April 15, 2021

"Azaria, who is White..."

Is he?

I'm trying to read the WaPo article, "Hank Azaria apologizes for playing Apu on ‘The Simpsons’ for three decades." 

I've already blogged about this apology, so I'm not rehashing that. I just want to focus on the unsupported assertion that Azaria "is White." 

If Azaria is White, maybe Apu is also White. 

The question whether people from India are white has been litigated in the United States. From Wikipedia's article "Racial classification of Indian Americans"

Throughout much of the early 20th century, it was necessary for immigrants to be considered white in order to receive U.S. citizenship. U.S. courts classified Indians as both white and non-white through a number of cases. In 1909, Bhicaji Balsara became the first Indian to gain U.S. citizenship. As a Parsi, he was ruled to be "the purest of Aryan type" and "as distinct from Hindus as are the English who dwell in India”....

In 1923, the Supreme Court decided in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind that while Indians were classified as Caucasians by anthropologists, people of Indian descent were not white by common American definition, and thus not eligible to citizenship. The court conceded that, while Thind was a high caste Hindu born in the northern Punjab region and classified by certain scientific authorities as of the Aryan race, he was not "White" since the word Aryan "has to do with linguistic and not necessarily with physical characteristics" and since "the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences" between Indians and white Americans....

Much more at the link. It's complicated, but there is an argument that people of Indian ancestry are white.

In 1989, the East–West Center published a research paper about Indian Americans that said that the term, "Asian Indian," one of the fourteen "Races" in the 1980 US Census, is an "artificial census category and not a meaningful racial, ethnic, or ancestral designation."...

The 1990 U.S. Census classified write-in responses of "Aryan" as white even though write-in responses of "Indo-Aryan" were counted as Asian, and the 1990 US Census classified write-in responses of "Parsi" under Iranian American, who are classified as White along with Arab Americans and other Middle Eastern Americans.

Maybe there's a "Simpsons" episode where Apu fills out the census form. If he checks "White" or writes in "Aryan," would it be okay for Hank Azaria to do the voice, or are accents always wrong? When British actors do America accents, are we offended? If not, maybe it's offensive to make a different case out of an American doing an Indian accent. Or is it the comic exaggeration that's wrong? Would it be wrong for a British actor to comically exaggerate an American accent?

Now, back to my original question. Is Hank Azaria white (or "White," to put it in WaPo's format)? He is not a very light-skinned person and his name seems Spanish. I feel rather disgusting investigating a person's race, but I feel forced into it by WaPo's bland, blank assertion. I'm skeptical when I see a closed door like that. 

I check Wikipedia:

Henry Albert Azaria was born in the Queens borough of New York City on April 25, 1964, the son of Sephardic Jewish parents Ruth Altcheck and Albert Azaria. His grandparents on both sides were Jews from Thessaloniki [Greece], whose ancestors had been expelled from Spain following the Alhambra Decree. His family's spoken language at home was Ladino, also known as Judaeo-Spanish, which he described as "a strange, antiquated Spanish dialect written in Hebrew characters."

Are Sephardic Jews white/White? Read about the Sephardic Jews here. I'll just say that the history of human beings is too complex, nuanced, and tragic to write "Azaria, who is White...."  

FROM THE EMAIL: Leora writes:

My mother did pro bono work for the ACLU getting restrictive covenants removed in Tompkins County. Restrictive covenants in upstate NY commonly excluded Negroes, Armenians, Gypsies and Jews. I don’t recall Hindus or Chinese ever coming up. I always put Human when asked for my race.
And Two-Eyed Jack writes:
I would argue that the white/nonwhite issue in Thind is, at its heart, a question of intermarriage and concern that it would fail. The concern in the US was with the potential of creating a population of people who would not be assimilated into the broader population through intermarriage. This lay behind much of the anti-Chinese feeling and, I would say, the real reason for excluding Indians. This is what the decision actually says about the limits of “whiteness”:
The children of English, French, German, Italian, Scandinavian, and other European parentage, quickly merge into the mass of our population and lose the distincitive hallmarks of their European origin. On the other hand, it cannot be doubted that the children born in this country of Hindu parents would retain indefinitely the clear evidence of their ancestry. 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 assimilation.