Re: [OPE-L] whiteness

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Thu Apr 21 2005 - 13:02:55 EDT

Yes, Rakesh,

The case mentioned in the review, U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind (this is at 261
U.S. 204 [1923] and can be found at was particularly
embarrassing because the U.S. Supreme Court had just got through announcing
in another case, Takeo Ozawa v. U.S., 260 U.S. 178 [1922], that you couldn't
determine whiteness by color of skin since some Anglo Saxons were pretty
swarthy "being darker than many of the lighter hued persons of the brown or
yellow races," so therefore "the words 'white person' were meant to indicate
only a person of what is popularly known as the Caucasian race."  But then
comes Thind and so white now has to be distinguished from Aryan and
Caucasian, because there were scientists who used Caucasian to include not
only people like Thind, but also the Maori, Tahitians, Hamites of Africa
"upon the ground of the Caucasic cast of their features", and anyway nobody
could figure out how many races there were (29, 5 and 4 were all
candidates).  So the Court construes the statute to mean the people of the
British Isles and Northwestern Europe which was generously extended to the
people of Eastern, Southern and Middle Europe because "readily amalgamated
with them", but excluding others.  As for Caucasian, "we now hold that the
words 'free white persons' are words of common speech, to be interpreted in
accordance with the understanding of the common man, synonymous with the
word 'Caucasian' only as that word is popularly understood . . . whatever
may be the speculartions of the ethnologist."  And then the obligatory
disclaimer:  "It is very far from our thought to suggest the slightest
question of racial superiority or inferiority.  What we suggest is merely
racial difference, and it is of such character and extent that the great
body of our people instinctively recognize it and reject the thought of

It is too little noticed in world affairs that the United States was until
1954, just 50 years ago (that is for just short of 75% of its existence as
an independent government) explicitly a racial dictatorship,  Needless to
say much of the residue of this specific form of the ruler and the ruled
survives.  The idea that racial difference exists in some ontological space
distinct from economic, social and political inequality, for example,
continues a hardy existence in the way in which the whole question of
affirmative action gets framed.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Rakesh Bhandari" <bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU>
Sent: Wednesday, April 20, 2005 12:12 PM
Subject: [OPE-L] whiteness

Hi Howard,

>  Syrians were a particularly troubling category,
>sometimes white, sometimes not, and the same for
>other Arabs.

Indians, South Asians were simply not white, but still a troubling category.

In Aryans and British India Thomas Trautmann
summarizes the argument of the racist
archaeologist Isaac Taylor as follows:
The discoveries of prehistoric archaeology, in
the vastly expanded timespan for human history
that is revealed, completely undermined the older
scenario of the philologist, according to which
Aryan peoples migrated from Central Asia to
Europe near about the beginning  of human
history. Archaeology now reveals abundant
evidence of a long human  occupation of Europe
and shows that the races of Europe were long
established in the places they now
occupySTaylor's closing words are flung against
the Sanskritists. The  archaeological and
biological anthropological discoveries of the
last  decade have overthrown the work of the
previous half century, he says,  demolishing
ingenious but baseless (philological) theories of
race, and  clearing the ground for the raising of
more solid structures... The Aryan idea is now
not merely linked to whiteness--and that had been
so to a degrees already in the early Max
Muller--but whiteness itself is now  narrowed
down to some conception of a small, pure,
original 'white' Aryan race that spread the Indo
European languages to different races in very
early times. Thus the Indians came to be excluded
from the Aryan concept to  which they had
supplied the nameS[this] was accomplished by the
archaeologists and craniologists, masters of the
new race science, developing their own authority
in opposition to the comparative philologists and

It is only by grasping this crucial development,
Trautmann argues, that we  can unpack the paradox
that Aryanness came to be deployed by the Nazi
regime to murderous effect not only against the
Jews but also against the  Gypsies--whose Indian
origin and Indo European linguistic credentials
had  been conclusively established by
philologists and Sanskritists so long previous.

