Are Indians Asians?

Well, are Indians Asians?

You’re thinking what kind of idiot poses this silly question. You look at a map or globe and point out India smack in the middle of a humongous landmass marked Asia. Indians are Asians and that is all there is to it. Or is there more?

You’re mileage may vary, Dear Reader, but I’ve come across at least three different notions of what constitutes an  “Asian”. The first and most obvious is the geographic argument that anyone hailing from the largest continent on the planet is an Asian. The second  is the close approximation of those who are politically-aligned to the major  cultural powers within geographical Asia. Finally, there are those who are considered to be ethnically Asian. These notions are neither clear, discrete, or completely overlapping.

Let us look at who is an Asian in greater detail. Is someone from Russia an Asian? Most of Russia is in Asia, but politically Russians can be considered aligned to the the rest of Europe. If a white Russian is born in Moscow the geographical argument would dictate that she should be considered a European, but this is also in line with popular political and racial notions. Now, what if this Russian is been born in Vladivostok, which is geographically in East Asia and thousands of miles closer to Tokyo than it is to Moscow? Or take the case of white Israelis born within geographic Asia. Do they fit the common political and ethnic notions of “Asians”?

The question of whether Indians are Asians is an interesting one. I’ve been told by many highly-educated individuals in the United States that I am  “an Indian and not an Asian.” When asked to elaborate, I’ve been informed that Asians have physical characteristics that resemble individuals belonging to the predominant ethnicities of South-East Asia and East Asia. On a related note, I have also heard Pakistanis referred to as “Middle-Eastern, not Asian”, and  that one clearly makes no  sense at all, even to me. Indian Americans are a subset of Asian Americans according to the US government, but the person on the street often does agree with this nuanced hierarchy.

Curiously, all I need to become an Asian is to take a flight across the Atlantic. In the United Kingdom, British Asians include desis from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who form the predominant “Asian” community. East Asians are called “Chinese”. Also the word “oriental” does not have the racially charged connotations it does in most of North America. In short, if you believe popular definitions,  East Asians are either Asians or Chinese; and South Asians are either Indian or Asians depending on which side of the pond you ask the question.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

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52 thoughts on “Are Indians Asians?

  1. The definition on this issue is set by the stronger majority – Whites. Since they are in charge of economically stronger nations, we tend to give more weightage to them. For minorities in America to change the way they are referred, more of them would have to make the majority aware what the preferred connotation is.

    I already think of Indians in America as Americans, just Americans. I am sure 20 yrs from now most Indians will move towards something similar. Why does it matter what Indians think? Well it matters what a superpower (hopefully in 20 yrs!) thinks as it goes some distance in setting definitions or debating over them.

    Although you have not explicitly mentioned what YOU prefer, reading between the lines I think you would rather prefer to be called an Indian than Asian as it is..err…more niche. What you prefer would matter a lot in the post as you are a highly-educated individual too.

    • Thanks for your well thought out comments, Pavithran.
      :)

      The “majority minority group” also play a role in setting the definition. A desi might be told that he or she look like a Mexican in Arizona, an Indian in New York, and a Pakistani in London.

      And why only race as a tag? I’m a “North Indian” in South India, an “Bengali” in Delhi, and a “non-Bangldeshi Bengali” in the Northeast. In each case the dominant group has “tagged” me.

      • I want to answer! :D

        Yes, Indians ARE asians. People these days say “asians” and they think about Chinese and all those eastern asians.
        Have they even thought of western asia or south?
        Asia represent, Japan to Saudi Arabia and Mongolia to Sri lanka.
        Half the population of “ASIA” is made up of us brown people, Indians. If you really think about it, there would be more Indians than chinese in Asia, that’s if you add the number of Indians, pakistani, and bangladeshis and all the “ex indians” countries.
        So, Suming it up, Indians ARE asians, too.

