Dr. Raj S. Bhopal on Indians and Race

An interesting take from an expert on race and medicine.


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."

NEXT: Justice Thomas Takes Aim at State Standing

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. It just goes to shown that race is a political category that has no basis in genetic science.

    Regarding covid-19 we hear cry to look at disease demograhics for “people of color: and even the LGTBQ. But what are really important are statistics verus BMI, asthma sufferers, diabetics, those with other co-morbidities and all cross correlated with age.

    1. A black eyed south Asian indian? Never heard of one of those. Are they real?

    2. Don Nico, I disagree about what is important. The overtly health-related categories you mention clearly are important. But with regard to demographics and disease, wealthy whites fare far better than even middle-class whites, let alone poor whites. And in this nation, people of color skew toward poverty—arguably because they are people of color. So “people of color” is not an unimportant demographic indicator for Covid-19 prevalence and outcomes.

      1. If you want to measure the effect of poverty on something, the way to do that is to measure it against poverty. Using race as a proxy for poverty adds unnecessary noise to the data – Oprah and Kanye West aren’t poor, after all.

        1. And Bill Cosby was the richest man in Franklin County (MA).

          There are more White people on “welfare” than there *are* Black people — something that a lot of people then to forget.

      2. Since “people of color” has no genetic basis or commonality and since it is at best only weakly correlated with economic factors which can be measured directly, “people of color” is utterly unimportant as a demographic measure for any disease progression.

        1. Rossami, the fact that there is no genetic basis might be a pretty good reason why a sociological basis makes more sense. If no one is assigning your race genetically, but they are assigning it visually, maybe paying attention to the consequences of what people do visually makes sense. As for weak correlation with economic factors, what planet are you on? Or do you not count family net worth as an economic factor?

          Check out family net worth for American blacks, vs. family net worth for American whites. You can have as many Oprahs, Cosbys, and Jordans as you can find. There is still going to be a massive difference in favor of whites.

          Why is it that conservatives hate admitting that in America, race matters for economic prospects, and for economic outcomes? Adjustments to facts to flatter ideological preferences has become a tiresome habit across the political spectrum. It is a habit which conservatives seem to prize for opportunities it affords to create deliberate obfuscations. I must have been drowsing or something, but it genuinely took me by surprise to see it happening in these particular comments. Next, why don’t you tell me there has been a big decline in Covid-19 cases in Georgia, which is why it is such a good idea to reopen the economy there.

          1. It’s not “race,” per se, that matters, or Chinese and Indians wouldn’t have substantially higher than average median family incomes (while Bangladeshis and Cambodians have lower than average). African American status matters, but that’s more than simply “not being white.” Oddly, as much as some conservatives have difficulty acknowledging the unique history of African Americans, the intersectionalists on the left insist that race is basically the only thing that matters, but can’t explain why some non-white groups do better than whites on average economically, nor why groups within the same general racial category (Nigerian vs. Somali immigrants, Cambodian vs. Chinese, Indian vs. Bangladeshi etc) have widely varying levels of average economic success.

            1. If I was a politician, I’d publicly support reparations for African-American slaves just to see the shit flinging contest that would ultimately follow. Logically, Obama would have to pay reparations as the child of a white woman and a non-oppressed Kenyan father. Naturally, African-Americans with a greater portion of African blood and a greater degree of exposure to historical slavery would be entitled to more reparations than lighter skinned African-Americans. It would be so much fun to watch everyone be upset!

              1. I always welcome your fake-Jew-actual-Russian-bot contributions to this website. You were absent for quite a while, so I’m glad the St. Petersburg operation is up-and-running again. Just in time for your help in the upcoming election.

          2. By your own hypothesis, the “sociological” basis is economic – which can be measured directly. That makes the strength or weakness of the correlation irrelevant. Using a proxy when you have a direct measure available is just bad practice.

            Since there is no scientifically valid reason for using the proxy, we have to wonder at your ulterior motive. Why are you so insistent on ignoring that there are many wealthy black families and many poor white families who somehow succeed and fail for reasons that have nothing to do with race?

