Over the summer I quit my office job to write full time. It turns out that I was a little premature in that decision and our budget is stretched far too tight for comfort right now. So I started looking for a part time job near our home to supplement my writing income. It had to be part time and it had to be close enough to our house for me to walk because my husband and I share one car.
As I put in applications at Target, Subway, Game Stop, and grocery stores I started to wonder about my practice of wearing a bindi full time. It’s very important to me to be visible as a Hindu. Mainly because I think Hindus are rather invisible in America and many non-Indian Americans aren’t even aware that they know any Hindus! I think showing one’s Hinduism in a subtle way while living your regular life helps dispel stereotypes about Hinduism and allows non-Hindus to see that we’re nice, regular people that they can relate to.
But now I was faced with the possibility of discrimination. My little family really needed me to get a job. And there were limited options close enough to walk to. Shouldn’t I take the bindi off just in case it was off putting? Technically the people doing the hiring can’t discriminate based on religion but they could simply not hire me without giving a reason.
Was staying visible as a Hindu and maintaining my practice of daily bindi wearing worth the possibility of losing a potential job?
The bindi isn’t required. It isn’t mandated by anyone. I could just take it off. And exercise the unfair privilege I have to instantly pass for non-Hindu.
When the call came for an interview, I decided not to change myself. I decided that it was important for me to put my money where my mouth is, as it were, and stay true to the reasons I started wearing the bindi. It’s not only for when it’s easy. It’s not only for when I have nothing to lose. I refuse to remove my Hindu identity when it is convenient.
I put on a little touch of sindoor and used my liquid bindi to make a very small red dot and I went for my interview.
Incredibly when I arrived, the woman doing the interview was Hindu too! She was wearing a gold Radha & Krishna necklace and we got talking about India (she’s from Gujarat) and religion. It was very nice. It turned out they were pretty desperate for people anyway and there was never a question of me being hired. I started the next day.
So now I am a checkout clerk at a grocery store and the issues of wearing a bindi in professional life are only just beginning.On my first day a customer asked me about the sindoor and the difference between that and the bindi and what it all meant. It felt deeply inappropriate to be talking about being a Hindu while at work and with customers no less. Yet wearing the bindi invites questions and curiosity.
After the customer left one of my coworkers who was training me wanted to hear more about it. “I don’t know anything about Hinduism,” she confessed, “Please tell me about it.” While I was happy to dispel misconceptions, it still felt wrong to be talking about this at work.
I felt even more tempted to take off the bindi. Instead I made it as small as I could and as close to my glasses as I could! It hasn’t come up explicitly since then but I have definitely noticed customers doing a double take if they actually look at me as I process their order.
I’m still feeling uncertain about this.
A few days that I’ve gone in there has been a postcard on the register advertising a church service and I feel very uncomfortable with that. The work place is the wrong venue for sharing church advertisements. I threw one away. I thought about complaining. I wondered if what I’m doing with my visible Hinduness is just as bad. I remind myself that Muslims are allowed to wear hijabs for work. And Christians are allowed to wear crosses. And Jews are allowed to wear Stars of David and kippot/yarmulkes.
All those things are more common expressions of faith that people are used to seeing so they don’t stick out as much as a bindi, which is so rare in America. Yet if we Hindus don’t start proudly wearing symbols of our faith they won’t ever become commonplace. I hope that more people will join me in wearing a small bindi until it becomes not remarkable at all! I realize that not everyone can make the choose that I made but I do hope that my doing it will help open the door for other Hindus to feel safe and comfortable expressing their faith and culture (more on that tomorrow!)