Utilizing Tyehimba Jess’s conception of “double-jointed,” the author interprets the Bhagat Singh Thind case in relation to the Takeo Ozawa case as a way to engage spatially and historically. Through such a comparison, the author underscores the importance of comparative racialization in understanding not only the historical legacy of the Thind case but also how it manifests today during times of the “global war on terror,” anti-Asian racism amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Indigenous dispossession, and ongoing anti-Black racism. Thangaraj writes about these cases while putting it in conversation with parallel cases, histories, and processes in order to make the point that race, as with the Thind case, must be understood through a comparative racialization frame in order to conceptualize social justice and citizenship through the broadest frames.
Bhagat Singh Thind
United States vs. Bhagat Singh Thind
A watershed moment
Bhagat Singh Thind
Baits the hook of Whiteness
With upper caste Aryan-ness
To distance from Hindoo-ness
Deliberately silent on Blackness
And its historical proximities with South Asia
Rights and belonging.
Bhagat Singh Thind
Ruled by court
As not eligible for citizenship
And yet a silence
Needs to be voiced
Needs to be filled
Painted over. Broad strokes of power. Thin strokes of history. Whiteness painted over histories of interconnection. Histories of intimacies. Histories of us. One hundred years. And Thind’s case seeps in and out of our consciousness. Our policies. Our politics. Our desires. I want the case to reflect on our pasts, presents, and futures bound together. One hundred years. Our histories at the creases of US history, marginalized, written in as foreigners, nonhuman, as threats to civilization. Undo and redo the writing. Paint our history. Paint our future. Broad strokes and fine strokes, paint the contexts of Pain, Exclusion, Undocumented-ness, Incarceration, and Death foundational to Whiteness. Our canvas, our stories, our imagination connect acts of world-making. Scratch the record, rewind, paint the histories intertwined, shared, that existed. With each tip of the brush mark the white canvass of our solidarity, our coalitional futures.
Each word, each tap, every dot, every cross, by the stenographer, is the painting of Thind. Each tap an image of Thind’s beard and turban. Cloth and hair, foreign to the white background. Ozawa and Thind. Yellow and Brown. Connected through contradictions of Whiteness and American-ness, always sticking out, always separate from the white background. Politics run through the (common) white man. Politics run through the common (white) man. Politics run through the common white (man). Politics dictate commonsense. Commonsense dictates Asian as always foreign. Whiteness, the background, where my brown-ness stands, Black, Red, Yellow, Brown, Indigenous, and queer Others stand in stark contrast to the white canvas. We are many Others. We are connected.
Thind paints a desire for belonging. A desire amidst ambiguity, silence, a miss. The brush stops, it refuses, it cannot paint the “Muslims” and the “Hindoos” within the frames of citizenship. We paint, adding unbelievable and very real stories. Painting the stories of us on all walls, corners, pages, halls, and spaces. Painting the stories of justice. Inserting ourselves into the landscape. A viewing of something already built. A building and rebuilding of the past with eyes looking forward. With each brick and block of all our stories we must build the house of justice.
Shifting realms of race and racialization. What worlds are possible in our exclusions? Accounting for our erasures while imagining worlds, making worlds through pain and pleasure. Making worlds of unlimited belonging. Exceeding the “us” and “them” of (national) citizenship. Not dependent on denying, opposing, and dehumanizing but rather naming Whiteness and the racial landscape that must be dismantled. 100 years later. We realize our intertwined histories demand broad solidarities, and intimacies across continents and across states of white supremacy. Where Whiteness is no longer the background. Solidarities for justice and equity become the canvas for painting worlds. For making worlds. For all of us.
The structure of the poem is deeply informed by the “double-jointed” poetic verse and archival assemblages in Tyehimba Jess’s Leadbelly. I list as references the readings that have provided the historical archive and analytic infrastructure for the poem. I appreciate very much the deep, poetic, and beautiful insights and suggestions by the reviewer. The insights greatly helped suture together the politics, histories, and solidarities in the service of justice. I am grateful for the generosity, time, passion, and comments by Natchee Blu Barnd that helped make this piece cohesive, coherent, and fun to play with. I am immensely grateful to Jason Perez for his creative insights that made for sophistication, creativity, and clarity. His reading was instrumental. Finally, I am grateful to Norma Marrun, Constancio R. Arnaldo Jr., Hadi Khoshneviss, Laura Leisinger, Rachel Endo, and Sam Barrick for their love in reading, engaging, caring, and offering such productive and wonderful comments. I love you Alena, Jeya, and Louis Thangaraj.