India’s Staring Culture

by Ekua on April 17, 2011 in etcetera,India,race/culture/identity

There were numerous aspects of India that could have shattered my travel resilience, but what ultimately did it was the staring. It wasn’t just that I felt eyes on me regularly, it was also that the eyes were blank and unrelenting. And they continued to stare and stare even when they met mine and I gave a half smile and nod or wave to say, “Yes, I’m here, and I’m black.”

I’m ashamed to say that it was a toddler who broke me. He sat with his family in the row in front of me on the bus I took from Jaipur to Delhi. For about 6 out of 7 hours on that drive, he stared at me. I sometimes turned to the side to look out the window. I sometimes looked up at the Bollywood film that was 75% extreme violence and 25% choreographed song and dance routines. I sometimes looked down at my book. But I could always feel his eyes on me and each time I looked ahead, I’d see him climbing all over the seat to get a better view of me or his two little eyes peering through the gap between the seats. At first, I smiled, waved, made funny faces, hoping he’d have his fill and focus on something else. But hour after hour, those eyes, those adorable little eyes never turned away from me. It’s amazing what being stared at for hours can do to your psyche.

The thing is, I’m used to being an outsider. I grew up with my skin and hair not blending in with the people around me. I’m used to outsiders being curious about me on my home turf. On what seems to be a weekly basis, I find myself being surreptitiously photographed by tourists who visit my city. I’m also used to being a traveler who might introduce a small village to the sight of a black person and I am always prepared to receive a different type of attention than my largely paler travel counterparts might receive.

Some of my favorite places have been the ones where I was clearly an outsider and it didn’t matter. Places like Oaxaca where beyond the initial surprise at seeing me, I was treated with abundant warmth. Or Luang Prabang, where children whose eyes showed fear the first day they saw me began to wave and smile at me each day that followed that.

And of course, my least favorite places have been those where being an outsider did matter. Prior to India, Vietnam is the one other place that whether purposely or not, people made me feel unwelcome. Coincidentally, it was also kids who broke me in Vietnam.

I’d had up and down experiences with people in Vietnam. In Chau Doc and Hoi An, locals had been extremely friendly and open. But in Nha Trang and parts of Hue, groups of people, usually teenagers or young adults, pointed and laughed at me as they walked by. And then I arrived in Hanoi where I encountered a group of school children at the Museum of Ethnology who grew hushed when they saw me. They whispered amongst themselves while looking at me suspiciously, then they played the “Who Can Get Closest to the Scary Black Girl and Not Get Attacked?” game. As I tried to enjoy the fantastic museum I was at, groups of these kids would repeatedly run towards me bravely and then turn around and run away from me screaming and afraid. There were plenty of other tourists there, but this behavior was reserved for just me.

In the Hanoi situation and with the toddler on the bus in India, it was both the honesty of kids’ actions and the inaction of the adults the kids were with that got to me. Kids don’t know always know what they’re doing, but in both situations, the adults could’ve ascertained how the kids they were responsible for might have made me feel, but they clearly didn’t care.

On the occasions when I talked to a person from India about how much staring put a damper on my time there, I received a “but” in the response. “People stare at you, BUT…” I found that it was difficult to talk about India honestly with affluent Indians I encountered during and after my trip because so much was quickly dismissed with a “but”. “Yes, there’s a lot of poverty, BUT…” As a Ghanaian-American, I understand and appreciate the pride and wanting people to see the positive aspects of a country that can undoubtedly use some improvement (I’m talking about both Ghana and America).  But with the potential India has, I can only imagine how much more good it would do to for people to acknowledge the issues more, especially people with the ability to help the country maximize its potential.

The first person I talked to about the staring was a woman on my Jaipur day tour. She was originally from India but had lived in Canada for many years. She told me that, “People would stare at you less if you wore Indian clothing.” This annoyed me. In the heat of daytime Jaipur, I had on leggings under my below the knee length dress and had wrapped a scarf around my neck and chest in an attempt to respect local ideas about modesty. Ideas that I don’t agree with but was trying to respect nonetheless.

I explained that when I’d worn Indian attire for the first two days of the wedding, it seemed to make people pleased that I was walking around in Indian clothing, but it did absolutely nothing to decrease the amount of staring. I get that if you’re going to stay in a country for a length of time, it can make sense to dress more like the locals. But if you’re in a country for two weeks? I also couldn’t help but think about how in the United States, there are many older Indian women who live in the country for years and continue to wear Indian clothing daily. I think it’s great that they maintain this aspect of their culture and I don’t think it warrants either extreme staring or trying to convince them to throw on jeans and sweatshirt. I know that America’s culture is different in that it is significantly less homogeneous and centered around the more recent blending of many different cultures, but when it comes down to it, you can’t deny the cheeseburger and fries, jeans and t-shirt core of it.

Another person I tried to talk to about the staring in India was someone I encountered here in San Francisco. When she asked how I liked India, her face immediately dropped when I mentioned how much the staring made me feel on edge. “People are just not used to seeing someone who looks like you,” she told me. I told her that it’s not the first time I’ve been somewhere where they were not used to seeing black people, but in India, the staring was so far beyond anything I’d ever experienced before. It was just so unrelenting and almost always so unfriendly.

Maybe I took it too personally. Maybe the staring in India was something I was supposed to accept as a cultural difference and let it roll off my shoulder. But alas, I am human. And at the heart of my frustration about the staring was my desire to have that recognized.

Editor’s Note: I’m aware that all foreigners and even some Indians who visit India will likely be stared at. A lot. And there were definitely times where people were friendly to me, mostly at historical sites, museums, and of course at the wedding I attended in Kolkata. However, unfriendliness was blatant when I was walking around certain cities on my own, especially Jaipur and Varanasi. At one point, a kid even threw rocks at me in Jaipur. I would love to believe that the staring was simply because I am “different”, but the clues I received, combined with the unmasked idea in India that light skin is best leads me to believe that it wasn’t. If you have any thoughts or ideas on that, feel free to share them.

Terri- Try Anything Once April 17, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Ekua,

Thanks for writing this. I recently got back from Turkey and experienced more staring than I thought I would have received. This is in Istanbul, which is supposed to be a cosmopolitan European city! What was even more interesting was being asked if my hair was “original” and being called Beyonce (is that supposed to be a compliment?). Also multiple people wanted to take pictures with me. Like you, this also was not the first place, where I experienced some of these things. Also like you, I’m still trying to process the staring and the calls, as well as trying to just not feel reduced to nothing but a figment of people’s imaginations and possible prejudices. In some ways it feels like being robbed of your humanity. You cease being an individual with feelings. I think to some degree we have the luxury of living in a country where we see a variety of people walking around. The staring made me very grateful for that.

