindu” is complicated, but even if I were out and out ‘converted’ so to speak, I do not think I would do this. Why? Because even though Indian women I know wear the bindi, or sometimes an “Om” charm, it is perceived differently when it is against white skin. I know a woman who, when she wears the bindi, is treated as less than an equal when she wears it in the US. Men won’t talk to her. Women won’t look directly at her. But if she wipes it off, she gets very different, more favorable treatment. People see the bindi on a brown forehead as a sign of subjugation, of otherness, and sometimes even as lack of ability to integrate with “mainstream” society. But on my forehead, it shows that I’m “different” (in a conversation-starting way) or even “trendy” or “quirky.” The only thing that people might think ill of me for is the ever-present cultural appropriation, or even trying to co-opt a teenage trend while I am in my 30s! So my beliefs, I think, are best lived and not displayed openly. (I do wear bindi when in desi wear when attending religious or cultural functions, but again, that is more of a ‘wear appropriate things when appropriate’ thing and it would be disrespectful in some situations to not wear bindi.)

    There are more facets of your experience than just being white; being Western and brought up with Western philosophy (even the Westernized version of Sanatan Dharma you were taught as a child) makes some concepts in Hinduism difficult to grasp. We have to see these things from a different angle as we were not exposed to Hinduism as someone who has been in the path since birth, or even an Indian Christian or Muslim who chooses to follow Hindu beliefs or philosophies in whole or in part. But race is one very relevant part of it.

    • Ambaa

      Exactly! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/neha.fadnis Neha Fadnis

    Namaste Andrea…Being a devout Hindu myself, I am so glad to meet you. Even though I am born a Hindu, I do believe that one can embrace Hinduism anytime during their lifetime. In fact, I have heard that Hinduism treats every body with a soul as Hindu. So in spite of the experiences that you have had, please don’t feel different from sub-continental Hindus.
    I am from India and would love to discuss my understanding of the faith with you all. In this judgemental world, its great to come across someone who wants to stay united.

    • Harsh Wardhan Gunthey

      how true!

      Even i believe Hinduism is Universal thought not something which is meant for a prevledged few like me who happen to take birth in India.

      • Ambaa

        Thank you!

  • HARRY

    @ Ambaa

    Do you still feel less Hindu because you are white and not born in the culture?

    I don’t think you should feel that you have to have culture to feel Hindu. I’ve said this before, by being born in the culture and in India does not make you a Hindu. It’s what you do, that makes you a Hindu. I see you as more Hindu then some of the people I’ve come across in our community. I think some people feel that being born in an Indian culture gives them that automatic right to being a Hindu even tho when they don’t follow or practice Hinduism.

    Hinduism is a bridge that passes all the differences that people on this planet have created, race religion gender caste creed class and others and takes you on to different level. Hinduism is also a tool that sets you free from all the constrains of all the births and deaths that you and I have experienced in the past.

    If you look at all the faiths and religions, Hinduism is the only one that give recognition to the identity to the soul and not who you are, men woman black white or any thing else in between . It is also in many purans that when you and I die, we will not have male or female identity but will have identity of soul and nothing else on who you are or were in the past.

    When I read a Markandiya Puran it blew me away and I was only twelve. The emotions and effects it created in my heart was very profound, I was never same after that. There is a one question that I did wanted to ask you for a long time but I never did. I once read in a Huff post by Deepak Sarma that all other people ( White ) who practice Hinduism who are not part of the Indian culture lack in emotion that culture and language creates in a person is not same as one who is born in to a culture and therefore they only mimic the religion rather then feel any emotion for it. I DISAGREED WITH HIS STATEMENT, not because it was politically incorrect but on the ground that, we are creatures of emotions and I am sure you or any other white person must feel something even when you don’t understand the full concept of any ritual or ceremony in Hinduism. I am sure he is not right in judgement and capacity in this case.

    So my question is this.. Do you think you are at disadvantage because you weren’t born in to a Hindu culture? You don’t need to answer this question if you don’t want it to, and you will have same respect of me either way, no matter what ever you say. Because I don’t think I would have been able to do this what you have done so far and for that my one thousand Naman.

    HARRY

    PS Have a great day.

    • Ambaa

      It’s a good question.

      Only occasionally do I feel like I am at a disadvantage. I used to feel that more, but now it’s rare.

      I feel lucky that I have the chance to really choose Hinduism. I know my faith is deep because I worked to have it.

      On the other hand, I didn’t like practicing Hinduism completely devoid of the culture. The culture grew along side the religion and they go together in ways that are difficult to tease apart.

      So I have chosen to take on aspects of the culture that make sense to me. SES, the organization I grew up in, teaches Hindu philosophy without any of the culture. I just didn’t feel very comfortable with that.

      I really appreciate your friendship and support :)

    • Ambaa

      Thank you. I tend to agree that it is what one does that is more telling than where or how one is born.