      3. Because of my race I am more likely to get skin cancer based on exposure to UV radiation.


        1. Just buy some SPF60 sunscreen!

          1. No! It’s not fair! I want to change the earth’s climate so America has a climate like Scotland and white people can live a decent life in this god forsaken land!

          2. I have a right to natural skin!

      4. Oh please, lathrop. This is a straight-up science question. Race is irrelevant to prevalence, progression and outcome. Your privilege is conflicting with your ‘woke-iness’.

        Biological and genetic risk factors mean everything here.

        1. Commenter_XY, what state do you live in?

          1. I’m guessing it’s the state of denial.

    3. Interesting data from Massachusetts:

      “Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, released an analysis in April that concluded Latinx residents were becoming infected by the coronavirus at three times the rate of whites. The rate for blacks was two-and-a-half times that of whites…”
      “She found Hispanics and Latinx people were at lower risk of death than whites while blacks had a slightly elevated risk of death compared to whites. For Hispanics, she said, the rate was eight-tenths that of whites; for blacks, it was 1.2 times the rate of whites.

      So if you trust the data (and I don’t), you have an infection rate for Hispanics that is 2.5 times that of Whites, but a death rate that is only 0.8 that of Whites…

      See: https://commonwealthmagazine.org/health/surprising-racial-twist-in-covid-19-data/

      1. In the LA county survey of the data the lower latin death rate was entirely explained because of their younger skewing population. In every age range (aside from 0-19 where Whites and Hispanics had 0 deaths) the death rate of hispanics were higher.

    4. It just goes to shown that race is a political category that has no basis in genetic science.

      Not really. “Race” is a social category frequently used in political discussion, but which is also used in ordinary discourse. And no, it is not the case that it “has no basis in genetic science.” In fact it has quite a strong basis in genetic science, although it is not polite to say so.

      The reality is that racial groups, as social categories, derive from gross physical features, and the observation that there is a degree of similarity between such features in people originating from different places. Such categorisations have evolved over time for different purposes, now arriving at such oddities as Prof Bernstein notes – eg that a fellow from India is categorised in the same way as a fellow from China, which certainly would never have occured to a 19th century racial systematiser.

      Because some readily observable gross physical features definitely do have a basis in genetic science, and race-the-social-category is utimately based on such observable gross physical features, race -the-social-category has a basis in genetic science.

      But it’s just a basis, not the whole deal. There are all sorts of mistakes that 19th century, and earlier, racial systematisers made in their efforts to categorises races by common descent. Most obviously there are :

      – the similarities in some gross observable features between people of significantly different descent, eg West Africans, East Africans, Melanesians

      – the ignoring of differences and similarities invisible to 19th century science

      to which we can add, of course, the genetic mixing caused by mingling of the genes of different population clusters in border areas, or as a result of migration.

      Genetic science has little difficulty in identifying a number of genetic population clusters, associated with different ancestral areas. These clusters map tolerably well, but with lots of error, to 19th century race categories.

      But you would expect that. Pre-Linnean animal taxonomy was woeful by comparison with later efforts, including our own current standards based on genetics. But it was still pretty damn good.

      Likewise 19th century human racial taxonomy, assumed to be based on common descent, was pretty woeful by 21st century standards, but still pretty damn good. Modern genetics does better at analysing the reality of common descent, but it doesn’t depart that far from our ancestors’ efforts.

      The reality of race as a genetic category cannot be discarded without absurd and damaging consequences, eg in the medical area. But let’s call it “genetic population clusters” to avoid frightening the horses.

      A rose by any other name.

    5. It just goes to shown that race is a political category that has no basis in genetic science.

      It’s also a social category, though you’re right about genetics. (Let’s remember that the next tine we start talking about intelligence.)

      But to the extent that a group’s tendency to contract a certain disease is partly a function of social standing, discrimination, and so on, the disease demographics of particular groups can be of interest, without detracting from the other important characteristics you mention.