Ekua April 18, 2011 at 5:15 pm

I actually far preferred people wanting to take pictures with me when I was at the Taj Mahal and a few of the sites in Jaipur to the incessant staring! When people wanted to take pictures with me, I didn’t get a negative vibe from the way they were looking at me. The fact that people were so much nicer when I was at tourist sites made me wonder if there was a socioeconomic divide with how I was treated.

The Beyonce thing may have been their idea of a compliment? Also, when people have not encountered many black people before, they might call you the name of someone famous or ask if you’re related to them. It’s annoying, but probably harmless. On my very first trip to Mexico just south of the border near Tijuana, I was asked by some little kids if I was Michael Jordan’s sister.

I appreciate living in a place where I see a variety of people, but as I’ve traveled, I’ve found that there are lot of places where regardless of what people have been exposed to or not exposed to, there is a recognition of your humanity despite how different you look to them! I know that there are definitely different cultural ideas on how one might react to someone who looks different from what they’re used to, but it’s hard to not compare my India experience to other experiences where people could’ve made me feel like crap for being a foreigner and much darker than the local standard, but didn’t. And in India, there are so many people with skin not too different from mine… sometimes I got a sense that that was part of my problem.

Renee April 17, 2011 at 11:41 pm

I currently live in Dhaka Bangladesh and the staring is pretty bad here too. I’ve heard/read the line about wearing traditional clothing, but I find it completely false. People stare b/c my skin is different than theirs, nothing short of a full burka is going to hide that, saying otherwise is just a cheap/easy out by people who don’t really understand or haven’t experienced what it feels like. I dress conservatively but then I do that in the states too.
I haven’t had any malicious staring, or anything like what you described in Vietnam, thankfully. On my way to a cricket game a group of kids came up and walked next to me, when a friend asked (in Bangla) what they were doing the reply was that I came all the way over here the least they could do was look. When one of them handed me a ’4′ sign (for the cricket game) I said Thank you and the boy ran back to his friends yelling ‘she said thank you, she said thank you’. I read a note in some guidebook that often times people stare b/c you’re the most exciting thing they will see all day. I try to keep that in mind, but really it all depends on my mood. If i’m grouchy before hand, the staring will annoy me, if I’m in an exceptional mood, I might not even notice.

Ekua April 18, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I’m not a scandalous dresser by any means, but I was still trying to cover up most days. It didn’t help at all! In the end I handled the staring, but it was annoying that when I wanted to simply talk about it, it was dismissed so quickly.

I didn’t have enough time there to not feel on edge about the daily overwhelming aspects of India. After two weeks, you’re just getting started. So the only time I noticed the staring less was when I was hanging out with other travelers. And it was not that people stared any less, it was that I felt that I was being received better at those times.

I feel like I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and I am not quick to assume people are treating me a certain way because of my skin. At the same time, I am sensitive to the clues people give me about their potential prejudices, and there were definitely clues when I was in India.

david April 18, 2011 at 5:07 pm

Your post is wonderfully written Ekua. When I first read it last night I was taken aback; it made me feel sad and angry. I wanted to comment, but at the time I didn’t know how to express myself and I wanted to think more about the feelings that I was having.

As a middle-aged (gulp-when did that happen) white guy, I can’t begin to imagine how it feels to be in those situations. I’m gay and have had instances in the past where I have been in uncomfortable surroundings, but nothing to the extant that you describe.

Traveling can be very stressful. We go to places that can take us out of our comfort zone; we eat unusual foods, sleep in unfamiliar surroundings and at times witness cultural behaviors that would not seem normal (or just plain wrong) back home. In the end though, all of the stress we might have endured gets forgotten and we are left with good memories. Hopefully. To think of the added stress put upon you by the people you are visiting by them constantly staring is horrible.

My feelings of anger are actually directed more towards my own attitude and behavior. I guess you could say my naiveté.

A few years back I had traveled to Europe with a small group which included my friend Natalie, an African-American woman. For the most part the trip was uneventful, but once we got to Prague the reaction to our group by the locals changed. I remembered going into a noisy bar one night, and like a bad movie, the entire crowd shut up as we walked through to find seats. We all felt uncomfortable and left. Of course, we tried to laugh it off, including Natalie, but I’m sure she was much more hurt or annoyed by the crowd’s reaction then she let on. We didn’t really talk about it though.

I’m left wondering now if it was just the one time occurrence or if there were other stares and reactions that I wasn’t aware of, and if she continued to feel uncomfortable for the remainder of our time in Prague. I wish I had been a better friend. I should have known these things.

From now on, I will be seeing things a little differently.

So thank you, I know it must have been hard to write this post, but I’m glad you did.

Ekua April 18, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Because travel is something I do willingly, I accept the things that come with it. Sometimes I purposely travel in a way that it challenging. At the same time, I feel like there are certain universal ways of acknowledging people as people. Regardless of the privilege of travel or the fact that I made the choice to do it, it simply isn’t right that I have to tiptoe around people’s prejudices as I have done many times. I know that feeling that way is not going to change things, but it isn’t right.

It definitely was a harder post to write. There were bad memories that I was reliving as I wrote it, and I wondered if my honesty would be perceived as being overly critical or culturally insensitive. People are afraid to push buttons in the world of travel writing even though there’s no way travel can be perfect all the time! I’m glad you appreciate this post.

Travel writing can also be pretty one-sided and that’s another reason why I felt compelled to write this post. How “friendly” the locals are can change pretty dramatically depending on how you look!

Rhona April 18, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I have heard and read this numerous times. It seems like India and Vietman is really bad for this type of thing. Reading that really upset me. It is so unfair that we have to be selective about where we travel. When I was in Europe I was so nervous when I went to Spain b/c I heard about the negative comments directed at blacks. Fortunately, things were fine. I read bad things about Switzerland also. How unfortunate. The only good thing is that at least you were able to experience India.

Ekua April 18, 2011 at 9:30 pm

I actually haven’t read all that many stories about black travelers and the issues they encounter abroad. I would like to read more in depth stories, but they are hard to find! I think it’s not always easy to write truthfully about this sort of thing. I read a few stories from black travelers SE Asia before I went and I was nervous, but I actually never found any stories about Vietnam which was where I had the most issues. Regarding Switzerland- I’ve spent a bit of time there and never had a problem! Everyone was really pleasant.

The thing about stories – including this one – is that you never know if you’ll have the same experience. You don’t know who you’ll encounter and how things could vary from city to city. I’m not sure if I’d have walked away with a different view if I’d visited the countryside or the southern India rather than the touristy cities of the north. So I wrote this story not with the idea about being helping people be selective about where to go, but just to share a different perspective on India or give people a glimpse into what a black person might encounter in India.

