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.

  • http://www.deafdrummer.org Stephanie Ellison

    I hear thousands of guns racking in the room, both AR-15s and AK guns. Seriously, I feel “on guard” all the time, because I’m just waiting for that phrase to come out, “Are you a believer?” I learned not to ask, “A believer in what?” knowing full-well what they were referring to. Instead, I would just say, “Excuse me, but my personal life is not up for discussion. Have a nice day.”

  • Vidyadhara Buddhiraju

    Amba,
    Really you are neither this nor that. This body is a lump of earth. Yes it is white or black or brown on the skin. but all said and done it is a lump of earth, you are buring it up every day, and you have to give up every atom of it when you are done with it.
    So you are neither “european” nor “hindu” nor “christian” or “black” or “yellow”. Not daughter not mother, not wife or sister. You are the creator that created this whole universe and are one with it. Nothing less.

    This is the simple stark self evident fact that very few human beings are able to see. Yes the whole of life is simply about getting done with this funny illusion. That is all there is to it. You can choose one group or another to make it reasonably comfortable until you get to that simple clarity.


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