Skip

"Perhaps not white, but white enough"
July 19, 2014 8:46 AM   Subscribe


 
This article is fascinating!

And Jesse Routté was a brilliant badass:
At a fancy restaurant he asked the staff what would happen if a "Negro gentleman comes in here and sits down to eat." The reply: "No negro would dare to come in here to eat."

"I just stroked my chin and ordered my dessert," he said.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:00 AM on July 19 [10 favorites]


At a fancy restaurant he asked the staff what would happen if a "Negro gentleman comes in here and sits down to eat." The reply: "No negro would dare to come in here to eat."

"I just stroked my chin and ordered my dessert," he said.

[...]

"He didn't change his color. He just changed his costume, and they treated him like a human," says Luther Routté, who has been a Lutheran pastor for 25 years. It "shows you the kind of myopia that accompanies the whole premise of apartheid or segregation."

posted by scody at 9:00 AM on July 19 [4 favorites]


(heh, jinx!)
posted by scody at 9:00 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Thank God for that opening paragraph, otherwise I'm not sure I could relate to this story.
posted by phaedon at 9:05 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


A very interesting bit of history. Nice!
posted by Renoroc at 9:11 AM on July 19


Great article, and fascinating story.

And it doesn't have anything to do with the point of the article, but I can't help being really confused by this sentence:

Freek Kinkelaar, who runs Korla Pandit's website, had never met Pandit, who died a few months before Kinkelaar was able to get in touch with him.

At first I just rolled right through it, but then I had to back up and go, wait, what? He never got in touch with Pandit. Pandit was dead. So what event happened a few months after Pandit's death that the writer describes as "Kinkelaar was able to get in touch with him"?

It's not important, but I'm very confused by it.
posted by Naberius at 9:14 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


A literal application of the slang term, "incognegro".
posted by fuse theorem at 9:17 AM on July 19 [10 favorites]


The invention of the internet was a great boon for us.
posted by infini at 9:18 AM on July 19


Naberius, the sentence is awkwardly phrased, but I'm almost certain it's supposed to mean "Pandit died a few months before Kinkelaar could get in touch with him".
posted by Ndwright at 9:34 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Naberius, it's a bit awkward, but the graf is simply there to introduce Kinkelaar as a speaker for the story. I take it as he was working toward getting in touch or finding contact information at the time of the man's death.

Somewhat related is the phenomenon of colorism among African-Americans, and the category of "high yellow", meaning a very light complexion -- which conferred superior social status. At the furthest end of this, of course, was "passing" or being able to be recognized as white (or at least unrecognized as black), especially by moving to another community where your background was obscured.
posted by dhartung at 9:41 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


When you stayed home from school in the 'fifties, the only things on TV were soap operas and Korla Pandit.
posted by Repack Rider at 9:44 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Even on Pandit's death certificate, which his son signed off on, the race box read "white,"

Why is there a "race box" on a death certificate? I noted also, when images of the Obama birth certificate circulated, American birth certificates have "race of mother" and "race of father" boxes.

Want some advice about the first steps in rooting out racism in your society?
posted by fredludd at 10:07 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


I noted also, when images of the Obama birth certificate circulated, American birth certificates have "race of mother" and "race of father" boxes.
A birth certificate is a vital record documenting the birth of a child. In the U.S., State laws require birth certificates to be completed for all births, and Federal law mandates national collection and publication of births and other vital statistics data.The data is managed by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), part of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What I pulled from my files was a Short Form Birth Certificate, an unofficial document containing very little information. The short form does not list race. It merely certifies that an actual official birth certificate exists somewhere else. A Long Form or Certified Birth Certificate is the official document; a duplicate of the hospital birth record that is prepared when a child is born. The long form certificate does list race.

The manner in which birth race is recorded has changed over time. The most recent 2003 revision included the important update of allowing multiple-race selection. As far as I can tell a “multiracial” option has not yet been added (as it was to the 2010 Census).
posted by scody at 10:14 AM on July 19


Ironically, after 9/11 some American Sikhs removed their turbans to go incognito as African Americans.
posted by fairmettle at 10:18 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


Why is there a "race box" on a death certificate?

Because humans have decided that race exists and want to track stats about it.

That racism exists doesn't mean we should erase the concept of race.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:20 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Even on Pandit's death certificate, which his son signed off on, the race box read "white,"

Why is there a "race box" on a death certificate? I noted also, when images of the Obama birth certificate circulated, American birth certificates have "race of mother" and "race of father" boxes.

Want some advice about the first steps in rooting out racism in your society?


Pretending race doesn't exist does't help end racism. You're pretty much not going to be able to do anything to fight racism without data tracking.
posted by spaltavian at 10:21 AM on July 19 [11 favorites]


If we don't track real data and statistics regarding race, racists will make up their own bullshit imaginary data, and we'll have nothing to use against them.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:25 AM on July 19 [17 favorites]


If you're putting "white" on a birth or death certificate, though, there's the question of "which racial groups are considered white", which is a shifting target, over time. (And as the article shows, too.)
posted by rmd1023 at 10:39 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


There was a post on the French experience of not officially acknowledging race and how that has resulted in some pretty poor outcomes for Black people in that country. It was just a few days ago so why don't we move the derail on tracking racial data over there.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:07 AM on July 19 [5 favorites]


At the time, ideas of race in America were quite literally black and white.

This was still kind of true when I was growing up in Columbus, Georgia. Columbus is something like 49% black, 49% white and 2% or less "other races." Or, at least, is conceived of that way -- when I was there in my 40's, talking to "black" coworkers revealed some of them were part Indian or part Chinese or whatever. Still, the mentality is basically that people are either black or white and people just did not seem to know how to deal with something outside that mental box when I was growing up there.