For me, if I really want to go somewhere, I want to know what others have experienced and be informed, but unless I feel like my safety could be threatened, I’ll still go. It’s tiring to have to be the introducer for a race, but I can’t help but hope that with each trip I take to a place that is not used to seeing people of African descent, a few more people can realize that black people are just people.

Angela April 19, 2011 at 4:40 am

I’m very sorry to hear you felt so uncomfortable in India due to the insisting staring. After living in China for nine months, I’m gradually getting used to it. Not that the staring as become less frequent, I just care less, or don’t care at all.
Once in Beijing, a little girl at a restaurant was so shocked that she kept staring at me literally mouth open for all her breakfast. In Tiananmen Square, my mother and I were the attractions, everybody wanted a photo with us, but I have to say they were so friendly that we had a very nice time.
In India too I got a lot of staring, from children and adults alike actually, but maybe because I’m used to being stared at in China, I didn’t really mind it. Probably that’s just it, people are not used to seeing different people and they just don’t realize their actions can make them uncomfortable. Don’t think they intentionally wanted to make you feel that way, especially children. Although, I do agree the adults with them should have said something, they are (or at least they are supposed to be) more aware of what feelings and respect towards others are…

Ekua April 19, 2011 at 8:37 am

The thing is, India and many other parts of Asia undeniably prefer lighter skin to darker skin with abandon. Sometimes the staring was neutral as with the toddler in the bus who genuinely was curious. Sometimes it was friendly and people asked me to take pictures. But more often than not, it wasn’t friendly. My skin could be the same color as some of the darker, lower caste people of India and I think that could’ve had something to do with it. I’ve actually heard stories about Indian people with dark skin encountering racism in India because of being dark. Some of that, combined with a real sense of the unfriendliness had me convinced that it was about more than my being “different”!

Marsha April 20, 2011 at 5:06 pm

Ekua–
I’m sorry to hear that you felt uncomfortable at times while traveling through India. While I’m sure it was discouraging, I hope it doesn’t dissuade you from traveling to those places again. Each time we come into contact with people different from us, we have an opportunity to show them that we’re all the same on the inside. Keep on…

Ekua April 20, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Like I said in a response to a previous comment, I don’t let things like this discourage me from going anywhere (I don’t want to discourage anyone else from going to certain places either) and I always hope that through travel, people can see the humanity in others.

But the cold staring was a big part of my trip and something I felt compelled to share very honestly. I’d say that it went beyond uncomfortable to the point of feeling like people thought I was inhuman. There were definitely some positive interactions in some places, but largely, it often felt inhospitable. I’d go back, but I wouldn’t rush back. As far as return trips go, even if a country has its merits, I am much more inclined to go back to places that welcomed me, rather than places where people stared constantly, threw rocks at me (See “Brief Encounters in Jaipur” post), pointed and laughed at me, etc…

kay* April 21, 2011 at 12:18 am

i’m one month into my year long stay in india and i couldn’t agree more with you – the staring is by far the hardest thing for me (a black female). from the women it feels like curiosity but from the men it feels uncomfortable….from all it feels annoying. and it’s all the time. everywhere. i’ve had to resist the urge to yell “what?!?!” or to give people the finger. i’ve had people trying to take video tape of me as i do absolutely nothing of interest – i’ll cover my face with my scarf to ruin their shot. i can definitely relate to your feelings. i refuse to wear an all indian outfit because that doesn’t feel like “me” – i’ll wear their pants with my own top or their top with my jeans or leggings but i can’t pull off the whole look – i feel like i’d just look silly.

a few occasions women have started conversations with me and this i don’t mind. when they ask, as they all do, what i think of india i always bring up the staring. the response has been the same from everyone so far “it is not meant to be rude. most of us have never seen someone who looks like you. you’re a foreigner and you’re interesting. you’re tall and beautiful. so we look.” ya, but it’s still uncomfortable as heck i try to explain. one guy was shocked that i didn’t like the staring, “you don’t like?!” he said “no. it’s uncomfortable. makes me feel…dirty.” it took him a while and then he got it and he seemed sympathetic on the behalf of other men.

other expats and volunteers have told me i’ll get used to it, at some point i’ll just stop caring, but i don’t see that happening. though i really hope it will because if it continues as is it will seriously impact my time and thoughts on the country – and not for the best.

(i’m in delhi if that makes a difference. a big city. i can’t imagine the staring in a small rural area or village.)

kay* April 21, 2011 at 12:26 am

oh and also to add at not time has the staring made me feel….threatened or unsafe. it’s just plain uncomfortable and annoying.

glad you wrote about this. before i traveled to india i tried searching high and low on the ‘net for experiences from black females (or black males!) who had traveled through india and it was very difficult. so that made me even more determined to discuss, honestly, on my blog – the positive and negatives of not only a traveler in india, or a canadian/westerner in india, or a female in india, but as a BLACK person in India in the hopes that others can find it as some kind of resource that’s sorely lacking and needed. so thank you for helping to bring these….topics…to a larger audience. :)

Ekua April 21, 2011 at 1:17 am

I actually liked Delhi as I wrote about in the post after this! As busy as it is, it seemed mellow to me compared to the other places I visited. But who knows how I would have felt if it had not been for everything else or if I spent more time there. Maybe it would be a good idea to visit somewhere like Varanasi and then Delhi won’t seem as bad when you go back :)

In some cities, there were times when the staring did seem genuinely hostile, like in Jaipur (which was such an interesting place to me so it was kind of a shame) when I walked around on my own and got a sense that people were thinking, “What are you doing here?!” and ended up with a boy throwing rocks at me. I didn’t feel unsafe or even threatened, but I got that the intention was to make me feel threatened.

It’s great that you are getting a chance to talk to local people about it. Hopefully, if nothing else, in the places where you go often, people will get used to seeing you and stare less. I’m assuming you have plans to visit other places in India, and I’m definitely curious to hear about your experiences. From what I know, hang ups about having dark skin are much less applicable in the south. I’m looking forward to reading more about your time in India! Maybe I’ll vicariously make sense of it all through your experiences ;)

Odysseus April 22, 2011 at 12:53 am

Even though I have a “stereotypical” white skin, blonde-haired Germanic-American appearance, I can relate to this post soooo much. I got stared at all the time in India, but mostly by the men — and it was horrible. Their faces were so cold, without showing any emotion. I felt like a lot of these men were viewing me as though I were a porn star. Or possibly an alien. I don’t know what! All I know is that it made me feel deeply uncomfortable and vulnerable. And like you, I also got “stoned” by a man (adult, I think, not child) which was freakin’ terrifying. India is such a beautiful place, but . . .

