Racial identity is the perception one forms of him or herself based on the racial group they most identify with. Although it can be said that one belongs to a particular racial group based off his or her background and physical appearance, race is not biological. Rather, it is a social construct that places barriers on the basis of outsiders’ perceptions of race. When two men who had perceived themselves as being white, applied for citizenship, they were denied on the classification that they were neither white or caucasian.
The two men, Ozawa and Thind, had argued that they had been committed residents of the United States and deserved citizenship based on their qualifications and devotion to the United States. However, the U. S law stated that only free whites had the right to become naturalized citizens. The cases of Ozawa and Thind define race as a social construct and is seen in the ever-changing classification of whiteness in the United States. Takao Ozawa was born in Japan in 1875, and immigrated to San Francisco in 1894.
He was well educated, having gone through schooling in the U. S and later attended the University of California, before moving to Hawaii. Aside from gaining a proper education, Ozawa was fluent in English, practiced Christianity and had maintained a job in the United States for several years. In addition, he married a Japanese woman who had also went through schooling in the U. S, and together, they had two children. Ozawa argued that his skin was physically white and that race should not factor into consideration for him to earn citizenship.
However, the Supreme court decided that the Japanese could not be defined as scientifically white and proceeded to classify them as Mongolian rather than Caucasian. More than Ozawa’s desire to prove that he was white and was similar to any other Caucasian, Ozawa wanted the courts to believe that he deserved citizenship on the basis of his honesty and dedication to the United States. He acknowledged that despite immigrating from Japan, he began and lived his life in the United States and should by no other means be considered anything other than white.
While his case had been rejected in California, Ozawa was determined to appeal. He took his case to the U. S. District Court in Hawaii to be reconsidered, but unfortunately his citizenship had been rejected once again. Approximately a year later, in 1923, a similar case was presented to the Supreme Court of the United States. In the case titled United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, Bhagat Singh Thind was denied citizenship as well. Thind was an Indian Sikh who was born in Punjab, India and later joined the U. S Army, prior to the ending of World War I.
Aside from serving time in World War I, Thind pursued his passion for education and earned his Ph. D in the United States. He then proceeded to become an assistant professor and taught metaphysics at a local university. Thind was also considered of high Hindu caste and belonging to the Aryan race. Contradictory to previous claims made by the court such as those made in Ozawa’s case hearing, Thind was seen as being Caucasian, but was not classified as being white. Based off Thind’s qualifications and class status. Thind’s case was accepted by the district courts.
However, he was denied by the Federal court and did not receive citizenship through naturalization. The claims made by the Supreme court in both the Ozawa vs. United States and United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind case are found to contradict one another. In Ozawa vs. United States, Ozawa was denied citizenship on the sole basis that he was white, however, Ozawa did not meet the requirements of being scientifically caucasian. While in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, the court classified Thind as being caucasian, yet he was not categorized as white. “The intention was to confer the privilege of citizenship upon hat class of persons whom the fathers knew as white, and to deny it to all who could not be so classified”. When reviewing Ozawa’s case, the court referred to the original framers for guidance on how to approach the case. In 1790, the framers decided that all free white persons shall be granted citizenship. Although it’s not certain that the framers were intentionally excluding all African Americans and Asians, it is believed that the framers thought to only include all free white persons to avoid “other” races from invading the land to which the framers believed it to only belong to: free white persons.
In addition, the framers did not classify any individual as a race. Instead, they saw each individual as their own, with no relations to another country. The approach that the Supreme court took when reviewing both cases involved evaluating whether the applicant fell inside or outside the zone of debatable ground. In both cases, Ozawa and Thind fell outside the zone of debatable ground on the negative side based on the claim that “Caucasian” and “white persons” are not synonymous in their meanings.
Furthermore the “process of judicial inclusion and exclusion” was evaluated to review these cases. Going off the idea of the framers, the courts followed the belief that not any particular class is to be excluded, rather the idea is that only free white persons shall be included and considered for citizenship. “Caucasian” is a conventional word of much flexibility, as a study of the literature dealing with racial questions will disclose, and while it and the words “white persons” are treated as synonymous for the purposes of that case, they are not of identical meaning.
In Ozawa vs. United States, science was paired with common knowledge to deny Ozawa of citizenship. Although Ozawa was considered white, he was not scientifically considered as belonging to the Caucasian race which led to the court’s’ decision that Ozawa would have to be considered Caucasian and white in order to gain citizenship. Contradictory to Ozawa’s case, in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind, science and common knowledge were not associated with one another. In this case, the court decided to not factor in the role of science when determining the result of Thind’s race.
They made the claim that classifying Thind as Caucasian was insignificant, if Thind was not white. Science ruled to be insignificant when the courts came to a conclusion for both cases. In the Ozawa case scientific reasoning proved to be of assistance, while in the Thind case scientific reasoning was found to be insignificant. Viewing these cases, it can be seen that common knowledge and beliefs plaved a far more significant role in proceeding with the verdict of these cases. Rather, common knowledge and beliefs provided a larger division of races.
And this division of race was based on physical differences rather than qualifications or status and commitment to the United States. Both cases presented their own social beliefs about races. “… The term “race” is one which, for the practical purposes of the statute, must be applied to a group of living persons now possessing in common the requisite characteristics, not to groups of persons who are supposed to be or really are descended from some remote, common ancestor” Contradicting the points made in the cases, this idea states that no individual’s race can be based off their ancestral relationships.
Whether it may be a Scandinavian man or a brown Hindu, one’s race is not influenced by his or her ancestors. With this idea in mind, neither Ozawa and Thind should not be considered white. Since they are a “group of living persons now possessing in common the requisite characteristics”, they are allowed to identify themselves as white. Through the cases of Ozawa and Thind, race proved to be a social construct in that the courts looked past both Ozawa’s and Thind’s upbringings, qualifications, and commitment to the United States, to determine whether citizenship should be granted.
Instead, the granting of citizenship was solely based on the whether Ozawa and Thind were identified as both white and Caucasian, despite the contradictory claims the courts had made. The courts failed to base citizenship rights on science and were unable to identify and quantify the racial differences present in both cases. Furthermore, it can be seen that race remains socially construct as the classification of race had been determined by physical characteristics, rather than scientific human knowledge or human relations of the applicants.
They were not able to establish a certain idea to go off of to determine the differences that prevented one from gaining citizenship. Rather, the courts had gone off their own beliefs and knowledge of race and identity. Race is defined as what others believe and can be accepted as a socially accepted idea. Race is defined as a category or group of people having hereditary traits that set them apart. It is a concept that was created by society to justify inequalities and assumptions made about people. Race is a social construct.
While it is still required that an individual is able to understand and speak English, practice good moral behavior, be committed to the United States in addition to other requirements to gain citizenship, discriminatory practices based solely on race are no longer tolerated or factored in when granting one citizenship. Although citizenship requirements have progressed since the times of Ozawa and Thind, there are currently practices being implemented in the United States on the classification of race.
Currently, president Donald Trump has issued a Muslim ban, which prevents muslims from several countries being able to enter the United States for 90 days. The idea of the muslim ban shows race to be a social construct. The idea of the Muslim ban was based off the belief that Muslims are terrorists and in order to reduce terrorist activity, president Donald Trump created a plan to ban all Muslims. This highly controversial idea comes to show that although solutions to certain issues can be found, our society will continue to associate one’s actions and desires on his or her race, rather than what one desires to be racially perceived as.