    • Here’s some history..We all came from blacks so no need to be racist,nd to those who aint racist just show equallity to those who you are not closely related to than the other or not closely related to you.
      Native americans came from asia from a land bridge…But everyone came from black people they are saying they came from asians because they are closely related…There are some spanish people who look black and asian…And there are some dark skinned asians who look spanish and black also,im not talking about the chinese people because they are pale and look too chinky.
      Some people think spanish people came from Indians from India because they look spanish,but they don’t have the blood.
      The asian and mexican/native american people came from the san african people,they have mongoloid features
      San african people are full blooded african with mongoloid features is where asian people such as thai,laos,malay,myanmar,indonesia and cambodian and also hispanic people such as guatemalans,mexicans ect came from.—– Also chinese,japanese or korean but they hardly produce offsprings people that highly look mixed with mexicans or black since they have pale skin and their features are just too much of a chink they don’t look mix.
      Such as the cambodians,loas,burmese,malay produce mexican look or even black mixed people but they are actually full blooded.What im actually saying is that the race looks mixed but they aint,they are full blooded.
      Cambodians are dark skinned asian. Vietnamese are not dark skinned. Vietnamess skin tone is similar to those of the Chinese, Korean, Japanese.

      https://www.google.com/search?q=the+san+people&biw=1600&bih=799&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=S7UPVMXcMcWKsQT1vIKIBA&sqi=2&ved=0CAYQ_AUoAQ

      Back in the day there were no equal rights for people of colored skin-That would mean if an indian person from india came to america he wouldn’t recieve equal rights.
      If the cambodians/thai/laos were to came to america-They wouldn’t have equal rights because of the color of their skin.

      Also in the same group as Cambodia and Phlippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos.
      Phillipines are mixed group they are mixed with mexican blood and asian-some looks spanish nd some look asian
      Cambodians/Thai-they are not a mixed group of people they are full blooded-Some look spanish and can be mistaken of black sometimes but rarely.

  2. The definition of “Asian” clearly varies according to the culture that is classifying us. It may also have a lot to do with the “major” minority and the resultant stereotypes.

    I’d go with Geographical classification because that has zero degrees of freedom. At most it’s South Asian vs Asian. Russia is a weird example because in ideology they have always thought of themselves as Europeans but the fact that they used to be classified as “Second World” implies that the feeling wasn’t reciprocated :)

  3. All this is just semantics, isn’t it?

    Even, consider the boundaries of the continent of Asia – IMO it is somewhat arbitrary. Unlike say, Africa or the Americas, Asia doesn’t really have any clear geographical cutoffs (the Urals on the West somewhat play that role).

    That said, I’ve always been baffled by the American habit of calling only East Asians Asians and creating a separate category for Indians. But this is a country that refuses to embrace metric systems. So what can you do?

    (PS – yeah my comment doesn’t really have a point :P)

    • I was reading this rant from this lady about how (and I quote) “Indians are poor replacements for Asians” and decided to write this post. It doesn’t really matter, but I’m trying to see if I can manufacture indignation here.
      :P

  4. Oh such a favorite topic of mine. How many times have I cringed to see a certain group of Americans refer to Asian girls as hot and Indian girls as exotic !! It is painful sometimes to see how ignorant the Western world is to the reality.I have now given up and have accepted the fact that I shall have to actually respond to questions like – “You are from India. So do you speak Hindu ?” You touch a lovely chord. Enjoyed it.

    • Thanks for reading, dear friend.

      The answer to the question you hear in the US, “Are you a Hindi who speaks Hindu?” is “no” unless you are Varun Gandhi.

      Best wishes :)

  5. On a similar note, a friend from near Madrid complained about how people here in USA have little idea about Spanish food. Most people confuse that with Mexican food. And his approach to the ‘problem’ is, “to hell with what these morons think ….”

    one new post every couple of days! :P

    • Thanks for reading. I’m sure your friend from Spain must be happy with the way Spain are playing in soccer.

