The Bindi and the Job Interview

The Bindi and the Job Interview March 11, 2015

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!)

No, this isn't me at work. I have a uniform!
No, this isn’t me at work. I have a uniform!
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  • IaMJ

    When someone wants to know more about Hinduism, why don’t you just refer them to your blog ? It won’t make you uncomfortable and you will avoid a lengthy discussions at your workplace as well !

    • Ambaa

      That is a very good point. I should do that!

  • Meenakshi

    Great post, and eerily timed, as I’m in the midst of writing a similar article about interviewing at the Pentagon while wearing bindi and nose ring. (Great minds think alike?) I’m so happy you decided to stick with your identity–an identity many of us have watched you struggle to reconcile with over many years! Congrats on the new job! And don’t worry, soon you will be able to live as a full-time starving artist, like so many of us. 😀

    • Ambaa

      Wow! That’s great. Do send me the link when your article is out! I would love to see more Hindus wearing bindi and other faith symbols in professional settings.

  • Malai

    You actually look Indian in that photo Ambaa. What’s your ethnic background?

    • Ambaa

      I rarely hear that! I think perhaps it is the lighting of the photo creating the effect more than being an accurate portrayal of what I look like!

      I’m mostly what’s known as “black Irish” which is Irish people with dark hair. I’m also part Scottish.

      • Malai

        From your photos you look Southern European ancestry like Spain, Greece or Italy. Or even Israeli or Latina. I would not have placed you as Scottish or Irish.

  • M Raghavan

    The wearing of “bottu” and other religious symbols should not be consideration for one’s position. It would be equivalent to a Muslim woman wearing hijab or a Jewish man wearing a yarlmuke. I personally do not Srichurnam at my workplace, but am quite comfortable wearing one to all other public places.

    • Ambaa

      It definitely *shouldn’t* be! But I feel like people still discriminate and how would we ever know?

  • Seeker

    Might be you are too sensitive. I am guessing that these discussions you have are during times when the store is not busy?? For instance, if someone is in line and held up while people chat about religion, it might be a problem, however if there is a lull and a customer has a question then if you are not busy I don’t see the harm, esp if they ask you. If you start the conversation one might say that the store is pushing a certain religion.

    I hear people speak of all kinds of things at work, sports, politics, last night’s date, the list is endless. If you don’t stand at your register and “demand” that people convert….then I guess you are OK. (LOL).

    If it is a community board where there are notifications of local events (ie the church ad you mentioned) perhaps that is ok. I have seen those type of ads in many places and since it is a non profit establishment in a public place maybe just ignore it if it bothers you. I have seen ads for 10K races, dog walking, street clean ups you name it. I think the general rule of thumb is that no hate ads may be posted.

    It is a good suggestion to refer them to your blog as long as it is clear that you’ll make no income from them checking it out.

    I wear my AUM pendant daily and at the bank a teller noticed it. I told her I am Hindu and she is too. we didn’t belabor the point but it was a nice feeling of camaraderie during a busy day.

    Relax, sometimes a discussion on any given topic is just an acknowledgment of commonality.

  • Virat

    wow !…. it was great read your daily life ..