    6. What is Tay-Sachs for $100, Don? Over enough time, selective breeding will cause genetic variations within communities that are physically or socially isolated from the rest of the human race. Personally, I want to marry a buxomy Litvak girl, like Kat Dennings.

      1. What is Tay-Sachs for $100, Don? </i.

        WTF does that have to do with anything? Are you claiming that Ashkenazi Jews are a race?

        1. Are you claiming that Ashkenazi Jews are a race?

          The Fuhrer thought so.

  2. Well, India is a part of Asia, so it is a logical description in that sense. But, not accurate in the way almost all of us think of, when we hear the word “Asian” to describe someone’s physical appearance.

    I think we try to do the best we can, with a manageable number of categories. (If we had, say, 37 different options for ‘race’ or “ethnicity,” then we could be much more accurate, but we’d also have a really unwieldy list. And more so if we had 83 options, etc.)

    1. “Well, India is a part of Asia, so it is a logical description in that sense.”

      So is Afghanistan.

      1. And Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran …. “Asia” is quite a flexible umbrella.

    2. “I think we try to do the best we can, with a manageable number of categories.”

      Quite self-evidently NOT manageable. The entire concept is unmanageable.

      1. Meh. Re Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran…small numbers mean that even wrong results do not have a huge impact on our lives. Given that one out of every 6 people on Earth comes from India, it might be a good idea to add the sub-continent as its own option.

        I suspect that your “unworkable” label comes from your aversion to affirmative action programmes in general, rather than any real objection to the rare wonky results with Uzbeks or Pashtuns being called Asian.

        1. Yes, people from the Indian subcontinent ought to have their own category. So should Arabs. People from places geographically in between will have to choose what suits them best.

          How did “Asian” come to mean Chinese-looking people anyway? Americans know that’s what it means. But I wonder if a significant number of people from Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries don’t know that, and have listed themselves as “Asian” on some forms because, well, they’re from Asia. (In the opposite direction of terminological confusion, few people who call themselves Caucasian are actually from the Caucasus.)

          1. Tell a Persian they are Arab and see the response that you get.

          2. You do know that people from the Indian subcontinent don’t even speak the same language. I knew a married couple who had to speak to each other in English because it was the only language they had in common.

            1. Real change of pace. Pointless, unsolicited, and invented anecdote for Dr. Ed. I’d make it a drinking game but there’s a lot of day left.

              1. What’s your problem? I happen to know that couple.

                I met them in a hipster coffee shop filled with liberals. They came over to tell me what an amazing job President Trump is doing with the Kung Flu Pandemic.

                Then they cried.

            2. Sure. I met people in Indonesia who did not speak the same languages. At all. Same for when I was in Borneo. And some of those people lives 8 miles apart. And the same in the Amazon rain-forest. That phenomenon seems both unremarkable and extremely common.

            3. Amazingly enough, even in Europe, with just over half the population of India, there are lots and lots of different languages spoken, and many pairs of Europeans can’t understand each other’s language.

              1. Yes, and said groups of Europeans consider themselves uniquely different, with the differences extended to those who came to America generations ago. Italians, Irish, etc…

                Sean Connery is Scottish, not Caucasian.

                And I’ve never met an “Asian” — I’ve met people who identify themselves as “Chinese”, “Japanese”, “Cambodian”, “Vietnamese”, etc.

          3. “How did ‘Asian’ come to mean Chinese-looking people anyway?” The original category used in civil rights statistics etc was “Oriental,” and it meant Japanese and Chinese and Koreans, with Filipinos in an ambiguous situation–these were almost all “Asians” in the U.S. at the time, putting aside the “Near East.” “Oriental” became passe, so they changed it to “Asian.” If they had created the OMB categories when Oriental was still in vogue, I doubt Indians would have been included.

            1. Lack of geography classes in American schools? The U.K. uses “Asian” in the proper context to refer to anyone originally from the Asian continent (e.g. Pakistanis, Indians, Afghans, etc.).

