White Hindu Voices

White Hindu Voices March 9, 2016

In a world of social justice and discussion of cultural misappropriation, this is a subject that has been weighing on my mind for a while. One of the common complaints that people of color have against white people is that white people’s voices are louder and heard more than theirs. That our opinions are valued more and paid attention to more. That our thoughts are considered more valid even when speaking about something that is in the culture and history of a person of color.

So it is important to me to temper my voice. I don’t want people to come to me as an expert on Hinduism and ask me to speak for Hindus when there are millions of Indian Hindus available. I do not want my thoughts to be louder and more heard than theirs.

Yet here I am blogging. Because I do enjoy digging into philosophical and religious questions as they relate to my experience as a Hindu and talk about these thoughts with others. It’s a tricky balance for me. I try to raise the voices of Indian Hindus and also do guest posts and things like that for balance. 

But I have to admit that I do still think, despite all this, that my voice deserves to be heard too. It has been a life-long quest of mine to be fully accepted as a Hindu and if I am legitimately fully a Hindu, then my thoughts and opinions about it are valid. Some seem to suggest that white Hindus are welcome, but we are still expected to defer to Indian Hindus forever. No matter our history or experience, any Hindu of Indian ethnicity automatically is more of a Hindu than we are and has authority over us. That’s how it often feels, anyway. There are definitely some who say that white Hindus are great, just as long as we believe everything they say and follow their lead in everything. 

So that bothers me, but then I think that might be similar to what Hindus of Indian ethnicity feel when their thoughts and opinions are ignored by mainstream white America and white Hindus are listened to.  After all, it’s relatively easy for a white American to publish an article or get a platform for a story about “experiencing this exotic other culture.” White Americans seem to be more interested in hearing about one of their own experiencing something than to learn about the culture or religion from someone born into it.

As you can see, I end up turning in circles with this one. I think my thoughts and experiences of Hinduism are as valid as any other Hindu but I also don’t want my thoughts and opinions to over shadow those of other Hindus.

I definitely don’t have an easy answer for this.

I justify my blog to myself by saying that I’m not speaking for Hinduism, but rather for non-Indian Hindus. My story, my thoughts, my opinions, are connected not necessarily to being a Hindu but to being a non-Indian Hindu. That, however, is not always the whole story.

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  • JRajBali

    You definitely need to let your voice be heard Ambaa. Seeing you be proud of your adopted culture has definitely made me more willing to speak up and be proud. Hinduism is ancient and as a way of life it can be adopted by any person to any extent. The fact that you take pains to study and synthesize concepts I think pushes you past that of someone that’s just a faddist. People will devalue your tradition because there isn’t a family lineage behind it but hey a line has to start somewhere. I think if people want to come to you as an expert in their sphere on Hinduism then that’s a compliment and it gives you the platform to introduce others to those people you think of as experts or to your sources. Just don’t let it get to your head. You don’t need to justify your writing of the blog as being for non-indian Hindus, because those of us that are Indian and read your blog find that we share the same opinions. Dharma is a way of life free from association with race. The title Hinduism is just an outsider label for people across the Sindhu, so if anyone tries to argue that you can only speak for non-Indian Hindus, tell them they’re speaking nonsense because you are just a non-Indian follower of Dharma, as are Buddhists in their diaspora, the Balinese, the Sami in Northern Europe, the Zoroastrians, etc.

    • Ambaa

      It means so much to me to hear that I can inspire people to feel proud of their Hinduism! And you are so right that a family lineage has to start somewhere!

  • amrik

    Dont stop! use your voice

  • Liadan-Saoirse

    I 100% understand this, and this post is kind of funny timing for me because I’m just now getting over the idea that my voice and views as a Hindu are irrelevant/would never be taken seriously. I’ve become really involved in interfaith work in my area in the last several months and one of the big things we do is take 7th graders on field trips to different houses of worship in support of their world history curriculum. We did the first temple trip a week ago (the second of three is tomorrow) and the experience was enough to make me feel the need to speak up and become part of the planning process for next year’s presentations. I felt like it was very one-sided and not as informative as it could have been and realized that there is a lot of knowledge and experience that I have to offer, so I should do it. I’m sure there will be people who aren’t entirely comfortable with it, but I suppose that’s life. I think we can stand up for ourselves and our right to participate and still be respectful and admit we might not know everything, just like anybody else in the tradition. (And yes, I did recently change my username.)

  • skyblue

    I read this:

    So it is important to me to temper my voice.

    and was all set to disagree fervently, but then you said this:

    …But I have to admit that I do still think, despite all this, that my voice deserves to be heard too.

    It sure does. Everyone’s experience is uniquely theirs and worth telling. While I can think of a situation when someone might want to pipe down in this respect, it would be someone who was dismissing others’ experiences or “shouting them down” so to speak. That doesn’t sound like you, and I bet that this is a case of “if you’re worrying this might be you, it probably isn’t”. (Perhaps it’s related to the universally-despised workplace jerk who’s convinced they’re best buddies with everyone phenomenon- the self awareness and concern for others is either there or it isn’t). Respect for others and reflection goes a long way and the fact that you are concerned about this will get you most of the way there, I’d bet.