  • I used to wear a rudraksha mala and I also had some japa beads after
    my mala disappeared but they disappeared, too. I don’t call myself Hindu
    a follower of the Siddha path. Sometimes I just call it alternative religion
    as there are other things I am interested in as well. When I was young
    I had long hair and I didn’t get jobs because of it I’m sure. Of course I try
    to give some the benefit of the doubt and recall my chain smoking and
    my obvious substance use. My mom took care of me in that problematic
    situation. I did find though that cutting the hair and quitting the drugs
    made no difference. Was it my politics? I lean left. Now I am homeless
    and I work for a labor pool. It’s mostly construction but all minimum wage.
    I have a degree in psychology I just earned from an online university. I
    wonder if that hurts me. Online U does not have a great reputation. It was
    an accredited college. I needed a loan to do it. I was something of a
    firebrand as a college man, advocating for all the liberal views. Have I
    gotten a reputation? I still live in the same area. I know about bindis. I would
    never wear one to a job interview but then I don’t even wear one to the
    Siddha meditation center, at least not regularly. Sometimes I do. I have some problem with the placement of it. At the center they once applied them, before
    an intensive. They applied scented oil to the place before the kum kum. I know there is a paste but all I have is the powder. Is it vermillion? So, others at the
    center rarely if ever use it anymore. The incident of the intensive was many
    years ago. I have been homeless and credit the mantras and teachings of
    the Siddha path with helping me get off the streets and get through 2 years of
    the online university as well as all the help I have received from strangers
    and passing friends. I live in North Florida. I don’t know where you live but it
    may have something to do with the politics though I really don’t see many
    of the liberals coming out and giving a hand to any alternative religious systems
    preferring instead to just identify with atheism and other materialist
    philosophies. You’ll neve see a Hindu, a Sikh or a Buddhist on Bill Maher. So,
    the likelihood that your bindi awakens a prejudice against Hinduism, altenative
    religion or just theism itself is very likely.

  • Amar

    it’s better to have some brief hand-out or postcard of bindi or sindoor information handy, if someone asks, sindoor means married.

  • Sri

    Wow! That’s great post.

  • Benson Stein

    You make it sound like there is extreme discrimination against Hindus in the USA? I work in the sciences and technology and have not seen much discrimination there. We purposely seek out Indians and other Asian groups and we give them preference in recruitment and hiring. Not doubting you though- Perhaps other than STEM fields they are highly discriminated against?

  • You have so much more strength than I. I often don’t wear a Bindi because I feel like I don’t deserve to or have no right to it. I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments, but I still worry so much that I will upset others by wearing it. My experience when I do shows me otherwise, and yet I still have this strong feeling.

    I never used to care what others thought about what I wore or how I presented myself. This is both hard and strange for me. I am so glad you continue to share your experience, and so eloquently. Thank you.

  • Tej pratap

    Dear Amba..thank you for a wonderful post. There is an ancient sanskrit saying which, when translated goes this way…”A forehead without the vermillion dot is like a burial ground or cemetery”. The reason why a bindi or the vermillion is applied on the forehead is to protect you from multidimensional energetic influences and help activate the energies of the third eye. There are many cultures spread across the globe who are not even modernized or aware of the external influences of the 21st Century and they do wear some form of dot on their forehead. Hindu is a loosely coined word by the Hellenistic world in the bygone era..actually it would be more apt to consider oneself as a follower of Sanatana Dharma..simply put…the five elements, the creator and the creatrix and unconditional love…more than enough to be qualified as the Representative of the Sanatana Dharma. The Ancient Druids of Ireland and the vedic brahmins were related..:-)
    We are all connected by an invisible silk thread…sat chit ekam brahmah
    Be proud of what you are as I see you destined for bigger things. My humble Namastes to you and your family
    Tej Pratap

    • Ambaa

      Thank you

  • showyourfacewithpride

    hi ambaa, first of all i’d like you to know that you look so lovely with a bindi, kumkum and in a sari. There is a kind of beauty and attractiveness that a bindi gives to a woman’s face. Women in Europe and other cultures used to wear ‘beauty marks’ on their cheeks using black ink in the old days. So, the concept of a woman’s beauty being enhanced by a dot on the face is not new. Between the eyebrows is a great location for a bindi, since when anyone sees you, the first thing they automatically look at are your eyes, and then your lips. This makes the beauty of the bindi appear front and center to the beholder.
    As a young woman, I cam from India many years ago to a study in the USA in a fairly big city. At first, I did not wear the bindi for a few days. But I felt incomplete without it and frankly, ugly. I felt like my face looked tired and withdrawn without it, making me look old. So I started wearing the bindi again, but for a long time, I stuck with the small, brown ones. Many people were curious about the bindi and would ask me what it was, what it was made of, how I had got it to stick to my skin and if they could touch it. ALL of them were simply curious and were well-intentioned. I was happy to be able to explain a part of my culture and faith with them. I hope I at least aroused their interest in hinduism enough for them to find out more. Some people would ask me about the bindi with great diffidence, prefacing their query with apologies, as if I might find the questions offensive! I find the most common misconception about the bindi is that it means the wearer is married. Many people also seem to think the colour of the bindi matters and signifies something…
    Now I live in a bigger, very multicultural city where bindis are commonplace to see! So I am no longer approached with questions, but I feel the bindi as a fashion accessory is gaining a toehold among young women everywhere.

