The Center for Grassroots Oversight

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Profile: California Newsreel

California Newsreel was a participant or observer in the following events:

The US Supreme Court rules that “high caste Hindus” from India are not eligible to become US citizens because, under naturalization law, persons of Hindu ancestry are not “white.” Bhagat Singh Thind came to the United States in 1913, served in the US Army, and was granted permission to become a citizen by an Oregon official. However, a naturalization examiner objected and took the case to court. In Bhagat Singh Thind v. United States, the Court finds that Thind may not be naturalized because of his Hindu ancestry. Thind presented evidence that South Asians such as himself are scientifically classified as Aryans or Caucasians, and thusly should be classified as “white.” The Court rules that scientific evidence is secondary to the public perception of who is white and who is not. “It may be true that the blond Scandinavian and the brown Hindu have a common ancestor in the dim reaches of antiquity,” the Court finds, “but the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences between them today.” In essence, the Court contradicts its findings from a ruling three months ago, where it accepted scientific proof that a Japanese man applying for American citizenship could not be classified as “white.” In 2003, documentarians for California Newsreel will write: “The justices never said what whiteness was, only what it wasn’t. Their implied logic was a circular one: Whiteness was what the common white man said it was.” Many South Asians who had been naturalized will be stripped of their citizenship and property as a result of the ruling. One, successful businessman Vaishno das Bagai, kills himself. He leaves a suicide note for his family and another one for the public that reads in part: “But now they come and say to me I am no longer an American citizen. What have I made of myself and my children? We cannot exercise our rights, we cannot leave this country. Humility and insults… blockades this way, and bridges burned behind.” The Court will later reverse itself and rule in Thind’s favor. (California Newsreel 2003; United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind - 261 US 204 2011; American Civil Liberties Union 2012)


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