    …I think that might be similar to what Hindus of Indian ethnicity feel when their thoughts and opinions are ignored by mainstream white America and white Hindus are listened to

    Yeah, I think it is the same issue: race being a “qualification” to speak on a subject. And it seems that, although you’re the speaker and concerned about your voice, the problem starts on the listener’s end, which got me thinking about why I find particular perspectives interesting as a reader.

    White Americans seem to be more interested in hearing about one of their own experiencing something than to learn about the culture or religion from someone born into it

    All this really made me think about my own reading habits. This is the only Hindu blog I read regularly, so why this one and not one by someone who grew up Hindu? I noticed that I find blogs where someone has changed religion or is learning about a new one to be interesting. I don’t know that this is necessarily a White and/or American thing. Maybe it’s readers being able to relate to the author knowing what it’s like to not know about something? Given that someone who grew up in a religion has childhood memories of holidays and rituals, but someone who didn’t had the experience of learning as an adult, outsiders can say “Oh, that’d be me…” about the latter. I’d likely find a Black, Scottish Hindu blogger’s perspective to be just as interesting for this reason. You can write not only about the basics, but about how it was for you to learn them.

    I’m not speaking for Hinduism, but rather for non-Indian Hindus.

    Nobody can argue if you speak just for yourself, one particular non-Indian Hindu! They might try, but that’d fall under the previously discussed category of people who should pipe down and let others tell their stories. I hope you keep telling yours.

    • Ambaa

      This is a great point: “I bet that this is a case of “if you’re worrying this might be you, it probably isn’t”.”

      I do hope that my perspective helps people outside of Hinduism kind-of have a bridge into it.

  • Just chanced upon your website. Your thoughts amaze me.

  • Lokesh

    ” white Hindus are welcome, but we are still expected to defer to Indian Hindus forever”

    Indian Hindus are used to seeing westerners as students who come to learn from Indian Gurus. that might make them see themselves as ”all knowing” and thus superior.

    An Indian Hindu who reads just one blog post from you might not take you seriously, but when he/she reads more and gets to know you better, they start to respect your views and to gradually appreciate them. They are not used to this idea, that is the problem.

    NON INDIAN HINDU VOICES HAVE TO BE HEARD MORE for Indians to finally make peace with it. There are few like Dr David Frawley, Francois gautier, Maria Wirth who are getting popular among Indian Hindus through TV, Newspaper articles and internet, such Non-Indian voices definitely are helping change the Indian mindset.

    • Ambaa

      Thank you

    • Samester

      True.. Maria Wirth and David Frawley, especially are fighting so hard to dispel the biases that are have been built around Hinduism by Imperialist Abrahamic rulers that ruled India for almost 1000 years.
      Sometimes I feel non-Indian Hindus are more passionate and unapologetic about their faith than the Indian Hindus.

  • Nilesh Sinha

    Even not all of Indian Hindus entirely know about their faith. You know more than them.

    • Ambaa

      That makes me sad. I hate the idea that I know more!

    • phillyaggie

      That’s very true. India’s educational system, and it’s educated peoples’ drive to ape Western mores, has hollowed out a lot of Indian Hindu minds…the sociopolitical situation increasingly makes Hindus in India almost apologists for being Hindu in their own ancestral land. In such a scenario, reading a non-Indian Hindu’s thoughts on matters of faith and other issues is encouraging.


    The problem I normally get is when people tell me what my faith is according to the stereotypes what they hold and what they have been told by the others. This really gets my goat, but I am always polite in my response and when I tell them what I know and what I think of their version, then they are left absolutely baffled and speechless and that’s priceless.

    The American academia is the proof that they will never take the native practitioners seriously and what they have to say about their own faith.

    The only time when they accept you is when you write something that they agree to, and it’s to their own conditions.

    I only realised this is when I failed my Hindu assignment which I had to write in school in London and this really pissed me off.

    I think this kind of situation also exist in Europe as well and because of this, myself and most native practitioner don’t take the outsiders seriously, because of this I didn’t either at the earlier times . The feeling you get from this is bitter when they are trying to stuff your mouth with their version and view of your faith, and that’s difficult to digest.

    I don’t think this is personal but then it becomes because of their rejections.

    • Ambaa

      Failed a Hindu assignment? Wow.

      “The only time when they accept you is when you write something that they agree to, and it’s to their own conditions.”

      I actually feel this from certain Indian Hindus! A lot of times I feel like I am given a platform only so long as I will parrot what an Indian Hindu has told me to say.

      • HARRY

        Why do you feel this way, I don’t understand?

        Let’s talk about train. The engine is not same as the carriage. The engine can move independently whereas carriage does not have the same PREVLEDGES. I have typed the word in capital because you and I both know, that this is how this world is formatted.

        Talking about prevledges, you can almost write and say things and it will carry a weight where as this is not same as for the poc and you and I both know this is true and I am not unkind in saying this.