Once Indians were expelled from the common race,
the ground was set for their sub-humanization,
i.e. the Social Darwinist idea that they had
evolved over deep ethnological time into a deeply
different self-reproducing biological group that
was congenitally inferior and incapable.
Ironically, though Darwinism was based on
monogenesis, it could be used to reach the same
conception of deep human racial differences that
polygenetic accounts of human origins had
"fabulated". After noting the culmination of this
ideology in the mass killing of the gypsies,
Thomas Trautmann draws out the what the
consequences were within the United States:

In the United States Max Muller's theme of Aryan
brotherhood fared no  better. The Supreme Court
decision in US v. Bhagat Singh Thind held that a
Punjabi immigrant, although an Aryan, was not a
'free white person.' within the meaning of the
1917 act governing naturalisation, no matter what
the Sanskritists and the language led ethnologies
of the experts might argue; it is common usage
that the determines the intent of Congress in
making naturalisation available to 'free white
persons', not the lucubrations of philologists
and ethnologists. In this decision the
construction of 'whiteness' excluded Indians in
another way, by disengaging whiteness from
(linguistic) Aryanness.

See this critical review however; it's unfairly
critical I think because Trautmann is right to
insight on a discursive break between orientalism
and race "science", though the philological
advances of the former probably do hide its
insidious nature.

Book Review     Sunday, July 18, 2004

   Aryans and British India
by: Thomas R. Trautmann

Publisher: Vistaar Publications, New Delhi, 1997 , Price:Rs.350 , Pages:260

Reviewed by: Professor D.N.Jha
Department of History, University of Delhi

Thomas R. Trautmann began his research career
under his mentor A. L. Basham and did a
pioneering work on Kautilyas Arthasastra of which
he made a computer analysis and suggested a
methodology for identifying different
chronological strata in classical Indian texts
which unfortunately has not been pursued by other
scholars. From the examination of an ancient
Sanskrit text he moved on to the study of kinship
patterns in south India and produced a book on
Dravidian kinship which has by now become a
standard work on the subject. His present study,
Aryans and British India, being an analysis of
the concept of the Aryan, bears testimony to his
interest in the history of ideas. From an
Indologist who first attempted an analysis of an
ancient Sanskrit text to an anthropologist to the
historian of ideas, he has had an interesting
academic trajectory. Trautmann, not surprisingly,
is a familiar name among scholars interested in
Indian studies.

