I’m Not A “Gori Wife”

I’m Not A “Gori Wife” December 12, 2013

There is an entire genre of blogs that are often known as the “Gori Wife Blogs.” Gori is a Hindi word for white person and it can be derogative. Some people decided to sort-of “take back” the term and apply it proudly to themselves. Others would fit into the category but don’t like to use the word “Gori.” However, the word itself isn’t my point today.

The “Gori Wife” blogs are written by non-Indian women who marry Indian men (Not all are Hindu. Some are Muslim or Sikh).

There are lots of them. There are many who don’t keep blogs and aren’t on the Internet at all. There are many, many non-Indian women marrying into Indian families. All the ones I know work hard to be respectful of their husband’s culture. They take on aspects of that culture and the family’s religion to varying degrees, often taking cues from the family as to how much to get involved.

It seems as though many of the mother-in-laws are delighted and relieved by their American daughter-in-laws learning their culture and taking on Indian behavior, values, dress, etc.

Some women happily immerse themselves in the family’s culture, not feeling any particular connection to any other culture and others fight to maintain their sense of selves and the traditions they grew up with in America.

They are very interesting blogs to read and I enjoy the “gori wife” perspectives on some of the same issues I’m dealing with.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if I am the only one in my situation. I feel a little lonely because in the end, I’m not one of them. I don’t have a mother-in-law guiding me towards a particular tradition. I don’t have the “excuse” of an Indian husband for my interest in Indian culture (and I don’t believe I need an Indian husband to justify my Hindu-ness).

Though there are non-Indian Hindus who are introduced to Hinduism through a spouse but then find that it was the right path for them all along, where are the others like me who knew Hinduism was who they were without anyone introducing them to it? Perhaps some of these women were already Hindus and married an Indian Hindu man because they were Hindu?

Now that I wear a mangala sutra and sindoor, Indian ladies that I encounter in day to day life assume that I’m married to an Indian man. But no. I’m not. I’m the Hindu one. 

People really don’t know what to do with that. When they think I’ve married into Indian traditions, they are delighted that I am “agreeing to” Indian marriage traditions. When they find out that I’m the Hindu one, there is usually awkward confusion.

In a lot of ways I grew up Hindu. I didn’t call it that, but it was Hindu philosophy and belief that was instilled in me from birth. Sometimes I feel like I have the most in common with American-born Desis. My Hinduism is colored by my American-ness. I have a lot of knowledge but then some big gaps. I was okay with an interfaith marriage because I knew that nothing could take my Hindu-ness from me.

This often seems like a female issue. I’ve never seen a blog of a man exploring Indian culture and traditions because he married an Indian woman (if you know of any, please do share!). I do know non-Indian Hindu men who discovered Hinduism on their own, not through a wife. Why is it that the majority of stories are either: woman marries Indian man and becomes interested in Hinduism (or whatever his family’s religion is) OR man does spiritual exploration and discovers Hinduism is the right path for him?

I know I’m not the only non-Indian Hindu woman who wasn’t introduced to Hinduism by a man. Where are the others? Speak up and let me know!

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  • Vikram

    The introduction to the word gori is incorrect, it is not a derogatory word. Maybe contextually used by a few as a derogatory word, but that is their fault. It simply means a fair girl/woman.

    • That is the dictionary definition, but it isn’t the way that the term is applied to white women. “Gaon ki gori” is a different context and if people actually applied it to *me* it would be with a sense of irony, even if I lived in said gaon. Read more about my experiences with the word and its connotations at my blog: http://exoticisnothing.blogspot.com/2012/11/why-i-do-not-identify-with-word-gori.html

      • Vikram

        While I understand what you are referring to (and your blog makes a strong case), my limited point was the word is not derogatory, even in its wrongful use, its the intent that is derogatory.

        Heard the song Nadiya kinaare from Abhimaan? Track the word gori in it. It’s a beautiful song.

        • It’s true. But in Abhimaan, she’s not referring to a white woman but to an Indian woman. Even in O Re Chhori, the term ‘goriya’ is used to refer to the INDIAN woman that Aamir Khan’s character is in love with, not the English woman that is in love with him.

          Another term with multiple connotations would be bhaiyya – it means one thing if you are referring to your own brother with respect, but another entirely if you’re talking about “UP bhaiyyas” or gangsters! Same with ‘behenji’ – it’s either your beloved sister or that unfashionable girl down the road. Who’s being referred to is very important. Words are so much more than dictionary definitions… if someone calls my Indian friend gori, it is good, but if they call *me* gori, it’s not.

          • HARRY

            Slow clapping, You hit the nail on the head. I love your comparisons and definitions, can’t beat it, but he is right in a away if you see his point. Wide grin. I wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on when it came to making the point. 🙂

          • I do … gori is not a slur in the same way that, unfortunately, ‘kala’ is, in multiple times and places, but it is a slur (or an objectifying term at the very least) when referring to a foreign woman. Which is why it always kinda grinds my gears when white wives of Indian men glibly refer to themselves as ‘goris’ – it feels like they are either taking full advantage of the shadeism that exists, or they are accepting the objectification of themselves, and either way it isn’t good.