        There’s a alot written on prevledges. I am not going to go there.

        When I have written the above comment and said that they only accept your write up is, when you write something that they agree with. This is true when you write for academic purpose in West . And I am not making this up.

        This was not intended to take a poke at you. I am not that cheap yet.

        It’s crushing blow for a child when he is told to read the exercise books and write a RIGHT answer from it.

        This is a very things that question your faith and things that you were told. Maybe it’s for good, I don’t know.

        The question I have is, who is telling you to do this and why are you listening to them anyway. You don’t have to do anything that anyone and including your other half tells you to do. What you do is your choice and yours only.

  • DudeFromDC

    “No matter our history or experience, any Hindu of Indian ethnicity automatically is more of a Hindu than we are and has authority over us.”

    I was kinda disappointed that you said this, Ambaa… I don’t think that can be true. That shouldn’t be true. Most compelling reason being: why I call myself a Hindu and you (most non-Indian Hindus for that matter) identify yourself as Hindu is entirely different. Actually, so is the case among Indian Hindus too.

    Here is where the term Hindu turns a bit complicated (for me at least). I am neither a religious person nor a spiritual one.But I am proud that I am part of the oldest existing culture that still has relevance and a place when other religions are increasingly finding it difficult to hang on.

    I never followed religious practices of Hinduism unless I had to. But my fundamental thoughts, actions and life are more or less based on cultural values and traditions of India (more Keralite than Indian here, but lets keep it simple.), which is what we call Hindu culture (not necessarily Indian culture, at least as perceived outside of India) . In other words, I am more of a cultural Hindu than a religious one, and so are most of us. This doesn’t mean that I am any less of a “Hindu” than anyone else. I don’t think there exists a scale where “Hinduness” can be measured(there shouldn’t be). There is no concept of “true Hindu” like in other religions. In fact, Christians,Muslims and Sikhs in India are all culturally Hindu. Like ISIS said, they stopped recruiting Indian Muslims as they can’t commit atrocities and are only good for menial tasks(I can’t believe I am quoting them for approval). The word “Hindu” has been around for ages and has gone through a myriad of definitions. To me, when one calls oneself a Hindu, one just picks one of these definitions that suits him/her. Non-Indian Hindus are just about as “Hindu” as anyone else.

    As for our voices being heard, one thing that came to my mind was the hate crimes against Hindus/Indians last year in Ashburn (Northern Virginia). There were 17 cases (graffitis, vandalisms,break-ins etc)reported in a month that had senators giving speeches promising more security, the FBI, the whole nine yards. Now, how many even heard about this? Imagine the din had it been any other community here. My point is, we didn’t make any noise here to be heard. The reasons behind that is a whole another conversation. Having said that, I don’t believe that I deserve to be heard whenever I make noise, but I deserve to be heard when the right noise is made. I also believe that it’s unfair to say that “white America” doesn’t listen to “colored” voices, but the picture is not completely rosy either.

    • Ambaa

      That quote wasn’t so much what I necessarily believe, but it’s what I feel I’m being told a lot of the time, you know?

      I appreciate your perspective on it. And you are so right that we do need to use our voices for good when problems are being ignored!

  • phillyaggie

    I enjoy your writings, and the fact that you have spent a long time to develop a following, a platform. Please continue to write and be a voice for Hinduism. I don’t often chime in here, but thought I should write some words of encouragement.

  • Manoj Kedia

    I ask you, when you took a decision to become a practising Hindu, did you go out and seek other’s opinion or approval? Then why do you seek approval/validation from others. By doing this you are going against the very basic philosophy of Santana Sharma i.e. Do your Karma and leave the rest to God.

  • Samester

    Bytheway, Amba, what version or form of Hinduism do you practice?

    Is it the Meditational-type seeker.. akin to practicing in solitude (Concentrating on Chakras, Chanting Mantras, Kundalini awakening, breathing-yoga, etc.) or the Bhakti (synonymous with Deity worship, making deity center of one’s life, feeding deity before self, bathing deity everyday, participating in Bhajan-Kirtanas for group-vibes, etc., like they do in ISKCON, for example)??

    The latter is more colorful, fun, and more feminine, full of dance, song. I’ve been told one can’t be on both the boats as our personalities are intrinsically compatible with either one not both…

  • Jayadeva

    What concerns me with western converts (though in truth, one can hardly be called a “convert” to Hinduism) is the adoption and conflation of cultural motifs. Why do you wear a sari? Why do you have Hindi on your page banner (I did read your section on languages, cool that you are learning them to communicate with friends)?

    It sounds like you’ve educated yourself on some of the sociological
    implications of adopting a belief system different than the one you were
    raised in. I think that’s great and I tip my hat to you, ma’am.

    Many white converts to Islam similarly conflate the religious and cultural symbols/garb/whathaveyou when they don the Hijab.

    It is unclear if people who adopted a new religion want a new cultural identity. Colonialism is still a lurking cloud for those of us who have experienced prejudice for bearing these cultural norms while seeing them potentially reappropriated by orientalists.

    But ultimately, of course your voice should be heard!