I also had the experience that when I’d try to talk about the staring to anyone, they would just say, “Oh, the men probably just think you’re pretty or a movie star.” But I don’t buy it. If these men really had such a good opinion of me, why didn’t they ever smile? Southern India was different in such a good way. The people there would stare but they’d also smile. That’s something I can easily handle.

I think that if I’d gone with a male traveling companion, instead of another female, I would have gotten treated with a lot more respect. From my experience, I wouldn’t chalk the poor treatment down to a race issue but a gender one. Independent women are, I think, viewed with great suspicion in India. Once I sat on the rooftop of a restaurant and watched couples (1 male, 1 female, obviously foreign) going down the same street my friend and I had just walked down. We had been intensely harassed the whole time we walked on that street, but the couples who went down it just 5 minutes later were left alone. I know I sound like a child saying this, but it’s so not fair!

Ekua April 22, 2011 at 1:43 am

I wonder… I can’t say for certain that it was about race, but I can’t rule it out based on what I know about India and skin color. There’s no way to really compare the stares :P So far, no Indians have chimed into this discussion and I wish they would.

That’s definitely a good point about it potentially being because of gender. Unless they were women who appeared to have money, I hardly ever saw Indian women staying in hotels on their own or working. Most women I saw lingering on the streets seemed to live on the streets. It was my first time traveling in a place where there was such a distinct culture of gender disparity. I could probably write a whole separate blog post on that.

I wish I could understand why I encountered so much sugarcoating about the staring, poverty, pollution, etc. I honestly might have looked back on my time there more favorably if I could have had candid conversations about India with people who were from there rather than having people make me feel like I didn’t have a right to see what I saw.

I’m looking forward to reading about your experiences in Southern India. I’ve heard from multiple people that it is a lot easier to travel there than it is in the north.

Odysseus April 23, 2011 at 5:47 am

I only have a few posts I’m going to write about Southern India. My time there was so laid back there isn’t much to say about it! But I really admire your writing about India because you’re obviously being honest about your experiences there, neither glossing things up nor putting things down, just writing about the country as you experienced it. It makes your blog one of my favorites to read!

Ekua April 23, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Thanks! It is nice to hear that you appreciate my honesty. I keep hearing about how pleasant Southern India is and I’m feeling a little perturbed that I didn’t head that way instead, but at the same, I think I had the trip I was supposed to have!

Akila April 26, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Ekua, Thank you so much for leaving a comment on my site and sharing this post with me. I’m so glad to have found your blog.

I hate the staring in India. HATE HATE HATE. And, I’m of Indian descent and men still stare at me. They stare at my mom and my cousins, too (who live in India) and we all hate it. What I’ve heard from my cousins is that the men are staring because they find you attractive and its a lower-class way of showing that appreciation. I don’t know if that’s true but that’s what I’ve heard from them.

But, to be honest, dark skin isn’t preferred in India. And, I’ll absolutely be honest with you on that. The women go to ridiculous lengths to lighten their skin and it’s practically impossible to get a lotion without “lightening” powder. My husband and I always laugh because, when we go to India, everyone also tells us how lovely our light skin is while in the US, everyone thinks my husband is “too white.” I almost wonder if it’s a grass is always greener on the other side issue.

Either way, I’m so sorry that you had a hard time there. India is a tough country to travel in — absolutely. I have so much family in India and I continue to think it’s the second hardest country I’ve ever traveled in (the first is China). I read your comment complaining about how you can’t have an honest conversation with people about India. If you’d ever like to talk, let me know, because I’m all about the honesty! (And so sorry for this excruciatingly long comment.)

Ekua April 26, 2011 at 5:26 pm

Thanks for sharing your perspective, Akila! No problem about it being long… the responses to this post are all pretty lengthy. I am definitely aware of India’s light skin preference which probably already had me on edge from the start. Then on top of that, I saw an insane amount of skin lightening cream commercials when I was there which definitely added to my feelings that the staring was unfriendly and more than just curiosity. Regardless of the less enjoyable parts of my time India, I know travel can be hit or miss so I took the good with the bad. It wasn’t an easy trip, but I’m glad I went.

Regarding the inability to have an honest conversation with Indians I encountered, I hate to say it, but I think that it was a matter of an inferiority complex combined with a lot of pride. The thing is, I really don’t think there’s any shame in admitting to the issues because like any other “3rd World” country, there have been a lot of outsiders who’ve contributed to India being in a position where it needs to work its way up. I feel like I encountered some crazy making: “No, India is not 3rd World, it’s 2nd World!” “People don’t cut in front of you in lines!” “The staring isn’t that bad!” etc. I felt like when I commented on what I saw right in front of me, people took it as an insult and tried to convince me otherwise. Wanting to discuss those things was out of honesty or genuine curiosity as to why people do things the way they do in India.

Tee May 2, 2011 at 6:26 am

I certainly know where you are coming from with this. When i was in India, the staring really irritated me, and to try to enjoy my trip, I tried to ignore the stares. In China, it was another matter! I detest people taking pictures of me without my permission! I am not a spectacle of art! In Jizhaugou, it was not so bad, as they seemed friendly about it, and a girl and her mum actually followed me on a hike! But its not only Asia. In Europe too (some areas of Germany, Portugal, Italy, Prague, Budapenst, and all the Scandinavian countries) I have been stared at, but to be honest I would rather be stared at in Asia! It is definitely more innocent and mostly not malicious there!

Ekua May 2, 2011 at 5:44 pm

I’ve actually never felt in Europe that people were looking at me strangely, even in more out of the way areas. I think often, people assume I’m from there since I obviously look African – much more African than the average Black American. I have yet to visit Eastern Europe or Scandinavia though. On my travels, I’ve felt that the Europeans I’ve met (Scandinavians, Germans, Swiss, Dutch, especially) have some of the most relaxed ideas about race I’ve ever encountered. Of course, travelers don’t necessarily represent the whole country.

I have yet to visit China. In my travels in Asia so far, I’ve definitely come across people who were clearly looking at me or treating me in a negative way because of my race. And I have also encountered innocent staring, especially in the more rural areas of places like Cambodia or Laos. I really would rather not be stared at the way I was stared at in India. At times it seemed it seemed like it was curiosity, but depending on where I was, it sometimes seemed like, “What are you doing here?” I got a strong sense of that when I wandered through a neighborhood in Jaipur, and I feel like that was confirmed when a little boy threw those rocks at me on my way out. Regardless of intent, I’d much rather be stared at elsewhere because at least there are cultural norms in most other places that keep people from staring at you for hours like people do in India.

