Female, American, Vegetarian, Runner, Catholic, White, Environmentalist.
Back in the US, I really never take the time to think about how these labels affects my day-to-day life because they don’t- I blend in. However, within just two weeks of being in India every label has been challenged or put in a new perspective.
As a white female, I constantly feel on edge when I walk around Bangalore on my own. I haven’t been in a single situation where I feel unsafe, but these identities shape how I walk (not making eye contact, RBF on) and where I walk (in busy areas, avoiding clusters of men). In the US I am still cognizant of being female and the dangers that brings, but I can hide behind the unfair safety of being white. Here, my skin color automatically labels me as a foreigner- someone new to talk to or scam. It can be unsettling to constantly stand out from those around me.
Even things that aren’t immediately obvious, like my nationality or my diet, have been called into question. In the past two weeks I’ve gotten into so many discussions over Trump and the current state of America. It’s been incredible to be able to openly discuss how our country is negatively (sometimes positively?) affecting people around the globe. Embarrassingly enough, some of the people I’ve talked to here follow American politics much more diligently than I do. I couldn’t even name the Prime Minister of India, let alone the Indian government’s policies and their repercussions! It’s so easy to forget that our government’s choices don’t just affect Americans, but the rest of the globe (sometimes in devastating ways).
I have even felt an identity as simple as “vegetarian” in a new light. About a quarter of Indians are vegetarian, and a lot of the rest refrain from eating beef or meat on certain days of the week. Because of this relatively high frequency of vegetarians, I didn’t think anything of my diet when coming here. In fact I was excited to have more than one choice at restaurants! However, its funny to hear the reactions when I tell people I don’t eat meat. As an American I guess I’m expected to eat meat- and lots of it! People are a little shocked when I told them I don’t eat meat, and haven’t for years. Just as the word “American” is associated with carnivore, “vegetarian” is associated with religion. As a Catholic American I just don’t fit the typical vegetarian box here. Either way, I’m loving the food and the plethora of options I have!
At the end of the day, I’m living with these newly-perceived labels for just five weeks, but I think this new perspective will stay with me beyond my time in India. These labels that make me stand out now- white, female, American, vegetarian, Catholic- will help me blend back into my life in Michigan. These two short weeks have really opened my eyes to how parochial I have been towards identities and how they shape our actions.