      I think that I am very glad I was born exactly as I am and where I am. My soul was born to experience exactly what it needed to move forward towards enlightenment. I have a dear friend who says that if God wanted to experience all of life, wouldn’t He also want to experience this separation and coming back that I am feel?

  • harshal

    Dharmists will never take you seriously. You are born into the Dutiful way (and that is it), tracing lineage back to dutiful adherents to legitimize your position in the Dutiful society. To adopt or “convert” is blasphemous and a sacrilege to our Gods and our Priests. What is your gotra? What samaj are you from? What is your Kud Devi or Kud Dev? What Hindu Village do you come from? Do you not know that Agnitra (those who adhere to the fire; a formal name for Hinduism) is an exclusive, cultural society? We have been in existence for thousands of years. Many of our earlier adherents became Buddhists in the countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then converted to Islam. A Hindu can convert to other faiths; that is their loss, not of ours. Even if Hinduism vanishes and becomes extinct and one Hindu is left, it is still a sacrilege to convert others to make the number of Hindus grow. Our Dutiful brothers and sisters will take pride in the fact that they were born into an ancient order of prestige whose purpose was to carry on that tradition and if they are faced with extinction so be it – but those that “convert” are outsiders and mockers of the holy. A true Hindu will let is sons and daughters carry on their Dutiful culture. But never accept an outsider. A mleccha in origin parading around as Dutiful is a monstrosity. I am flattered by your interest in Hinduism; but you are not Indian Hindu and so you are not a Hindu at all. Where were your ancestors when the Rig Veda was analyzing the concept of the atom? I can say mine were at a temple in Bharat Ganarajya while yours were butchering a cow. Ancestor worship is primordial in Hinduism. Mine were not profaners of the holy. Mine were involved in the side of truth during the Mahabharata War. Mine were building temples so their grand children can have places of worship. Mine were building inroads into science and foundations of mathematics while yours were probably staying away from the Hindu Fire (Agni). You can be a Jain. You can be a Sikh. You can be a Buddhist. You can join any one of the heretical sects I have just mentioned. But don’t taint our religion by joining it through conversion. We will never fully accept converts like how children out of wedlock are never fully accepted by moralistic society . You are and always will be an Anagnitra (fireless). It is time to wake up from your delusion and realize you are not welcomed into an ancient, exclusive, privileged culture-society.

    • Ambaa

      And people said I was imagining the racists who want to deny me! Thanks for proving them wrong :)

      • harshal

        This is not racist. Zoroastrianism doesn’t take converts. It is a privileged social cultural thing. Same in Hindu Dharma.

        You are born into Hinduism. And that is it.

        • Harsh Wardhan Gunthey

          It is nothing like that every person is a born hindu by default.??
          Have an open mind and stop bringing shame to global sanatan dharma commuity.!!

        • Anuj Agrawal

          There is nothing in Hinduism even closely related to conversion. Hinduism is not a sect, not a mere religion. To my knowledge of Hinduism, one does not needs to be from the subcontinent, have a Kul-Devta, born to a Hindu parent or for that matter visit temples to be a Hindu. It’s just about deeds (Karma) that make you a Hindu. In Hinduism, reading scriptures or chanting mantras don’t make you a ” better than the others ” Hindu, they are just for self enlightenment. There is no set bar that makes you a Hindu. Any one can have his own understanding of Hinduism which no other can refute. The reason Hinduism has lived all through the ages is that we accept changes- good or bad – aligning ourselves to the changing times keeping the core of Karma intact.

    • Akhlesh Lakhtakia

      “Guest” is either an idiot or a troll. Anything that exists is Hindu. Ambaa, you are as Hindu as I am.

      • Ambaa

        Thanks :) I appreciate the support.

  • Ambaa

    Well, most Hindus that I meet believe that there is no need for conversion because all people are already Hindus. I like that view!

  • harshal

    What is your gotra? What is your kud devi or kud dev? A gotra is required to be a Hindu, which you don’t have.

    • Harsh Wardhan Gunthey

      Just for your informatio in Vedic period, the word “gotra” originally meant “cow-pen.” Cows were at the time the most valuable possession of a family group, so with time, the term “gotra” began to refer to the family group who owned a particular pen of cows. The term was associated eventually with just the family group and its lineage.

    • Harsh Wardhan Gunthey

      and secondly how one one earth who has converted recently have a kul devta and kul devi.??

      Dont be a fool

      • Ambaa

        I believe his point is that I can’t have one since I converted relatively recently, therefore I can’t be a Hindu.

        I disagree with that assessment, of course!

    • Gouthama Kugve

      You don’t need gotra ,kula etc to be a Hindu. But you really need to have devotion, respect to others, spirituality. Its mentioned in the vedas that (Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanti) there are many ways to reach god. There is no conversion procedure in Hinduism because , you don’t have to really convert . You can just start practicing it. You really don’t have to change your name , because Hinduism considers even Jesus Christ as messenger of god. Just do good to others, do good to society , be kind to other animals, Practice vegetarianism(if possible), practice spirituality , Yoga , meditation for your own well being. There is something called Karma, If you do good things, only good things will occur in your life.