          • Vikram

            I like the effectiveness of your arguments Andrea ji but I think we are both saying the same thing, except that it is not being apparent to you that the word is not the problem, not even in its contextual use. The intent is.

            What if someone calls you a gori for what it exactly means.

          • But what exactly does it mean?
            “She speaks good Bengali for a gori” – um, thanks, I guess? Backhanded compliment.
            “It’s so nice to see a gori appreciating Indian culture” – because ‘gori’ culture is so degraded and terrible, I get it already.
            “Let’s go to the club, there’s lots of goris there” – you wouldn’t go if it was desi girls why?
            “It’s so nice to have a gori friend.” – Aww, thanks. Glad to know I’m the pet gori. When I leave India, you’ll find another pet gori and forget about me. (this has happened btw)

            Intent is one thing. Impact is another. I think that impact is actually MORE important than intent in communication. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it, even if it comes off wrong inadvertently.

          • Vikram

            “She speaks good Bengali for a gori” – that changes the meaning of the word itself, from a fair maiden to a westerner. But despite the wrong use, the word is in itself is still beautiful.

            Besides, impact is in your face, so perhaps that is more important to you, but I know that intent is the real, original culprit, always!

          • That’s the point I was trying to get across, Vikram, that the word does change meaning depending on the person it refers to… I have heard it many many times and it’s always complimentary when used toward an Indian girl and NOT complimentary when used toward a Westerner. Gori = fair Indian girl has a good connotation. Gori = Westerner does not have the same connotation… I don’t think objectifying and sexualizing European skin tones is a good connotation either. That’s why I do not use it.

            And words in and of themselves being beautiful is a different matter altogether! Some would say the word ‘diarrhea’ is beautiful but the thing it refers to certainly isn’t 🙂

            I think that sometimes even with good intent, words can have a negative impact and we must be careful about that. If I were to say to you, “You’re Indian, I’m surprised you speak English so well!” it’s kind of insulting, even if I didn’t know that English was spoken in India. I don’t intend to be racist or insulting by saying that, but it doesn’t make it any less racist or insulting.

            I knew a guy who called his Northeastern girlfriend chinky because he thought it was an adorable term of endearment. She did not think this, but he continued calling her that even though she didn’t like it, because he’s a terrible person, and the worst part is he never even knew why it was wrong. He just said “Well, I think it’s cute so why should I stop?” His intent was not to demean her, even though it’s a terribly demeaning term.

          • Vikram

            I don’t think anyone with sane mind can call ‘diarrhea’ a beautiful word 🙂 That apart, your know-how about India is quite as excellent as my English 🙂

          • HARRY

            I love your argument specially the line below.

            “Let’s go to the club, there’s lots of goris there” – you wouldn’t go if it was desi girls why?

            You have earned my respect, so from now on, I will call you Andreaji. You do throw good argument for a gori. LOL. 🙂

          • ha ha, thank you … I definitely understand the good uses of the term but when it’s referred to me it has never ever ever been good so why should I co-opt it?

          • HARRY

            What I wanted to know was, how were you first introduced to your in-laws and who decided that it’s time? Just curious. BTW I am assuming you are married to an Indian. Was it as easy as it shows in the video you posted in to your link. 🙂

  • I will speak up, though it’s too early, and it may not be the path for me, but I am in the process of reading the scriptures. If I do see myself as a Hindu, then I would be an example of one who wasn’t introduced to Sanaatana Dharma through a partner, but decided to study it on my own. I find myself caught in the middle between atheism and religion, or between nirmukta and Sanaatana Dharma, and the only word I have been able to come up with is mízúgárehvó (vowels are as in español – flat with no diphthongs within a single vowel (diphthongs occur only with two vowels or more, keeping each vowel flat and clearly enunciated)), or Native Mind, Native State. Such a state of mind probably existed before language and religion. Many religious traditions, especially of devotion and ritualism, seem very foreign to me. Native Mind is not to be confused with Native American, so these two things are very different states of being.

  • Thank you for sharing your story. It is indeed scary at times in your area, where discovery carries a very real risk! You are brave to take this stand! I wish more people were like you!

    As you can see in my post above, I have a different battle; that of identity. I find myself having to give a name to myself in light of civilization and a sense of belonging. I find myself in a position of a tug-of-war, where I feel compelled to identify myself in the face of people trying to make me Christian, and where I feel compelled to simply drop everything, take my hearing aids off, and live in the woods, to go back to the Deaf Years of my childhood. I don’t think that I will find another person like myself… I hope that you find others like yourself and group together to “step out” together, to show that there is no one right way

    for everyone to live.

  • me

    I’ve just found Hinduism…. on my own… I don’t know any other people that are Hindu or Buddhists…. I’m enjoying your blog…. thank you.

    • Ambaa

      So glad you found us! 😀