      On another note, I’m keeping the posts much shorter. Also dreading the end of the World Cup. :(

  6. i thought for the whites Indians and the rest are all Asians.uff! to hell with all that.
    Listen to this…my neice who is a cute grade 6th for whom i am babysitting at the moment asked me if Germans were ALSO black(not one bit disappointed and still cheering for Germany).
    pls guide me how best to explain her without sounding racist myself because i know we as Indians have this thing for the fair skin too.
    Yeah don’t know myself how not to miss World Cup after it’s over.

    • And the World Cup is now over.
      :(

      Thanks for commenting. You’ve stumped me with that question. It is very hard to discuss race without getting into stereotypes.

  7. “You’re mileage may vary, Dear Reader”
    ANIRBAN, HOMOPHONE TYPO! Be ashamed. :P

    And yeah, I thought I had an idea of what this post would be, I’ve seen in plenty of movies and stuff how Americans tend to classify Asians on the basis of how much they look like South East Asian countrymen (or women). However, yeah, the Russia debate has been on my mind for quite some time. It’s actually quite interesting to think about.

  8. Stumbled on your site through twitter. Enjoyed reading most posts.
    I hear you on this sentiment of “Are Indians Asians?”.
    But while I always cringe at how brown people are always considered Indian irrespective of whether they are from India, Pakistan, Nepal or Sri Lanka, I also am guilty of considering all East Asians to be ‘chinky’, when they could be from China/Japan/Thailand/Korea/Vietnam/Cambodia/Singapore etc.

  9. Indians are Asian, what else would they be. People say they aren’t
    because of the physical characterisitics the rest of Asia, but
    logically they are Asian.

  10. Us Indians are Asians. We’re from the Asian continent, it’s that simple. Whether the middle east is called the middle east it’s still in the Asian continent, geographically. I don’t understand the debate. Do all Asians have to look the same? Does everyone in the North American or Europeon continent look the same? Why can’t the some Asians look like East Asians(like the Chinese/Japenese/Vietnamese/Cambodian/Thialand/Malaysian/Singapore/etc.) and others look like South Asians(Indians, Sri Lankans, & Pakistan are ALL different) and still be able to be called Asian? I don’t think it’s too fair to boot us from Asia like that. I also don’t think the term ‘chink’ is fair as it’s been related to racist connotations. Also I tended to notice Chinese boys a lot, they’re cute.

  11. You are INDIAN not asian. Sorry but I will die before Indians are classified with real Asian people like Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, etc.. Indian not Asian.

      • Shin,

        Let me respond to you in the following ways:

        1. Thank you for admitting Indians are Asians. However, I expect any person with reasonable level of intelligence and basic comprehension skill to be able to reach this conclusion. So I’m afraid I can’t give you too many kudos.

        2. I don’t know what you mean by “COMPLETELY”. But let’s explore it. Indians and East/South-East Asians have similar heights. We all generally have 2 legs, 2 arms, etc. So there are certain similarities there. However, that’s a stupid way to look at it. The differences, of course, far outweigh the similarities. Indians (actually, South Asians in general) have darker skin than East/South-East Asians. We have different accents and we generally hard-pronounce our “r”s and “t”s and “d”s. East/South-East Asians generally eat up their words when they speak English. And the major difference is that they are not racially discriminated against, unlike South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, and to a smaller extent, Sri Lankans), which brings me to the next point…

        3. Your tone appears to want to make it very clear that you want not to associate with Indians. Perhaps it’s some sort of superiority complex you have. If this is the case, I pity you, for you are ignorant and probably a kid. Then again, time served on the earth doesn’t mean you grow in mind. You could be a 25-year old completely immature twat.

    • Do you really know how Indians feel about being like you? Thank goodness you don’t want to know. Go sit in your ethnic bubble. Indians are a proud people when it comes to culture. You guys should know. From the east, you sent your missionaires like Huing and fuengs to India to learn and claimed everything as chinese, undermining other similar ethnicities such as yours. Then in the west, the persians and arabs took India’s free intellectual contributions to the west. We are a secure lot, not caring to preserve and protect, but thrive freely without restrictions and false pride. Sorry to burst your bubble, geographically we are and will always be Asian, but in all other ways, we do not want to be anyone other than a wonderful Indian. Heaven forbid if we are classified otherwise. Yes there are some Indians who talk about the “chinkys” in a derogatory fashion, some who are so scared they advise their kids never to marry a chink, but they are the uneducated and blinkered folks. Deep down, everyone may have degrees of such opinions, but over all, it is not in our culture to denigrate openly any other ethnicity even if we think we are better off than anyone else.