Vikas Thakur May 9, 2011 at 4:32 am

Hey,
I am an Indian and I don’t agree with you at all (Total sarcasm).
Well here’s my story: I fell in love with a blonde Australian girl. She’s been here twice and each time the staring issue, you’ve described has been exactly what we experienced.
It was a part of my culture that I was unaware of until she came here and I have felt disturbed a number of times during her stay. I don’t have any sort of solution to this however one explanation that comes to my mind is that a high percentage of Indians (both sexes) are uneducated and unaware of rest of the world and its culture. Ones that have traveled don’t participate in this behavior.

What prompted me to post this comment?

My experience last night when we were out. We were sitting in a local restaurant at Mussorrie and a married couple was sitting opposite us. Their stares were relentless and started the moment we entered the room and didn’t end until we left.

This was just a small experience which typifies the behavior that we’ve encountered for the past couple of weeks.

A few pieces of advice I can offer are:
1. Don’t come here.
2. If you are here, run fast, run far.
3. In case you can’t follow the first two and you still are stuck in this land of stares try to ignore it and interact with them as little as possible.

Ekua May 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Thanks for weighing in, Vikas. I was interested in getting the perspective of someone who actually lives in India. It’s interesting to know that you were not even aware of it until recently! I can see how the two of you would get a lot of stares – a blond woman alone would probably attract a lot of attention, but I am sure people are even more curious when they see the two of you together.

You don’t need to travel to have somewhat of an awareness of other cultures/races, it can also be taught in schools! But the thing is, I was only in places that are touristy where even if they are uneducated, they’ve likely seen all different kinds of people. And I have definitely traveled to places where people were uneducated and even more unexposed to various races than people in the touristy cities of India that I visited. While they were shocked to see me, it was not quite like what I experienced in India (or Vietnam). I definitely think that those prior experiences made it more frustrating because I couldn’t help but compare.

I wasn’t necessarily looking for suggestions as I am no longer in India, it was just cathartic to share my frustration and I wanted to get some insight. In my case, I ended up going most closely with #3 while I was there, but it was nearly impossible to ignore the staring and it was even more trying since I was traveling alone. I’m not sure if you were being sarcastic about suggestion #1, but the thing about that is while there are people like me who go places they want to go despite knowing that it will be a challenge, a lot of people really will follow that suggestion. I’ve been pretty amazed at how many people have said both before and after my trip, “I never want to go to India.” Even people who I consider to be pretty adventurous…

Aingeal May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I’m not sure people can truly understand the type of stare you’re referring to, just get a general feeling of unease because of your wonderfully written blog, unless they were of your color. Having rocks thrown at you or having kids play the game of let’s see who can get the closest doesn’t leave one feeling generally too happy about the whole situation.

In India it most defn was about race as black skin people are looked at as being of a poorer caste / class. It’s sad but a reality. It was also about possibly being African as many people tend to view Africans differently than let’s say you were an American or English black. Many times in my travel I was looked down upon until I spoke and as soon as people would hear my American accent… the smiles would come out.

I have dreadlocks also and travel as much as I can as you do so I can relate, but it won’t keep me from going anywhere because as with you, I’m a wanderer/traveler/adventurer.

@Vikas – You guys were also probably getting stares because of being a mixed race couple. Those are the types of stares you unfortunately would get anywhere. It’s too bad people cant just glance, get their curiosities out of the way and then move on.

Aingeal May 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm

@Odysseus – I’m glad you posted your experience of having rocks thrown at you too! I stand corrected.

Ekua May 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm

I think it’s hard to get straightforward answers on this in part because American race issues are so different from the rest of the world. But I just couldn’t ignore the fact that the Indians who looked most similar to me were very clearly shut out of India’s economic growth and the skin lightening commercials I saw there that unabashedly spread the idea that light skin is necessary to get anything good in life.

I have also noticed that I will get a different (better) reaction from people in certain places when they learn I am African but from America. The sad truth about that is often that Africans have settled in various places around the world. SOME of them choose a life of crime and then some local people might assume all Africans are like that. It’s really frustrating.

But I am glad that you travel as much as you can… I feel like the more of us there are that are willing to put ourselves out in the world, the more people can see that humans are humans.

Sharmaine May 31, 2011 at 6:31 pm

I stumbled across this blog, so that I too could get some insight into the whole staring. Though I have never ventured to India yet, even here in the states I am stared at by Indian men and women. I am well informed about the caste system, since I have many friends who are from India, even my cousins wife and family are Indian. However, since I am a lighter toned Black Woman (mixed Native American & White), I still get the stare down. I didn’t notice it much when I was living in my home town of Los Angeles as much as I do now living in Georgia. One time of course being really intense when i was doing some shopping at a local walmart, every turn I made this man continued to stare and it wasn’t threatening, just staring so hard I was wondering how he managed to shop. It was like this until we met up in a section of the store, I smiled, he stared, and spoke, then after said thank you miss and left. but of course we continued to run into each other during shopping and I just continued to smile. I have encountered this several times with men and women. I try not to allow it to bother me, b/c many people stare at me and my family when we are out and about, but this is just very intense…but like everyone says, no one has an answer…or a straight forward one.

Ekua June 2, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Wow, it’s interesting that you encounter that here in the States. I’d say that most of the Indian people I grew up around in the States were pretty Americanized so I was never stared at here the way I was in India. I’m guessing that to a lesser extent, most of the Indians I grew up with are stared at in India as well and don’t have any answers either. I thought that in writing this post, someone would have some solid answers about the staring, but instead, I am even more perplexed about it now!

Arundhati June 7, 2011 at 7:58 am

Hi – I’m an Indian woman and have lived most of my life in India, though I’m in California these days. I’m sorry and angry about what you went through in India. I’ve always known there is an obsession with light skin in India, but what you had to go through is ridiculous. That toddler’s parents should have asked him to stop. And many Indian women also do have to put up with staring from men but not on the scale that you seem to have had to endure. Much as I love my homeland, it does no good to gloss over our some of our attitudes towards darker skin or women in general.

I only hope you at least found the monuments and historical places interesting. I do think we’ve got some pretty magnificent historical structures and sculptures in India.

Ekua June 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Hey there, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It did make my time uncomfortable, but I was able to appreciate the trip for what it was and I did enjoy the monuments – especially the Taj Mahal and Amber Palace in Jaipur.

Infjunkie June 8, 2011 at 12:25 am

I am a 20 something Indian who has lived in India my whole life. First of all, I am so sorry to hear about your experience in India and I sincerely apologize on behalf of all of us. For a culture whose code of conduct is ‘Athithi devo bhava’ which means ‘The guest is god’, this is a new low.