When I was in high school, I had a striking conversation with a friend of mine about one of the few Hispanic girls in school. I only knew of the girl but my friend actually knew her. This Hispanic girl was widely viewed as a "slut" for, gasp!, dating both blacks and whites alike. And my friend related to me the girl's thought process in making this socially "outrageous" choice: There were too few Hispanics for her to date exclusively amongst her own race. Thus, most relationships for here were going to be a case of interracial dating. She saw no reason to choose either black or white.

This anecdote came to mind for me when I watched a show about gang activity. The episode detailed the history of how gangs came to be in the Atlanta, Georgia area. The short version is that Hispanics were some tiny portion of the population and were treated horribly by both blacks and whites alike. So they banded together to defend themselves and, to quote/paraphrase one of the original gang members: "Now, when I walked down the street, other people were afraid of me instead of me being afraid of them."

Yuppers, we basically have gangs in Georgia because of Hispanic kids in school being horrendously picked on by everyone else. It's one of those "What goes around, comes around." things. Georgia basically brought it upon itself.
posted by Michele in California at 11:20 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


Re: census-taking and data-tracking. My late grandfather (a permanently tan-skinned guy born on Puerto Rico, the son of a Puerto Rican woman of mixed heritage who "looked" White and a Puerto Rican man of mixed heritage who "looked" Black) morphed from white to mulatto to black and back again over the course of several decades according to census records -- which are entirely dependent on the impressions of the census workers. They're given guidelines, but that's about it. (Grandpa was conveniently deemed white during the WWII draft, and he wound up at Guadalcanal.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:50 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


The book Bengali Harlem (about South Asian migration history to US) goes into this in great detail.
posted by divabat at 12:14 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


Really interesting article. It reminded me of the post about Wilmeth Sidath-Singh, a black Syracuse football player whom other people often assumed was "Hindu"--thanks to his stepfather's surname--and who thus went unnoticed by opposing southern schools' segregation policies for a little while.
posted by mixedmetaphors at 12:27 PM on July 19


Pandit's wife was an animation airbrush artist for Disney and his sister (Frances Redd) acted on The Midnight Shadow, a radio drama. Beryl DeBeeson Pandit came up with the idea for his new identity, and based it on one of the characters in that show, Prince Alihabad.
Pandit's TV show was only 15 minutes long and he was the first African-American to have his own show in LA. Pandit also had a cameo in Ed Wood. The 2001 Los Angeles magazine story has an interview and rather more detail than the NPR story.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:55 PM on July 19 [5 favorites]


At the time, ideas of race in America were quite literally black and white.

And if they don't have information otherwise, the US government will probably record you as "white." They still do this to this day.
posted by zennie at 1:55 PM on July 19


Routte's story is a really interesting one. Here is much more detail related to the turban incident and his life.
posted by jeanmari at 2:50 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


The US Census classified South Asians as Caucasian for a while - the 60s-ish i vaguely recall
posted by Bwithh at 4:32 PM on July 19


This is crying out for Bollywood treatment
posted by Bwithh at 4:32 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


I think this is not exactly true; I've posted about The United States vs. Bhagat Singh Thind before, where Thind tried to be all "I'm totally Aryan and therefore white!" And the US Supreme Court was like "OMG YOU KNOW WHAT WE MEAN".
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:01 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]


Bwithh, in-so-far as it is even possible to have a meaningful definition of 'race' or 'Caucasian', South Asians have always been considered to be Caucasians by pretty much everyone. At least until people started using Caucasian as a synonym for 'white', which is really quite recent. See wikipedia, and many others
posted by Arandia at 11:20 AM on July 20


According to Bengali Harlem there wasn't really any clear consensus on what to call South Asians. They got Hindoo, black, white, Turkish, Malay, all sorts of stuff.
posted by divabat at 12:07 PM on July 20


The US Census classified South Asians as Caucasian for a while - the 60s-ish i vaguely recall

The early history of India is fascinating (well, all of its history, actually). There really were Aryans; though they were of course not the Scandinavian demi-gods of Hitler's fevered dreams. They were steppe nomads, who mastered chariot warfare in its Bronze Age heyday. They invaded India and set-up shop. They spoke an Indo-European language and were "white", though not in the 19th-century pseudo-scientific way that made "white" = "European". (Their Proto-Indo-European brethren who traveled west rather than south brought their language, religion and an unknown amount of their genes to Europe, soon leading to peoples more recognizible to modern day Westerners; Greeks, for example.) Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism, is an Indo-European language. It's similarity to European langauges is how linguists started noticing these ancient languages had to be related.

The Aryans appear to have set themselves up as small military elite rulling native Indians who were certainly darker skinned, probably starting the skin-color based prejudice that is still found in South Asia today. This also seems to be where the caste system originates (though with plenty of change and evolution since then. It's so easy to over-simplify Indian history.) This divison became less sharp, and the groups mixed, but I'm not sure its possible to measure the actual genetic legacy of the Indo-Europeans in modern populations.

So, to the extent that "Caucasian" is really a thing, South Asians make as much as sense as Europeans, who probably retained a lot of the genetic inheritance of whomever was in Europe before the Indo-European invasion. Haplogroup studies indicate a strong relationship between Europeans, Berbers, Semitic peoples and non-Dravidian South-Asians, and so these people are all logically included in a Caucasian group. Of course, one must always be aware that there are different genetic channels than just halopgroups, that culture and history are just as important to ethnogenesis as blood, and that there is more variation within races than between them, so the imporantance of thse bloodlines can easily be overstated.
posted by spaltavian at 9:00 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


« Older Currency Wars   |   W56.22xA Struck by orca, initial encounter. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post