Tuesday, November 22, 2005

What Race are Central Asians?

The affirmative action definitions of the US government used by universities to reduce all people to merely members of essentialized biological groups do not appear to have any place for the people of Central Asia. They have Asians in which they include Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis as well as people of East Asian descent. They also have "White" which includes Iranians, Turks and other peoples native to the Middle East. Not mentioned at all are Kazakhs, Tajiks, Kyrgyz or Turkmen. One serious problem with the groups given as examples is that the categories are all mixed up. Iranian and Pakistani are not ethnic groups. Both Iran and Pakistan are multi-ethnic states in which a large number of ethnic groups live. Many of these ethnic groups cross boundries. This leads to strange results under the US affirmative action classifications. An ethnic Baluchi born in Iran is considered "White" and hence subject to defacto discrimination. In contrast his cousin born across the border in Pakistan is considered Asian and gets special preferences. So people of the same ethnicity and family are catagorized as belonging to different races under the official racial classification system of the US. Does this make even the slightest amount of sense? Do the people who made this system have any idea what constitutes nationality versus race versus ethnicity? Or do the multiculturalists just get off on the power trip?

Given the obsession of the ruling powers in the US with physical phenotypes my guess is that they would split Central Asia. Tajiks, Turkmen and Uzbeks would fall under the disfavored "White" label and Kazakhs and Kyrgyz would be considered Asians. However, since I have never seen them mentioned in any of the many affirmative action forms universities keep sending me I would like to see an official clarification. If anybody knows anything about the official US affirmative action racial classifications for Central Asian nationalities, I would be very interested in hearing about it.


Nathan said...

Well, from an affirmative action standpoint, they haven't really been subject to a long history of discrimination in the US which such policies are intended to address. (As an aside, one could make the same point about recent African immigrants, who, from my experience with them anyway, are much more upwardly mobile and not impacted by the "deep and crippling racism that so typifies life in America.")

I've got no good answer but to say that Central Asians, especially those with a Turco-Persian heritage, underline the artificiality of the concept of race--something which as far as US law seems to be concerned, are just categories to dole out favor to particular people.

My students seemed to not even have a good answer when we talked about this but to say that they are both "Caucasoid" and "Mongoloid" (to use the biological terms still in favor in Uzbekistan).

J. Otto Pohl said...

Nathan, thanks for the comment. I agree with you that the official US concept and catagories of race are largely inapplicable to Central Asia. Actually I don't think apply very well even to the US. Which was one of my points. But, there are some people of Kazakh, Uzbek and Tajik descent in the US. I assume they get AA forms like everybody else. Does the US government consider them White along with Turks and Persians or Asian? It is just a random thought, but I think indicative of the problems that arise when you start creating racial classification systems.

Gale said...

This random historical issue piqued my curiosity and spurred me to a quick search. The following is from the White House site, deep in the ethnicity pages.

There seems to be a category of "All other Races" which can be applied in accordance with the guidance I have copied below. But not being American, and not having seen the forms, I leave it to you to comment whether this "guidance" can practically be implemented.

"In cases where the standard categories are considered inappropriate for presentation of data on particular programs or for particular regional areas, the sponsoring agency may use:

a. The designations "Black or African American and Other Races" or "All Other Races" as collective descriptions of minority races when the most summary distinction between the majority and minority races is appropriate;

b. The designations "White," "Black or African American," and "All Other Races" when the distinction among the majority race, the principal minority race, and other races is appropriate; or

c. The designation of a particular minority race or races, and the inclusion of "Whites" with "All Other Races" when such a collective description is appropriate."

PS: if this doesn't overwhelm you with its clarity, don't wrack your brains. As a lawyer who reads guidance all day long, I can't make too much sense of it.

Naran A said...

I am also a first generation Kalmyk-American. It has been my experience to always check "other" when filling out the countless forms that ask for race.

Even if there was a separate category for "Central Asian" I'd probably still opt with "other" Funny, through an act of Congress, I am technically "white" Although I do not think that I am white. But nonetheless, that always amused me. Probably the reson behind me always indicating "other"

Have you ever thought of looking for work in Asia?

J. Otto Pohl said...

Naran: Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I have indeed applied for positions in Asia. Not only in Central Asia, but East Asia and West Asia as well. The one academic job that gave me an interview last year was in Asia, American University - Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan.