Invisible Hindus In America

Toyota had a superbowl commercial meant to focus on interfaith goodwill, saying we are all on one team. Who did they show? Jews, Christians, Muslims, and…Buddhists.

When asked why Hindus were left out, this is what they had to say: https://www.hafsite.org/toyota-responds-hindu-american-concerns-about-super-bowl-ad

Their excuse is that they can’t represent everyone.

Okay, so they leave out the third largest religion in the world but do include all three Abrahamic faiths? That’s pretty weak, Toyota.

Look, I get it. We are trying to combat Islamophobia and mistreatement of ordinary Muslims. There’s a big push to see Muslims in ordinary ways in media. And there’s a lot of conversation about Muslims, both people who fear them and people who want to celebrate diversity. These days the “in” thing to do to show you value diversity is to put a woman in a hijab in your campaign or on your media. My local library has a hijabi on the cover of their brochure. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself but it’s starting to get just lazy.

I think it has reached a new level of absurdity when a hair care company casts a hijabi model for their campaign. Seriously? If you want a Muslim woman, you can still cast a Muslim woman whose hair you can see. You sell hair products. Can we see how they work? No. Or you could go for even more diversity and have a bindi-wearing woman in your campaign. Be the first to do that in America!

I got all of these on the first page of Googling “Hijabi in Ad Campaign.” I Googled “Hindu in Ad Campaign” and got none at all

In the midst of all this I feel pretty frustrated that us quiet, peaceful Hindus are just completely ignored.

Since we have never committed mass murders and terrorist attacks, there is no reputation to combat. (Have Hindus murdered? Yes. Have they committed mass murder in the name of religion? No). Many people say that “real” Muslims haven’t committed terrorist attacks, but as Sam Harris points out we can’t completely divorce Islamic extremism from mainstream Islam. They are related. The philosophies are coming from the same holy book.

I know it’s not popular to say these things as a liberal. But frankly, I feel abandoned by my fellow liberals. I feel that the eagerness to make Muslims feel welcome is hurtful to the Hindus whose history is marred by a lot of harm done by Muslims. And we don’t get to be seen, we don’t get to be accknowledged because our holy books have not been used to justify terrorism or expansionist behavior.

Harris’ analysis has been met with knee-jerk cries of racism, bigotry and the weak label “Islamophobia.” I hold the left mostly responsible for the term Islamophobia, which cleverly equates racism and xenophobia with criticism of the ideas of a specific religion — an unfair lumping together. It is a favorite tool used to silence those who link a religious ideology with negative concepts.  -https://www.huffingtonpost.com/shawn-moksvold/the-lefts-problem-with-fr_b_8930598.html

We’ve been erased from American culture and it feels like no one cares because we haven’t done anything outrageous and so no one cares about defending us. Even with yoga being enormously popular, you almost never see Indians practicing it. There is no accknowledgment of its Hindu origin. No one is paying attention to what is happening to Hindus. You can’t love yoga and turn a blind eye to Hindus.

Hindus are still being mistreated in our current world and that plight has not been in the media at all. Are we not allowed to criticize kidnapping and forced conversion?

“Hindu women are especially vulnerable facing kidnappings and rape ultimately leading to forced conversions in countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan. In several countries where Hindus are minorities, non-state actors advance a discriminatory and exclusivist agenda, often with the tacit or explicit support of the state,” Kalra added. https://www.hafsite.org/2017-hindu-human-rights-report-released-hindu-american-foundation

It is leading some Hindus to advocate for changing our peaceful ways. If you have to be violent before anyone cares to defend you, then ought we to be violent? To let go of thousands of years of tradition of peace and tolerance and kindness to all? Some feel that these philosophies cause us to get treated like doormats. It’s like the book The Mouse That Roared, where a small country whose economy is failing realizes that the U.S. helps those it defeats in war. So they declare war on the U.S. in order to lose and recieve aid. Right now some Hindus are starting to think that what it takes to get noticed and to get cared about is to have your religion associated with bloodshed and cruelty.

I will always advocate for peace. I believe in kindness and seeing divinity in others with all my heart. But, guys, we need your help too. Hindus very rarely kill in the name of religion and yet those whose religions do so often get more defense than we do. We need you to have our backs. We need you to care about protecting and defending Hindu victims. We need to be seen in America. We need to be celebrated as part of the great diversity of this nation.

Our children are growing up without a strong sense of identity. The only thing they see about Hindus outside their home is horribly racist misinformation in textbooks. They see Muslim women proud to don the hijab. They see no one but out-of-touch grannies wearing the bindi.

It can’t just be the “problem child” who gets all the attention. And if companies want to show diversity in their campaigns they need to mix it up and not just do what everyone else is doing. Get real diversity and not just one “token” Black person or hijabi.

New to this blog? Check out these posts:

What Makes Me A Hindu?

Did I Start Out Christian?

Why Am I Called “The White Hindu”?

New to Hinduism? Learn more here:

Hinduism 101: What Do Hindus Believe?

Can I Convert To Hinduism?

Your First Visit To A Hindu Temple

Super Simple Daily Puja

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • S Kr

    Western audiences seem to have a fetish for a special kind of Islam, the hardcore Saudi or Iranian variety which promotes hijab or burqa. There are a lot of Muslim women in Asian countries who don’t wear hijab (though regrettably hijab wearing percentage seems to be increasing), but American media promotes only the conservative side. In a way, they feed the vicious cycle where head-covering is starting to be associated with Islam more and more.

    And, as for pushing only Buddhism among eastern traditions, I think westerners do it because most are simply not able to understand what Hinduism is or what it stands for. Since Abrahamic religions can be traced to one book-one philosophy-one man, they find it easier to push Buddhism which has similar characteristics of being traced to one man, one philosophy, etc (though yes, there are many sub schools, the overall framework is similar to monotheisms). So, you will find meditation/yoga, vegetarianism being linked to Buddhism and not Hinduism.
    As an aside, I think “liberal” ivy-league type academia in western universities promote Buddhism more than Hinduism because they believe they can control Buddhism, while Hinduism is too varied to be controlled (Just like they are trying to control yoga. Sadly this is what constitutes cultural appropriation -> erasing the original, and dictate it as something on which they have authority. Partly a reason why most Hindus are becoming wary of hi-fi western academia (not ordinary people).). Buddhism is perceived to be a faith of the east in general, and as of now, no country as such forcefully takes ownership of it, or push it with state authority/identity. Hinduism is associated very much with India.

    But yes, you are right. Even with Indian Hindus heading tech companies like Google and Microsoft, I am yet to find a bindi or saree or temple emoji in keyboards (last I looked). Hindus should be more forceful.

    • Ellen Olenska

      I grew up in the USA and lived for a long time in the UK. I’ve always thought Westerners like Buddhism because there isn’t any God to deal with.

    • Zakariya Ali Sher

      The grass is always greener on the other side, eh? As an American Muslim I have to say that no, we aren’t all that much more accepted than Hindus. If anything, since 9/11 there’s been a very vocal anti-Muslim movement that tends to conflate Islam with anyone Asian or Middle Eastern, so it gets bunched up with anti-Hindu, anti-Sikh and anti-Indian sentiments. The racist bigot who shot up the Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin back in 2012 was apparently anti-Muslim and even had a 9/11 tattoo.

      I do think you are right about one major point though; Westerners have a strong aversion to Polytheism, even the Atheists. Maybe especially the Atheists. LOL. I don’t know, but certainly Christianity and Judaism (and Islam) are seen as Monotheistic and thus fit the definition of what Western academics have pushed as a “proper” religion for a very long time. The old Polytheistic religions, those of the Norse, Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Slavs, Mesopotamians, many American Indians such as the Aztecs and Mayans… those are all generally forgotten and ignored. Shinto is obviously a major example of a Polytheistic religion still alive and well, but the Japanese aren’t especially religious and don’t have much of a diaspora, especially not compared to India. Shinto temples are few and far between in the US (albeit more common in Brazil and Peru) and many Japanese Americans are at least nominally Christian or Buddhist. African Diasporic religions like Voudon and Santeria are still around and doing quite well, but they are generally secretive and also discriminated against. Hinduism is probably the most visible Polytheistic religion in America, and I think that makes many non-Hindus uncomfortable.

      As for why Buddhism is more popular, I think it has to do with several factors. Yes the Atheism appeals to many Western intellectuals who can push it as a “philosophy” rather than a “religion” (though there are obvious theistic elements in Buddhism too). But there’s also the fact that Buddhism explicitly accepts converts, something Hinduism can be rather apprehensive and inconsistent with. Furthermore, some of it likely goes back to American prejudices against India unfortunately. Buddhism isn’t usually linked with India in American popular culture. Educated Americans should know that Buddhism grew out of India and explicitly uses Pali and Sanskrit terminology, but Buddhism itself in American popular culture is often linked with Tibet (ironically, given Tibet’s proximity and strong cultural and historic ties with India) and China, Japan, maybe Vietnam or Thailand; explicitly EAST Asian countries rather than South Asian countries, or even Southeast Asian countries (again ironic as Buddhism is a huge part of Thai, Lao, Khmer, Burmese and Sri Lankan culture). Hence some of it may simply go back to racism. All too often India gets depicted as poor and backwards in American media, while Japan is depicted as modern and high tech and China as the “wave of the future.” Indeed, I’ve seen many Americans exalt the idea of learning Mandarin, then turn around and claim Indians are “stealing American jobs,” so I can’t really say I understand American prejudices…

  • HARRY

    I think you should change your faith if you want to beg and plead. The lion does not eat grass.