This is not a rare occurrence and even us Indian women are subjected to this staring (or even worse) if we choose to dress differently, so being so different from what we are used to is probably what got you all the attention you did not want. I suppose this problem would be less rampant in metros like Delhi or Mumbai as opposed to Jaipur where majority of people are still not highly educated or exposed to the world culture.

I hope your find it in your heart to forgive us for being so blatantly rude and inconsiderate, I hope that you do come back to our country and enjoy our history and culture and find warm people who welcome you :)

Ekua June 9, 2011 at 10:36 pm

It definitely did feel easier in Delhi. Jaipur was a bit surprising to me because even though it’s poorer, a lot of tourists go there. I know I don’t see a lot of people who look like me when I travel, but still, I was amazed at the way some people reacted to me there. I don’t have any plans to go back to India soon, but I would not be fully against it. If I was to go back, I’d probably opt for the desert or the south (which according to other travelers I met is a lot less challenging for a Western traveler). And I’m all about solo travel, but India is a place I’d really like to have a travel partner for.

Alex June 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm

Very interesting blog post. I am an African American male and I have visited the middle east, Africa, Europe, Japan and Korea. I have alway’s been curious about the acceptance of a AfroAmerican male in India. I have done a lot of research and find the Southern parts of India most desirable places to travel due to their direct connection to Africa (i.e. Pondicherry ,Chennai, Tamil Nadu). To me it seems a logical choice due to the fact that many in that area have skin color much darker than my skin (medium brown completion).
The thing that amazes me is here ,in America, those same people mentioned above who move to America from South India are the most racist and hostile to blacks once they are in America. Most of them would never think of dating or marrying a black man although their skin color is often many shades darker. This self-inflicted hatred is sad and very suprising for such an intelligent group of people. I feel that the irony of your experience is that if you would have chosen to travel down south instead, you would have experienced twice as much racism from the population that are considered the lower “darker” caste where families experience night time raids and women are raped by lighter skinned caste simply because their skin is darker. This is such a sad truth about a country that beatiful and a historians paradise.

Ekua June 20, 2011 at 4:43 pm

From what I heard from others, the south was easier to travel in, but I really don’t know how people would’ve reacted to me there! I understand the lingering issues about skin color that are mostly a product of invasions and being colonized, but it’s amazing how far it’s taken in India compared to other places. And it’s amazing that it extends to foreigners who are clearly not Indian. The way people treated me in India made it incredibly hard to make the most of a country that really does have a lot to offer. Good luck if you go to India and I’d definitely be curious to hear about it is in the south!

sohith June 28, 2011 at 3:39 am

I am an(south) Indian male(19) with black skin.I would like to explain you certain things about staring.I apologize you all on behalf of my country.
We Indians have been brainwashed to look down people with black skin. Being slaves for 150 years broke our confidence and we feel imitating white fellows is civilization and modernity.Our media,newspapers,films show that to be important you have to be white.If you are black,then a lot of jokes and comments have to be endured.Many films contain jokes degrading black and africans!Every Indian feels white skin means being beautiful.So if you are lucky enough to be black,then you should make up with lot of powders and creams and look like a white person and comment on black skinned indian.
However staring has nothing to do with caste.We(youth) stopped thinking of caste since 1990′s.However the problem comes with parents and old Indians who still regard black and being of low caste is degradable.Even parents discriminate their own children for being black.I am black and I see my friends,parents,relatives,even teachers pass degrading comments and jokes regarding my colour.So it’s not wonder that you are stared and maybe commented on your back.
Indians are not used to watching a single girl walking in streets.We are still developing and we will develop and come out of this attitude.
Please,don’t despise all Indians.There are hell lot of black Indian girl suffering each day.Being male,my plight is somewhat less.Atleast I can resist,argue and take resolutions like stop acting like white skinned and stop commenting or discriminating black skinned Indians.But Indian girls with black skin have a lot of problems.Until the attitude of Indian society changes to accept themselves as black, black skinned persons have to suffer and struggle a lot.

Ekua June 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I definitely don’t despise all Indians! I know not everyone is like that there, but it was such a big part of my trip that I couldn’t simply ignore it, especially because it seemed to be hostile some of the time. All over the world, there is a culture of people desiring to have light skin, but it does seem a lot stronger in India than a lot of other places I’ve been and that was upsetting. I was only there for a relatively short period of time and I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a girl growing up somewhere where they were that adamant about skin color. It so silly when you really think about, but it seems like traditions in India are so strong that they can be inflexible to the point where they can really harm people.

DeeCee July 11, 2011 at 12:22 am

I think Vikas puts it quite clearly. Majority Indians are racists, and this has to do with the caste system still surviving with varying degrees of strength across India. One look at the matrimonials will tell you the importance of being fair in India. I am a bit light skinned, brown to the whites, and still now I am sometimes told (I am a guy) how “fair” I am. I grew up hearing numerous anxieties from relatives about my skin tone. ( “what happened, you not well? you look a bit dark?” Such questions are quite often when I meet certain people after the gap of a few months.

Hindu culture prizes fairness, with the sole exception of the God Krishna, who literally means the dark one, but is represented as blue in popular culture. Somebody who is really dark will invite these cultural prejudice (not everywhere but in most places).

White people attract huge amount of fawning for the same reason. To top it all, White was equated with the West for many years, and whatever was Western was better to a large number of people. I have had white friends who told me that they felt like rockstars in India.

In both the cases, you’ll see, that “different” people are singled out, either for adulation or for loathing. India was never a country with a sense of oneness with itself, it has always been a collection of castes, groups, communities, religions, and languages with people negotiating multiple identities always. Therefore, the issue of identity and “belonging” becomes very important here. The people who are accepting and welcoming are Indians but not Indians at the same time. These people usually do not have those multiple affiliations and, in some parts of the country, are derided as being monkeys to the West.

However, it is important to understand that wearing jeans and watching Transformers doesn’t take people out of such affiliations here. You might encounter an otherwise urbane and suave executive looking for a guy / girl from their own caste.

Therefore, you cannot predict staring or racism in India. It can come from anywhere. And I do not think anything substantial is happening to change it. Believe it or not, I think, Indians have to be strangers in their homeland to root out such pervasive racism completely. That’s how we go the good things, that’s how we gave up Sati and child marriage, and, as any newspaper reader will know, we haven’t given them up altogether.