    Ambaa, I admire your gumption in sticking to your principles during your job interview. I hope you dont have to work as a grocery store clerk for long and that your writing career will take off soon. Best wishes.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you! I am so inspired and encouraged by your story. And thank you also for the compliments 🙂 I agree that bindi makes me feel complete and pretty!

  • Madhu K Agnihotri

    Wonderful article…
    I enjoy reading your blog.Your point of views. You can be called as Vigilant Hindu or Virat Hindu having good depth knowledge of scriptures/Wisdom.Hoping one day all Hindus be knowledgeable and vigilant like you..
    Simple living High Scientific thinking

  • Hidimbi

    Hi Ambaa! I was searching for just this post! Can I ask you for a little bit of advice? I’m a White (Mostly White. 3/4 White. White passing. 0% Indian. This information is superfluous…) Hindu and I’m a public school teacher.

    I have always worn sindoor, every day since the day I was married (including when I was interviewed for my teaching position), but I usually only wear a bindi if I’m actually at the temple.

    I avoid wearing a bindi, not at all because I’m afraid of being discriminated against by non-Hindus but because I care about Hindus and don’t want to inadvertently offend THEM. Because I think, much like the swastika, the bindi is a symbol that (thanks to an indisputable case of cultural misappropriation) can easily be misinterpreted when displayed by a White person. I avoid wearing a bindi for the same reasons I avoid wearing a swastika – to avoid accidentally offending someone who misinterprets my meaning.

    I have been considering changing my position (in part, for some of the reasons you listed). The bindis I wear are never “fancy” they are tiny, traditional and simple, perhaps less likely to be misinterpreted as a fashion accessory.

    But, overt endorsement of any specific religion by a teacher is very controversial in public schools and I can see a good argument against it.

    But, I am thinking of applying for a summer job, over the vacation. I don’t see any good argument against wearing it for a job at a private company, where I am not an authority figure over a legally mandated captive audience.

    Does that seem hypocritical? To not wear it at my public school job but to wear in other settings?

    And dear God, if after this summer I feel emboldened to start wearing it even when I go back to work at public school, then have I tricked my bosses into hiring me, but not wearing it to the interview…? That question is down the road, I guess…

    Also, as I am about to apply for this summer job I have one more question… I also have a Hindu name (it was given in a Shuddhi Karan ceremony at Arya Samaj. Perhaps you may think this is the vegas wedding of Hindu “conversion” ceremonies. I know that it is not like receiving Diksha, but the name is meaningful to me, and it is what my husband, family and temple friends call me). I have not yet legally changed my name to this name.

    Did you use “Ambaa” on your resume when you applied for your job? Are you called by “Ambaa” at work? If so, how did you explain it all to your boss?

    <3 Thanks for listening (and sharing your thoughts, –if you have time. Congrats on the sweet little one!)

  • Autumn Irizarry

    I am a non-Indian Hindu who recently married and began wearing my bindi and sindoor everyday. In only a few weeks I have experienced rudeness at work from coworkers. I let it get to me, and stopped wearing them for about a week. Today I decided that by not wearing them I was encouraging their intolerance, so I am once again proudly donning them. I still feel hurt by people’s unkind reactions, but I’m trying to convince myself that it’s their problem and not mine.