Let me start by sharing a little from my own humble life. When I was four and living in some mostly white suburbs, my Indian mum sent her Indian daughter (me!) to day-care wearing a bindi— the kind painted on with traditional vermillion powder rather than the now-common sticker ones. At day-care, my “American” “care-giver” rubbed it off my face and made an example of me in front of the other little angels, saying I made up ridiculous stories about so-called customs to get away with wearing something weird on my face.
18 years later, in those same suburbs, I returned to wearing a bindi everyday— a plain, round, red sticker one— for personal, family, and religious reasons. Soon after, in 1996 (just as ethno-chic was surging back into style), I moved to Manhattan and was immediately stunned by everything new— for starters, the amount of racial and ethnic diversity in the city and, unrelatedly, the shocking amount of sexual harassment women sustain on the streets. For example, a man followed me 3 blocks through the garment district one day, shouting, “Hey India! Miss India!” “Miss India” became a common nick-name for me, used exclusively by men I’d never seen before: meant, perhaps, to make me feel like a beauty queen but more effective in making me feel ill. There was other harassment too. A woman squeezed onto a crowded elevator right in front of me and chose me (not any of the many Judeo-Christians surrounding me) to inform that God was dead. I thanked her for the information and wondered just what ethnically and nationally-specific presumptions made her feel entitled to speak to me. Did she maybe think she was liberating some passive Asian woman? or did she just not think at all? Months later, a man approached me by Washington Square, spit at me, pointed at my forehead, and told me to “go back.” (Tell me exactly what that means!) I stood there with tears of fury welling in my eyes and planning futile revenge. Since then, I’ve switched to a tiny, unobtrusive black bindi; and if I’m on the subways alone late at night, I don’t wear one at all.
Let me turn now to dip into some other humble history. In 1987, while I was still in junior high in the South, a group of predictably young, mostly white, and angry men formed in New Jersey, not far from the ever-chic New York City, joined by their common anger at the burgeoning Indian and larger Asian populations in Jersey and calling themselves the “Dot-Busters.” This was yet another “American” response to the wearing of the bindi, preceding its adoption as “body-jewellery.” As is usually the case, their hatred was economically grounded, as they felt displaced by this new wave of immigrants, who came with their entire families and slogged away at occupying the niche of lower-level businesses— gas stations, convenience stores, cheap motels— we’re all familiar with the types and stereotypes. “Little India’s” had started to establish themselves in white-flight areas, and the smells of curry and incense had started to permeate the air in those neighborhoods. Overcome by an unsurprising sense of losing something precious and employing unoriginally misdirected and reprehensible violence, the Dot-Busters engaged in a spree of assaults that left two people dead and one beaten into a coma. In the South, too, my mother and I were repeatedly called “Dot-heads,” but no such groups formed there; there were few Asians where we lived.
This is for fucking anyone who thinks it’s not a big deal for non-south Asians to wear a bindi…this is not your heritage, you have never experienced the hatred and discrimination thrown at these women for participating and embracing their own culture with this particular item. How dare you take that from them and make it into a “fashion statement,” after your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and whole race of white people have used this same item to justify such mistreatment. Show some fucking respect.