The Racial Prerequisite Cases: Ozawa and Thind

Takao Ozawa was born in Japan but moved to the United Staes as a young man. He atttended the University of California, became a businessman, married, had a family. He converted to Christianity, raised his children to speak English only, and had no contact with Japan. In 1922 he asked the US Supreme Court to grant him citizenship. He told the court: "My honesty and industriousness are well known among my Japanese and American friends. In name Benedict Arnold was an American, but at heart he was a traitor. In name I am not an American, but at heart I am a true American." He also claimed that, espcially is he stayed out of the sun, he was "whiter" than many people commonly regarded as white for the purposes of citizenship. He wrote: "In the typical Japanese city of Kyoto, those not exposed to the heat of summer are particularly white-skinned. They are whiter than the average Italian, Spaniard or Portugese."

Read the Court's opinion here, then return to this page and continue.

Three months later, the Court heard the case of Bhagat Singh Thind. Thind was born and college-educated in India. He moved the the US in 1912--inspired, he said, by reading Emerson and Thoreau. He served in the US Army during WWI and was honorably discharged.

Thind applied for citizenship shortly after WWI. He argued, like Ozawa, that he was a law a-biding and productive resident of the US, that he had served the US in uniform. He further argued that he was white, even though his skin was dark.

According to the racial theories of the time, the "caucasian" or white race began in India--scientists who theorized about the idea of race argued that the Aryan peoples had begun in India, and gradually spread into Europe. English, for example, is classified as an "indo-european" language based on the idea that white pelople originated in India. Adolf Hitler would later adopt the swastika, a symbol found on ancient temples in India, as a symbol of the Aryan (white) race. Thind argued that he was, according to science, a "caucasian" and therefore white.

Bhagat Thind

Read the Court's opinion here, then return to this page and consider the questions below.


Questions to consider

What is the basis for the Court's ruling in Ozawa? What is the basis for its ruling in Thind?

Is it possible to define "race" clearly?

Is "race" a legitimate basis for citizenship?