Opening with Romila Thapars foreword, the book,
divided into eight chapters, seeks to trace the
origin and development of the idea of the Aryan
from about 1793 when Sir William Jones arrived in
India to 1910 when H.H. Risley departed from
here. Trautmann is not a believer in the theory
of Aryan race, as no rational scholar would
indeed be. He assures the reader that he is
interested only in examining the relevant
evidence to show how the idea of the Aryan race
evolved and how it took hold over the minds of
the people. The racial theory of Indian
civilisation has become the crabgrass of Indian
history which, he promises to uproot (p.4). His
survey of the evidence is certainly competent but
the extent to which he succeeds in uprooting the
crabgrass would remain a matter of opinion. Like
other scholars, Trautmann traces the origin of
the idea of the Aryan to the late eighteenth
century when philologists, especially William
Jones, pointed out that the structure of Sanskrit
was basically the same as that of Latin, Greek
and several other European languages. He goes on
to tell us that this was the basis of the idea of
a common homeland of the speakers of the
Indo-European/ Indo-Aryan languages which in turn
was embedded in Jones project of what he calls
Mosaic ethnology (chapter 2) implying the descent
of all civilised peoples of antiquity from Noah.
Accordingly Indians and Britons were looked upon
as long lost- kin who originally belonged to the
Aryan family. Viewed from this perspective the
colonial encounter between Britain and India
would appear to be a family reunion and the Aryan
idea was one of the "the ways in which Indians
may be bound to British rule by some form of
love, whether of solidarity, of firm attachment,
loyalty, or friendship" (p.16) as indicated,
according to Trautmann, by the use of the word
Arya to include the British and Indians by
Monier-Williams in his Sanskrit verse inscribed
on the Old Indian Institute Building at Oxford in
1883. The author emphasises that the Aryan idea
was initially a unifying idea and he seems to
have a point; some Indians also (e.g., Keshub
Chandra Sen) did believe that the British and the
Indians were brethren. The common Aryan ancestry
may have, to a certain extent, fostered British
fondness for the study of Indian society and
culture described as Indomania(chapter 3) which
is seen in the British writings throughout the
nineteenth century and even later. But the
phenomenon of Indomania can best be understood
against the background of the colonial encounter
of the British with India. It can also be seen as
a source of the idea of the whitemans burden to
civilise the Indians. The nave or false
understanding or the unbounded admiration of
India seen in the writings of the early
Orientalists then becomes part of the governance
strategies of the British. After all Jones
himself began to learn Sanskrit because he did
not wish to be at the "mercy of our Pundits who
deal out Hindu law as they please" and wrote a
digest of Indian laws with the firm belief that
he would "never perhaps be led astray by Pandits
or Maulavis". This does not minimise the
importance of the scholarly contributions of the
early Orientalists but shows unambiguously that
the Indomania was rooted, to a significant
extent, in the British desire to devise
mechanisms to exercise effective control over
their Indian colony. There is therefore not much
substance in the belief that the Aryan idea was
formulated by the comparative philologists to
unify the British and Indians. In a point of
fact, a necessary corollary of the idea was the
creation of an Aryan / Dravidian dichotomy in
Indian society which suited the British imperial
masters. Against this background Edward Saids
concept of Orientalism as "a Western style for
dominating, restructuring and having an authority
over it (Orient)" seems to have much force and
his view that "describing" is "dominating" has
much substance. Saidian construct has come in for
much criticism but Trautmanns wholesale
disapproval of it (pp.19-22) seems to be very
close to defending the British imperialism,
despite what he calls "his perspectival
approach". The Indomania Trautmann speaks of,
was, on his own admission, "entertained by a very
few well educated Britons" and was challenged
from the very beginning. This challenge came from
the British rulers themselves; for Cornwallis, a
contemporary of William Jones, made his famous
and bold announcement in the initial phase of
Indomania: "Every native of Hindostan, I verily
believe, is corrupt." This can be treated as a
response to the enthusiasm for India a response
which Trautmann calls Indophobia(chapter 4) and
which tended to be pronouncedly strong from the
end of the eighteenth century onwards. Charles
Grant, who exercised a tremendous influence in
the Evangelical circles, published his
Observations as early as 1797 in which he
attacked almost every aspect of Indian society
and religion, determined the "true place" of
Indians "in the moral scale" by describing them
as morally depraved, "lacking in truth, honesty
and good faith"(p.103) and "in every way
different" from the British, enriched the
ideological armoury of the Christian
missionaries, and provided a justification as
well as an agenda for the British rule. A
secularized version of Grants assessment of
Indian civilisation is found in the three-volume
History of British India (1818) by James Mill ,
who served the East India Company for seventeen
years rising to the highest position in its
hierarchy, and shaped the British imperialist
perception of the Indian past for many
generations. Much has been written on Mills
understanding of Indian civilisation and, as the
author rightly points out, "nothing would be
gained from reciting dismal details of Mills
assessment" of it. But it needs to be emphasized
that like Charles Grant, Mill also ignored the
idea of "the similarity of Sanskrit, Latin and
Greek"(p.121). One cannot, however, make too much
of their reticence over the Jonesean doctrine as
Trautmann seems to be doing(p.121); for, Mill was
basically in agreement with Jones when he
asserted that the Hindu society had been
stationary for so long that "in beholding the
Hindus of the present day, we are beholding the
Hindus of many ages past". The author, in fact,
goes so far as to admit that "neither Jones nor
any of the British Orientalists had any doubt as
to the present superiority of European
civilisation to that of India".

