Awareness of Your Own Ethnicity

Years ago I was reading a book in the library. It was a memoir of a white man who became paralyzed as an adult. I don’t remember much about the story, but one part really stuck in my mind.  He spoke of a friend of his who was black and how that friend mentioned off hand once about the feeling you always have, the awareness of your race.

The author said that at the time he had no idea what his friend meant. Then he started using a wheelchair and he understood. He became a member of a minority and suddenly he did have a constant awareness of himself as different from those around him every time he left the house.

I had never thought about that before.

I’d been a racial majority all my life. I rarely felt that internal awareness of being different from those around me. Every once in a while I’d be in a situation where I was surrounded by people of another race and I felt a little bit uncomfortable, a little hyper aware of myself, and suddenly aware of my race. It was so very rare, though.

After reading that book, I realized that is something that people in minorities feel much more constantly than I (Duh, I know!)

So then I started observing those kinds of feelings in myself. I was surprised (and a little dismayed) to find that there was often a sense of relief if I had been mostly surrounded by, say, black people, and then some left and I went back to being in the majority. Something inside me relaxed. Why should that be? I’m still working on fixing that reaction in myself, but I recently noticed something else.

The hyper awareness and slight un-comfortableness doesn’t get triggered by Indian people.

When I am around people of Indian ethnicity, I feel my inner self relax and get comfortable the way it does when I’m with all white people. I feel that relief of being among my own.

And then I have to remind myself that I’m not Indian!

Strange, right?

I’m not sure what this all means yet, but it’s something that I’ve been paying attention to lately.

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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.