  • why To let go of thousands of years of tradition of peace and tolerance and kindness to all? Some feel that these philosophies cause us to get treated like doormats.
    so you must visit : https://goo.gl/3ak4vY

  • Priya Sareen

    Well i would call it assertion, and stating the facts. One doesnt change hos/ her religion for stating the facts. Nothing about begging in it. Amba has just asserted what she observed in this article. The same thing happens in india too in the name of multiculturalism. Despite being a Hindu Majority Country, Multiculturalism is promoted as if Hinduism is not included in that, and that needs to change.. Else its not Multiculturalism and only Hinduphobia being promoted

  • PurpleGiraffe

    It has become fashionable to espouse the cause of Muslim appeasement.It goes by a cute term–Integration and acceptance.An idiot stands in the middle of square and asks if despite being a Muslim,would anyone hug him.Many come forward,mainly women.On the other hand,Hindus never resort to such gimmicks and are subjected to racism and ridicule ( due to some lowlifes in India who rape and believe in the Holy cow).Just ask yourself how many American and European women have married Muslim men–there is a sizable number as against those married to Hindus—and the best integration is possible only through marriage.There IS a special fascination for Muslims and their supposedly glorious culture–though this is not Islamic culture but had existed before Islam arrived in Persia,Central Asia,Byzantium( only a small part of this lies in Turkey) ,Egypt and India.

    True,looks do count and Muslims are always seen as handsome.

  • aam
  • Padma (Lyann Valadez)

    I wear a sari and bindi everywhere I go, even though I live in the USA Bible Belt. Seems to me someone needs to show not only that there are Hindus in Oklahoma, but that a person can be as white as I am and be Hindu . <3

  • Prashant Pandya

    Hindus have been the victims since 700ad approx… So its kind of in to their blood to camouflage as much as possible… As a part of self defense mechanism as no hindus stand for any other hindus… Temples are only good to do rituals… And offerings are made to stone idols… They kinda forgot the concept of hinduism as a whole… They only use concept of seeing divinity in other to hide their cowardice or inability to hit back… And not when they see fellow hindu in trouble… Govt of India can do any thing for CAnadian govt to trouble an indian citizen on intimation of CAnadian govt and idlers who call themselves psychologists who never stepped in to Canada , committed no crime in CAnada… Thats the height of the price of being a hindu in so called natural land of hindus which they proclaim as sovereign state and grants all right to their citizen… Forget about indian govt protecting their citizen but on intimation of Canadian govt they even harassed him too… I myself is the victim in question… Reason why working on erecting a community organization for hindus which will work towards creating a nation for hindus like israel was created for jews…

  • TrueUS

    Hindus dont need to be different and be assertive by force. It doesnt fit us. We are are supposed to act matured. We are taught to be tolerant and do good around. One important thing – act to be happy within you and radiate it to others. Only a troubled mind, person, society, will try to assert outside with force and noise. Sleep will be hard to come for those. Hindus has suffered through out the history and still has flourished (not just survived). Man using a sword will fall by sword. Mind you anybody can be a hindu if he follows the basic steps doing their dharma. It is just a powerful word and needs a lot of introspect to understand. Thats why hindus were the people who followed the sanatana dharma – eternal truth. When other religions started occupying the earth and started naming themselves, they also names Hindus. What you do as a ritual has become vital to define hinduness.

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  • Zakariya Ali Sher

    Well to be fair Sikhs are a larger religion than Judaism and given their turbans and beards Amritdhari Sikhs would be quite identifiable, but they were apparently excluded too. While I applaud any attempts at inclusivity, I dislike tokenism, and to be fair I agree with you that Hindus by and large seem to be excluded more often than not. Some of it may be out of sheer ignorance, or simply because Hindus aren’t always immediately visible, beyond largely being Indian/South Asian (which you could also say for Sikhs, Muslims, Jains, Parsees, St. Thomas Christians, etc). However, I do occasionally get a feeling there are both anti-Hindu and anti-Desi undercurrents that sometimes run through American pop culture. Its hard to place my finger on it. Is it xenophobia? Is it linger prejudice against people with “darker” skin? Is it the view that Polytheism is somehow inferior to Monotheism? It’s hard to say but I occasionally see it crop up here and there, and its all rather uncomfortable, even though I am not a Hindu myself. One unfortunate thing that I do see is that many American Hindus seem almost ashamed or embarassed by their faith. For that matter, I see a lot of Indian Americans who try to distance themselves from Indian culture too, and its rather sad. Certainly not a universal thing by any means, but any amount would be too sad. Ironically I think America would be enriched by more Indian food, Indian clothing, Indian music, Indian cinema, etc.