  12. I am South Indian, My friends ask me whether we are asians or not? Please answer Yes or no ?I no need full explanation in detail.

  13. Well I’m Chinese and Indians to us are as alien as the Vikings, so no, Indians are NOT Asians. Also, Vietnamese/Thai/Philippines etc. are South East Asians, something COMPLETELY different from Chinese/Japanese/Koreans.

    • Asia is the biggest continent in the world. Even Russia (a major part of it) lies in Asia. How is this difficult for you to comprehend? You may not want to associate with Indians or Viatnamese/Thai/Filipinos (that’s how it’s spelt, by the way; you are proving your ignorance), but that doesn’t prevent India in its entirety from lying in the Asian continent, and consequently resulting in all Indians being Asian. Also, please refer to my reply to your reply on my previous comment.

      And finally, remember that the Chinese internet is censored, the schools are full of propaganda and that you’re fed with the information that your “government” wants you to believe. You should question everything you’ve learnt.

      • Well English is not my first language so I really couldn’t careless. Also I grew up in both China and Japan.

        The Asia you are referring to is a geographical identity, the Asia I’m referring to is a CULTURAL identity. I have huge respect for the Indian culture but I don’t understand WHY, just WHY you guys keep comparing yourself with the Chinese? Whether you have much more in common with the Arab, Turkish or European culture I have no idea but you’re obviously completely different from North East Asia i.e. China/Taiwan/Japan/Korea, the only exception in the region maybe Singapore, but they were a British colony and probably fairly westernised.

  14. Asian is NOT A RACE I’ll Draw the line there the Continent is occupied with MULTI-LINGUAL AND MULTI-RACIAL people no way anyone with a literate mind can call asian a ‘race UNLESS they are in some sort of severe denial like most of those rationalist Americans and so called self-titled ‘Asians’ AKA Mongoloid race

    Even ‘Indian’ cannot be a RACE because North Indians South Indians and east Indians are basically three different unnamed Races

    I’m a South Indian BTW and i’m pretty agitated to realize this atrocity

  15. I have heard this from people who enjoyed offending me. I had a colleague and one friend who used to show me crap videos from YouTube about India. Like an Indian singing or dancing which has demeaning sub titles. These two people showed me the same videos on different occasions even though they do not know each other. Not a good word or good video was spoken or shown. And one of them told me I am an Indian and not Asian. And both were whites from Netherlands(below 24 years).

    I think the intent of the person speaking it matters a lot. If someone with a good intention does not want to call me an Asian and states a reason, I would respect that and give him or her the freedom to do so. But so far that has not happened. And from the time ‘racism’ has been renamed to ‘freedom of speech’ many people are taking such steps to vend their frustration.

    Here is my opinion. Country wise we are Asians. Racially there does not exist a race called Asians. Mongloids or Caucasians are the ones found in Asia. And there are both races in India. Mongloids are found in Japan,China, Singapore etc. Caucasian is the same race as Europeans and Arabs.

  16. I think the whole Asian thing has been hijacked by the Far East and morphed from a mere geographical point to a cultural one. Let me clear this whole misguided ethnocentrism. First off, the Far East should understand, India is in Asia. That is only why the tag Asian goes for Indians. For indians, it is not a prize or a wannabe to have a Pacific look. Thank you very much. We love being desis, we want to be one in our next lives too. Indians are a heterogeneous mix of several races. I think that is fantastic, and it would be MOST boring to look like everyone else. So, if an far easterner Asian is taking the Asian tag to mean a culture or a look, sorry to burst your little bubble. Asia for us, is only a geographical location on a continent. Until that changes, Indians will always be Asian by continent, but always Indian by country.