              1. They still refer to East Asians as Orientals and not often as Asians. The only reason some Brits call them Asians is because Americans refer to them that way.

            2. “Oriental” became passe, so they changed it to “Asian.”

              Just passe? When I use the term innocently enough, I am reproached by my daughters, who insist it is a bigoted expression. That seems to be received wisdom among the younger set. Something to do with so-called “Orientalism”?

              1. Euphemism treadmill gets another one. And don’t call me occidental, I guess?

        2. Even giving the people of the Indian subcontinent their own categorization would hardly do any good. There are vast genetic, cultural, dietary, etc differences between the various populations across India. Contrast, for example, the Andhras, the Rajputs, the Marathas and the Tamils to name just a few.

          1. Bhopal points that out elsewhere. In the UK, they often use “Asian” to mean “origins in the Indian subcontinent,” but w/r/t medical studies, he points out that it makes little sense given differences in culture, diet, and so forth to lump all the varying groups together.

            1. “India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the equator.”

  3. I thought a bunch of evil slave owning racists killed all the Indians years ago.

  4. And maybe this is why the government should get out of the race hustling biz. It didn’t work out so well when we called it “Jim Crow” and isn’t going so grand when we called it “affirmative action” so no maybe it is just time to hang out the “closed for business” sign.

  5. Well, when we count how many people of color have good jobs in Silicon Valley, Indians are “White”, but when we count who appears in TV shows, they are “People of Color”. For Harvard admissions, they are probably “Asian”. If we want to see who gets taxed to pay reparations to Sasha and Malia Obama, they will probably be “Caucasian”, like Turks, Afghans, Persians and Armenians. So you see, it’s not political at all.

    1. I’m sorry, John,
      What exactly are you whining about? Hard to tell from your rambling post.

      1. I think the basic point is that Indians (and Asians) are the new Jews.

        The determination of whether they are “Caucasian” largely turns on the interests and advantage of those who rely in identity politics.

        1. Branford. Thanks.
          I was thinking that it was a variation of pro-Trump TDS sufferers’ mantra of “Blah, blah blah…Obama bad…blah blah blah.” I assumed it had morphed into, “Blah, blah, blah…Obama’s kids bad…blah, blah, blah.”
          Glad to read of an alternate explanation. Still not sure why sticking the president’s kids into the post was done…seems completely tangential to your proposed translation.

          1. “Glad to read of an alternate explanation. Still not sure why sticking the president’s kids into the post was done”

            Example of upper class African American kids well above median means for the US getting reparation payments.

            Its a jab at the reparation movement, “see they would even give money to Obama’s kids”. I have no idea if this jab is accurate or not.

            1. I have no idea if this jab is accurate or not.

              Sort of depends on the specific proposal.

  6. Indians need to check their Indo-Aryan privilege before applying to an Ivy league school.

  7. This comment section has indeed gone to shit. All these comments and one single, tangential reference to “culture”.

    There’s a reason Sowell titled his seminal book “Race and Culture”.

    Neither the “race means nothing, libtard” or the “race means everything, you racist” side can gain much traction in a meaningful argument, without considering culture.

    Though I suspect the sticking point might lie in expecting either side to be interested in a “meaningful argument”. Or parsing out the best approximation of the truth. Or communicating with anyone whose views are ‘out of alignment’.

    1. Of course, the ‘culture’ has been going downhill since the free speech movement in Berkeley.

  8. Race and Racial classification are amusing to me. My parents came from Cuba. The Spanish conquistadors near eradicated all of the Cuban natives. Then they imported Africans, slaves to work on the sugar plantations. Both of my parents were born in Cuba. I have the documents provided me by the Catholic Church tracing both sides of the family back to 1700’s to Spain, Basque France and one odd part to Elba. So? I think I am white. I know I am European, I am Hispanic because my roots are in Iberia and by the same token i am a Latin. I love to call myself an American, yet if i am annoyed by stupid persons I tell them I am Cuban.

    1. El Latina blanco por favor. America needs more diversity with beautiful women like Ana de Armas.

Please to post comments