Dr. Raj S. Bhopal on Indians and Race

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Dr. Bhopal:

I do not know what race people think I belong to. They probably think I am Indian, although that is not a racial category. I am Indian born, to Indian parents. I have brown skin and black eyes and hair.… If forced into one of the long-established racial categories I choose Caucasian (but not white) which I know will cause surprise because that word is been so closely linked to European or white but it was designed for much bigger group including North Africans and North Indians. On the whole I do believe I did not fit easily into a racial category. For sure, my race is not Asian. Others may see me as Asian. If I lived in the United States I would be classified as a member of the Asian race. That seems very odd.

Raj S. Bhopal, Migration, Ethnicity, Race, and Health and Multicultural Societies 26 (2d ed. 2014).

For what it’s worth, as I discuss in my article on The Modern American Law of Race, when the Office of Management and Budget created uniform racial and ethnic categories to be used across the federal government in the late 1970s, South Asians were originally classified as “Caucasian/White.” For reasons that seem not to have been documented, the final version of the categories published a year later moved South Asians to the “Asian and Pacific Islander category,” and people from the Indian subcontinent have been officially “Asian” ever since, though their neighbors from Afghanistan are classified as white. Oddly enough, a person living on the Afghan side of the border is classified as white if he comes to the U.S., but his cousin who lives just across the border and belongs to the same ethnic group is classified as “Asian.”

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