Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Munshi on Naturalization and Racial Difference in the Early Twentieth Century

Sherally K Munshi, who this year has been a Law Research Fellow at the Georgetown University Law Center and next year will be a Law and Public Affairs Fellow at Princeton University, has posted 'You Will See My Family Became so American': Towards a Minor Comparativism, which is forthcoming in the American Journal of Comparative Law (2015):
How does the appearance of racial difference impede recognition of citizenship and national belonging? This Article seeks to answer that question by introducing to comparative legal scholarship a method of analysis — which I call “minor comparativism” — to challenge the nation’s self-image by engaging the perspectives and reflections of its minorities. This Article examines the role that laws regulating citizenship, immigration, and naturalization in the United States have played in constructing the appearance of racial difference, in turn, naturalizing whiteness as the embodiment of citizenship. I focus, in particular on the experience of Indian immigrants to the United States in the early twentieth century — a history which has received little attention within existing legal scholarship. In United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), the Supreme Court held that immigrants from India were racially ineligible for citizenship because they were visually inassimilable. The Court recognized that while many Indian immigrants had proven themselves capable of cultural assimilation, unlike their European counterparts, Indian immigrants could not be naturalized because they “indefinitely retain clear evidence of their physical group characteristics.”

This Article proceeds from an analysis of Thind to a close reading of the denaturalization trial of Dinshah P. Ghadiali, one of several dozen citizens of Indian origin that the United States sought to denaturalize in the wake of Thind. Since the Court had announced that visual assimilability was the relevant test for naturalization, Ghadiali strained to demonstrate that he and his family looked American. At his denaturalization trial, Ghadiali presented to the court several photographs of himself, his family, and his properties, promising the Judge, “you will see my family became so American.” By focusing on these photographs, I explore the demands of visual conformity that the law imposes on racialized minorities. As such, this Article recommends that we should regard the visual archive not as a supplement to more authoritative legal representations of the nation, but as a critical register through which we might collaborate in reconstructing forgotten histories, projecting alternative futures, and reenvision the meaning of citizenship and national identity.

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