Now, what do you do with such people? Do you stop visiting India? I would say no. It is a beautiful place despite the Indians and, of course, because of the Indians as well. and now comes my “but” part of the argument. Take this as travel-gymming.I mean it is not easy, but that’s the charm of it. If you spend money, you’ll be shielded from the unpleasantness, but it is better if you don’t. You’ll be able to experience life in anthropological and Waldenesque senses of the term. You have to break yourself to “belong” and experience (quite different from the organized folk dances and trips among smiling villagers) and you will find something fundamental for sure. It could be the fundamental baseness of humanity, or it could be the fundamental goodness. It will be worth it. And, yes, India without a heavy dose of philosophy or a wad of dollars is not a place where you want to be. :)

My apologies to my fellow Indians who I might have offended. Not that I love India’s goodwill less, but I like her well-being more. There are numerous Indians who won’t match my description, but there are more who would. I sincerely hope their numbers would decrease.

Wfter August 3, 2011 at 11:20 am

Ekua,

Extremely sorry that your trip was soured by the stares. I have lived in India for more than 25 years, and I am a dark-complexioned male. Unfortunately most the reasons you mentioned for staring are true. However, I would disagree that you got stared because you are dark-skinned. If you were light-skinned , i can wager that the stares would have been equal in intensity and length. I have personally experienced people staring at foreigners regardless of the color. The habit of staring is definitely very annoying. I hail from UP and when I used to study in a southern state, I got stared often even though my color wasn’t different. It was simply because I didn’t blend in – People could see by my clothes, language etc. that I was not among them.

What you said about Indian preference for fair-skin is so true (although its changing now with more film stars being darker skinned). I have been discriminated in school because i was among the darkest-skinned people. However, i would again say – staring at African-american should not be considered racist. Its just a stupid Indian tendency to stare and keep staring even when you get noticed. It all boils down to lack of personal space in India. For example when I have gone to apparel department stores in India…I have had sales associates following me around and even asking questions like – “Do you live abroad ?” etc..Overall social behavior is very intrusive…

While people are programmed to be tolerant of different religions and sometimes languages – they are not programmed to avoid embarrassing anyone who doesn’t look like their own. I think as Indians get exposed to more and more diversity, they will improve. But that is going to take a long long time …especially in interior India.

Ekua August 11, 2011 at 9:23 am

I know that the stares were not about being dark skinned, but about looking different in general. I know that people who are pale, especially if they have blonde or red hair get stared at the same amount. What I do believe is that the way people looked at me and the reception I got was significantly colder than other people around me and that definitely seems like it was about being darker or my African heritage.

In this story, I was not saying that the staring itself was racist, but the way it was done did hint at an underlying racism. As I said, I’m used to being an outsider. At this point in my travels, I feel like I can discern the difference between plain curiosity or confusion about seeing someone new and a look that is a little more malicious. I know it’s hard to understand my perspective if you haven’t been in my shoes, but that’s really the impression I got there.

Personally, I don’t think that the staring can be chalked up to lack of personal space or even lack of diversity. I have been in other parts of the world that were just as crowded or homogenous where I never felt as stared at or as uncomfortable as I did in India. I think the staring is simply an accepted part of the culture in India.

Bridget Liddell October 12, 2011 at 8:29 pm

I was starting to think there was something wrong with me. Travel advice mentioned the staring in India, but I could not understand why it (along with the harassment from men, which is nearly constant in some places) is wearing me down so much, why I feel so raw and frustrated.

And I am white. Quite pale, and a woman traveling alone. The level of staring that I experience makes me very uncomfortable, so I cannot imagine how intense it must have been for you. I was disappointed to see that you were made to defend yourself in the comments above, as I think your analysis on racial undertones of India are correct — it’s in the marital ads, the media, the whitening creams for sale.

Wearing traditional Indian clothing makes no difference; and, in fact, I’ve been ridiculed for it, so it may even make it worse. I wear loose, long tops, past my thighs, and a scarf over my chest. Anyone suggesting that the woman’s clothes are at fault is a dangerous perspective.

I am in India right now, with a month left out of three. I find myself lashing out, with “what??”s and shocked reactions; with calling men out on their behavior. But I am not sure how much longer I can handle it, and I am ashamed that I am not stronger.

Thank you for writing this. Grateful, definitely.

Ekua October 13, 2011 at 6:10 pm

I definitely know what you mean when say that you feel like something is wrong with you because you feel this way. I think the generally accepted first world travel mentality often invalidates people’s right to feel whatever they are feeling as they travel if those feelings aren’t completely positive. I like to find the positive aspects of everywhere I go, but I’m also dedicated to describing the reality of my personal experience. One of the reasons why I wrote this piece is because the travelers I encountered in India were as irritated with the staring as I was, but I’d never seen anyone discuss it in blog post before.

I can accept that staring is a part of India’s culture that I’d have to deal with regardless of anything else, but I felt strongly that people approached me differently as a black foreign female. I think part of people who’ve posted on here not understanding that is that there aren’t too many of us (black women) who’ve ventured over to India and shared experiences about how we were received. But the female issues are obvious in India and like you said, the prevalence of skin lightening products and the commercials that accompany them are such a blatant sign of color issues in India. This combination definitely altered how I was treated.

If you checked out some of my other India posts, I wrote about how India unexpectedly broke me (over and over again) even though I thought I was really strong traveler. But when I got home, I felt like a stronger traveler after enduring the solo budget travel India experience. It seems like you’ve been traveling in the north… from what I hear, the southern part is much easier so maybe you want to head down there for the last bit of your trip!

Irritiated Indian October 24, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Racism is rife in India, it is largely “hidden and protected under the caste system banner”. In reality there is no one race called Indian, it is made up of different collection, the political state came into being only in 1947, previously there were many nations. In the East are people who look like chinese, they have been subjugated to brutal state horror for last 60 years to make them “Indian”. It’s not some paradise as you think it is. “denial” is another element of their culture to make them save face. You are not dealing with a Judeo-Christian culture here, you are dealing with cultural systems that may not put honesty or whatever above personal gains, so not to be too politically correct about it, yes Indians by and large are racist towards dark skinned people or other third world nations, even if you are an American , your race is take into account first.

Irritiated Indian October 24, 2011 at 3:40 pm

Regarding “tolerance” that is a load of hogwash, “tolerance” exist as long as you mind your business and they mind theirs, if you are one of them and you change your religion, then watch how they treat their own, look at the honor killings of women of Hindus who married another Hindu of another caste, look at how their own converts to Christianity were treated in Orissa violence. They will tolerate you as long as you don’t attempt to “convert them” or preach to them your values. Indians are not angels or better than Arabs or Afghans or any other country, they have their own unique dark side. Many foreigners romanticize the exotic India way too much that it ends up destroying them in the end at hands of Indians. You are dealing with a Human society that has it’s own unique problems. It’s not singapore or South Korea or Ireland. India is India.

Girl from India November 6, 2011 at 5:42 pm

I feel sorry for what you had to go through. ‘BUT’ I want to tell you one thing. It’s not just about the color of your skin. Trust me. I know.
I am Indian. I live in a small town. And I’ve gone through the same kind of experiences. My skin is same as theirs. Then why do they do that?
Its just some kind of sickness in their head (heads?) … whatever!).
And I tell you what… it happens mostly with girls. So, its more about gender.
I dont know… I’m not really that hopeful, but I still pray for a better tomorrow. But again, maybe it just cant get better as long as it’s here.
It’s a sad sad thing that I have to say such things bout my own homelad. But it’s truth. If you an independent strong girl, you are bound to feel suffocated here.
Sad! :(

Ekua November 6, 2011 at 8:40 pm

I definitely know that some of my issues in India were about gender as well. It’s clear that gender is a major issue in India. I just think that race was probably what put it over the edge. The thing about my experience is that there are not a whole lot of black females who go to India and have written truthful accounts of how people reacted to them. Ruling out or lessening race as a major factor in how I was received in India is not an option… there were just way too many clues that being of African descent significantly changed how people treated me.

Rebecca November 14, 2011 at 8:30 am

Hi Ekua, I am a white American woman who has visited India three times and I can totally relate to your post about the staring in India.

You are very brave to visit India as you are an African-American woman and especially because you did not have a male companion! Most of the Indian people I know are racist towards black people and I have had to rebuke them several times for making racist remarks about black people. Just google Sparkle Rai to learn about a tragic extreme example of this racism, Sparkle’s Indian father-in-law payed a hit man to have her murdered in front of his infant granddaughter just because he did not want his son to have a black wife. A black friend of mine was interested in traveling to India and I strongly advised her against it because I know she would face so much racism there.

The Indian media constantly propagates harmful stereotypes of foreigners and people of other races. The Indian film industry consistently portrays white women as tramps, white men as malicious, and black people as criminals or impoverished. If you can bear to sit through the long and dull Hindi film “My Name is Khan”, you will gain an understanding of common Indian perceptions of other races and the Indian victim mentality.

I am stared at relentlessly everywhere I go in India. People look out of their windows, step on their balconies, and call their family out onto the sidewalk just so they can stare at me. If I go to a restaurant in India most people will stare at me for the entirety of my meal. People touch my hair and want to hold my children. I frequently have my photograph taken, usually without my permission. And the staring is not subtle, it is unceasing and it is shocking that people can find me so interesting for hours. I try to accept staring as a normal part of Indian culture but it difficult as I have taught from the age of 3 that staring is very rude.

I think my family and I attract extra attention because I am in the uncommon situation of being married to an Indian man and we have two young children. People there just seem to be astonished that an Indian would choose to marry a non-Indian and have a family. A foreigner is stared at for being different but a white woman holding a half-Indian child is just astonishing to the people there. The staring and hostility we experience sometimes is so wearing, I can only imagine it would be so much worse if I was black. An Indian friend told me that her cousins married African-Americans and they will never visit India because they know how badly their spouses and children will be treated. My daughter is 4 and already aware of her mixed race identity, I know she will be asking me a lot of questions about the staring we will get during our upcoming visit to India. And this time we are taking my parents and sister so we will be the animals in the zoo.

My worst staring experience in India was when I visited the Victoria Memorial in Calcutta. There were literally thousands of people staring at me, dozens took photographs of me and my children without my permission, and a few even shoved cameras in my face to get a close up. I try to tolerate the staring as a cultural difference but my tolerance evaporated that day.

Although I expect the staring in India, I am appalled that most Indians in the US stare at me and my family as though we are circus freaks. It is just disgusting that so many of them are so insular or apathetic that they stare even though it is considered to be rude and hostile in American culture. I live in an area with a lot of Indians and every time I visit an Indian restaurant, store, or neighborhood the staring is constant. They just do not accept an interracial family. I understand some Hindi and am disappointed how many times I hear people saying unfortunate things about me and my family. They are foolish to assume that as a non-Indian I could not possibly understand Hindi and I have called them out on it a few times. I would not advise anyone who is non-Indian and married/dating an Indian to visit a Hindu temple in the United States because the hostility is just unreal. One time when we visited a temple and Indian woman in her 50s told my husband that she would be ashamed of him if her was her son. If they have lived in America for several years there is just no excuse for this behavior.

I agree with you that many Indians do have an inferiority complex and this manifests itself in being absolutely unwilling to listen to even the slightest criticism of their culture. Indian society is very stratified and most upper class and middle class Indians are indifferent to the suffering of the poor. My Indian husband was raised in a city where 65% of the residents live in slums but he does know even one of them personally. Sadly a lot of Indians seem to ignore the widespread poverty that is so apparent to a foreigner.

Well I have vented long enough in this post. Thanks for writing your honest blog Ekua and providing this forum.

I hope no one thinks I despise all things Indian, I do appreciate many things about the culture. Indians staring at me and my family is unfortunately a daily part of my life and I just wanted to spread awareness about this issues. I try to ignore it but when Indians stare at us in America I get so annoyed!

Indian-Canadian January 18, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Hi Ekua,

I cannot agree with you more.

I, in fact, am East Indian by ethnicity (never lived there however) – and I look much like everyone else (skin-colour and features wise).

But when I recently visited as an adult, and every time I’ve ever been as a child, I’ve encountered and struggled with people’s PROLONGED and BLANK stares.

I don’t even dress too much out of the ordinary (perhaps cleaner clothes than most people on the street, train, bus, etc.).

Interestingly, I encounter the same bad habit and lack of mannerisms (and yes, I do categorize it as such) with *some* fellow Indo-Pakistani’s here in Canada. Canada. Land of Multiculturalism, where I’m proud to say I know, work, and grew up with people from every corner of the earth, including Ghana, Peru, Cambodia, India, Lithuania, etc, etc. Especially, India and Pakistan.

By some, I mean, on numerous occasions a month. Especially at the Mall.

So much so, that after smiling and returning a friendly glance doesn’t do the trick, I stare RIGHT back for as long as I can, make weird faces at them and make them as uncomfortable as possible.

I don’t wanna say it’s in their (our) blood. Because clearly, there are those from that part of the world that don’t. But CLEARLY, there are a HUGE HUGE number that do.

I once thought of making a website called “Indians, Stop Staring — Signed, an Indian” but that never materialized.

Anyway, Great post. Finally someone who has voiced their feeling about this. And very eloquently, I must add.

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