Thus even if it is granted that for Jones and
other Indomaniacs (derived from the authors
coinage of Indomania) the Aryan idea was a
unifying idea in the initial phase of British
expansion it ceased to be so later when the
British stranglehold on India tended to be strong
and the emphasis on affinities between Britons
and Indians would more hinder than facilitate the
consolidation of the British power in India. The
heart of the matter, therefore, remains that
British imperialism spoke in different voices at
different times, though its goal was always the
same, i.e., to devise new mechanisms of control
and administration of the Indian colony in
consonance with the policies of the home

The British imperialism was multivocal and its
ideologues were not always consistent. Max
Mueller was an exception to the general trend of
thinking about India. A German national educated
on the Continent where the Aryan concept had
already taken a hold as is evident from the
writings of Schlegel, Hegel, and Christian
Lassen, Max Mueller was perhaps the most
enthusiastic exponent of the Aryan brotherhood
idea; for he asserted that in ancient times "the
first ancestors of the Indiansand the Germans
were living together within the same enclosures,
nay under the same roof" (1859). For a time this
may have given considerable weight to the opinion
that the Aryan meant a biological race as well as
a linguistic entity but his views were soon
vehemently challenged. Sanskrit being the basis
of the theory of the common Aryan homeland,
Sanskritists, especially Max Mueller, came under
severe attack from two ethnologists, Robert
Latham and John Crawfurd, though both of them had
come to ethnology via philology. In their view
"the claims of race overruled the claims of
language"(179). In 1861 Crawfurd went to the
extent of saying : "I am not prepared to admit
the claim of a common descent between Hindu,
Greek, and Teuton, for that would amount to
allowing that there was no difference in the
faculties of the people that produced Homer and
Shakespeare and those that have produced nothing
better than the authors of the Mahabharat and
Ramayana; no difference between the home-keeping
Hindus who never made a foreign conquest of any
kind, and the nations who discovered, conquered,
and peopled a new world"(p.181). His contempt for
Indians and their civilisation was accompanied by
his belief in "the dangers of intermarriage
between races widely apart on the scale of
civilization"(p.181). For him, Trautmann points
out, "philology is bad for racial hygiene"(p.181).

The concept of race sans language was forcefully
articulated from about the mid-nineteenth century
leading to the "retreat of the Sanskritists" and
laid the foundation of "race science" and "the
racial theory of Indian civilization" to the
discussion of which Trautmann devotes much
attention (chapters 6-7). With the shift of focus
on ethnology some very interesting questions of
lasting relevance to Indian society arose. Were
the philologists right in asserting that the
Indians and the Europeans belonged to one and the
same stock ? If they had a common pedigree why
did they differ in habits, customs and manners,
and in physical appearance ? Questions like these
assumed central importance for the ethnological
mapping of India culminating in the numerous
multivolume publications on the Indian tribes and
castes, their customs, manners, means of
livelihood, etc. The impressive number of
ethnological projects undertaken during the
nineteenth century revealed the bewildering
variety of physical types within the country and
exposed the hollowness of the argument that all
Indians were of the Aryans racial stock. Despite
all this some scholars in contemporary India have
tried to whip up the Aryanness of the Hindus as
against the followers of Islam. The degree of
their success is difficult to assess but one
thing is quite clear: the champions of the idea
of the Aryan as a race in the biological sense
today have much in common with our erstwhile
imperial masters. This is the point which needs
to be stressed and Trautmann, of course, says: "
evidence that has been brought forward has been
subjected to a consistent overreading in favour
of a racializing interpretation"(p.208). One
cannot perhaps expect more from him, for his real
sympathies for the British are quite evident. He
comes out in his true colours when he says of
Charles Grant that his "purpose is neither
condemnation nor to assert the permanent
inferiority of another race" (p.103). Similarly
he comforts us by (mis)informing us that both the
Evangelicals and the Utilitarians "were committed
to a belief in the possibility of ameliorating
the Indian condition" (p.181). Statements such as
these take the wraps off the real sympathies of
Trautmann. One is therefore tempted to imagine
that he found it necessary to elicit ( or shall I
say extort!) a foreword from one of our finest
historians Romila Thapar, so as to cover up or
legitimise his neo-colonialist predilections.

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