Mat McDermott is Senior Director of Communications for the Hindu American Foundation. He lives in Los Angeles. The views expressed are his own.
For anyone immersed in the public discourse in the United States around Hinduism in the past year, particularly in the past six months or so, it may seem like 2021 is ending on a downward trend. Hinduphobia in mainstream media and academia certainly seems on the rise.
September’s Dismantling Global Hindutva conference, where a disturbing number of panelists displayed what can only be described as outright bigotry towards Hindus and an incomprehensible repetition of colonial-era misconceptions about Hinduism, is a stark example. In mainstream media, few articles that mention Hinduism seem to even attempt to portray our community in a half-positive light.
It easily can be demoralizing and feel like a constant defensive battle, a never-ending fight to correct the record and be properly understood.
There are indeed hardened anti-Hindu bigots out there in this nation. In addition to those people of the sort represented by some of the panelists at the Dismantling Global Hindutva conference, America also has white supremacists and other xenophobic groups opposed to anyone they seem as an immigrant; there are also conservative members of other religious communities who believe Hindus are an existential threat or an opportunity for conversion.
Yet, what I try to remind myself to do — and I urge other Hindu Americans to do as well — is remember that these people are not in the majority, not even close.
The fact is that most Americans know little about Hindus or Hinduism. Some may have stereotypes in their minds about Hindus, but these are stereotypes developed from ignorance rather than animus.
We have an opportunity here.
Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world still practiced today. The contributions Hindus and Hinduism have made to human culture, philosophical inquiry, scientific exploration, and artistic expression are vast. These contributions continue to this day and are available for anyone who wants to partake of them. (Just please give credit where credit is due, thankyouverymuch.)
Sharing this in a positive way, without any sense of self-righteousness, is the best way to ensure that Hinduphobia has no further place to take root in America, the best way to dispel stereotypes.
It is a long game to play, but over time and likely sooner than it might seem today, Hinduphobes will be taken no more seriously than someone screaming on the corner to passersby about the Earth being flat.
So, the question I pose to the reader is this: In 2022 what is the one or two pieces of positivity regarding Hinduism that you will share with your non-Hindu neighbors, colleagues, and friends?