      Sarveh janaha Sukino bhavanthu..
      (let whole universe be happy )

      Regards

      Gouthama

  • Harsh Wardhan Gunthey

    You certainly dont need to convert, In fact there is no specific ceremony to covert a non hindu.

    You simply have to start believing into vedic thoughts and vedic way of life.!!

    Infact every one on this earth is a non practicing Hindu by birth.

    • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

      I find the concept of ‘starting to believe’ difficult. I’ve never been one to think much of conversion, from any faith, to any faith. It’s just more trying to understand the reality of life a little better than you did before, not ‘believing’ or ‘ not believing.’ I don’t know very much about ‘vedic thought.’ I am interested in learning but I don’t know how much of my Western upbringing will limit my understanding.

    • Shruti Sinha

      There is no concept of active conversion in Hinduism, as it doesn’t believe in increase in numbers, but increase in consciousness. Karma – as you sow,so shall you reap is the core of Hindu philosophy.

      Since Hinduism is not a religion , you can only embrace it. There is a notion that you need to visit temples, pray to Hindu Gods, wear Indian clothes and the like promoted by some sadhus and babas (most of them are fraud). I am a Hindu, I pray to Jesus, visit Muslim Dargahs, celebrate Christmas, observe Buddha Purnima apart from visiting temples. Hinduism doesn’t force anyone to believe or not to believe, you are a Hindu even if you don’t believe in God but have belief in the concept Karma. If you read the Vedas, you will find many verses which question the existence of a God. You may pray to any God you like – Jesus, Allah doesnt matter.

  • jamesf

    Thanks Ambaa ,
    I feel this way all the time , mostly when I go to the festivals at our little temple and I am left to my own for the most part and it’s hard for me to jump into the conversation’s because of language barrier and the looks I get make me feel outside the whole . As a result I go and attend and then leave . I’s not that I haven’t tried , I have . It also doesn’t help that the temple is 40 miles or a little more from my home .

    • Ambaa

      Exactly! I experience that too. It helps a little that, as a woman, I can dress the part. But men mostly wear western clothes!

      Have you checked to see if there is a study group, meetup, or get-together near you? I just discovered a small Hindu group that meets half a mile from my home. It’s not a temple, but the group sings bhajans and studies scripture, so it fills that need in me.

      • http://hindusthan.disqus.com/ Arjun

        Jai Sri Ram .can u tell me hw to writeon this site.I donot understand.

        • Ambaa

          You’re writing here now!

        • Ambaa

          You’re writing now! :)

  • http://amarchotoprithibi.blogspot.com/ Andrea

    I’m not looking for a faith to become an adherent of. I’ve married into a Hindu household and so we would do “Hindu things” but honestly, I’m more concerned with questions of belief than my husband, who is very much a scientist and takes a scientific view of this world. It doesn’t make him any less Hindu.

    I believe in a higher power, but have no real need to slot myself in a box. I’ll attend at Durga Puja and sing kirtan and burn incense and read the great works of authors who understood all this better than me and sit by lakes and such things in order to come close and experience that higher power, but I don’t really care what people label me as, or don’t label me as. It’s not about me anyway.

    I will exist in my families and do what they do, exist in my communities and do what they do, and if someone has a problem with it in those contexts, I will consider it within the contexts of those relationships. The internet extends our reach, but only so much.

  • Ambaa

    That is near by to me! I will get in touch :)

  • Ambaa

    Well, the lighting helps with the illusion ;)

  • AnonymousOne

    Ambaa you will find this very interesting, in 1949 Robert Hansen became Hindu, since then he is known as Sivaya Subramuniyaswami, created a monestary in Hawaii. He passed away in 1974.
    I posted few links below, in case links are not allowed, just search on the web for “Sivaya Subramuniyaswami”

    http://www.himalayanacademy.com/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sivaya_Subramuniyaswami

    http://www.nytimes.com/2001/11/18/obituaries/18SUBR.html

    Part of Hindu trinity Lord Shiva & his consort Parvati are also white.

    • Ambaa

      Yes;, I’ve read most of his books. We’re reading How To Become a Hindu by him over on my subscription blog! :)

  • Allen Fernandes

    You may call your self a Hindu but it does not make you Hindu, Hinduism defines India it is not a religion like Christianity where you simply convert or get bribed to do so. To bad people these days just want to exploit it and not understand its true depth, the moment you mad this blog you failed to understand what Hinduism is

    • Ambaa

      Actually it does.

      Perhaps you should read the Does Hinduism Accept Newcomers chapter of How To Become a Hindu by Guru Subramuniyaswami.

  • Rohan

    In a religious sense she is a hindu but in a true ethnic sense she isnt , believe me its not racist to say that , just that it could be little offensive


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