  17. I have a point to make. I have read many different points by all. I wondered about the term Asian and thought it was a generalization of people. The reason why I said this is because when a person is refereed to by the continent of which they belong to, it does not represent the culture or language that person identifies with, hence the term Asian actually excludes cultural and ethnic identity. It is also like labeling people with races such as white or black, accept in this case you can’t even identify what land the person is coming from or what culture he or she may belong to. Also in many cases being from an Asian continent doesn’t necessarily mean that a culture or society will identify you as being Asian. For instance Jordanians may call their self Asian but in the USA if they put on an application that they are Jordanian the USA will automatically assign them to the white category. Also a misconception that I saw mentioned is that European and Caucasian is the same…this is not true. Many societies have different ways of labeling groups of people coming from different areas of the world. In most cases there is a reason why some groups are labeled as certain races and it has nothing to do with the genetics or ethnic identity of the individual. In other words the term “Asian” may be more political than realistic. After all their are people who may have originated or at least had long ties to the continent of Africa, however in the USA their is no classification called Africa….and some groups belonging to that region are labeled black…So this topic is very complex their is no definite answers.

  18. Really, can you guys stop being so ignorant? Some of you deserve to have a geography book thrown square in your face. Indians ARE Asians because India
    is located on the continent of Asia. Forget culture. Even other Asians have cultures that differ from country to country. Looks doesn’t matter either. Btw a few Indians somewhat resemble other Asians. Look closely at their eyes, body… Indians are South Asians. They may look different, have a different culture, but they’re still Asians.

  19. Most people are not aware of the history, but historically only Indians and Arabs were referred to as Asians. People from countries like China, Korea and Japan were referred to as Orientals. However these people resented being called Orientals and hence the word Asian started being used to refer to them in America and now has transition to the rest of the world.So in fact the REAL asian are those from what we refer to as South Asia and Central Asia.

    • That depends on how far in history you are referring to…Like Asia, Africa America and etc. were not the names used on ancient maps…people were not unified by names of continents or referred by such names, in fact it is foreigners who have the tendency to want to categorize groups of people into small groups.

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  21. India is not even in Asia.India has its own tectonic plate which incidentally includes india,nepal ,pakistan bangladesh.that is why we are called as living in indian subocntinent.So we are not Asians

    • Mei Liu, The continent Asia, exists since before you exist, (like some millions of years).
      I’d like to clear something, Asia is not equal to Mongoloids.

      This term or meaning of “the only asians are chinese japanese or koreans” is formed by the western world due to more migrations from your countries to their. In return (gift) you adopted the meaning of term “Asian” which you are called there.

      Mongoloid people have been part of Asia so are others. So please get your facts right. read a lot. learn a lot. throw away the stereotypical views. Get some education, and pass it on.
      And you know? It actually helps! :)

      In the present world map, there is a continent called Asia which comprises of many countries with genetically diverse people.
      They have been trading, sharing events, cultural bonds, knowledge, etc. since thousands of years.

      Let’s not divide. Man is to unite to prevail. :)

  22. Dear all,
    It’s a great debate of who is Asian and who is not. All the countries that reside in the Continent Asia are geographically Asian.
    I’d like to mention that I’m not a scientist of the Human evolution or Geography. But I like to read and study a lot.

    Scientifically, The way they look, facial and body features differ due to different racial origins.
    For example, The east-Asian people has Mongoloid features, they belong to Mongoloid race.

    Since the people migrated over thousands of years, they developed and adopted the environment they lived longer.
    It has been found in the genetic studies that the people who reside in the Indian subcontinent have Caucasian and Australoid genes.
    The more you go towards north in the South Asia, the more prominent Caucasian features you will see. The more south you go, the more Australoid features you would notice. North east part of south-Asia has more prominent Mongoloid features.

    The people from the Northern part of the Asia (dominantly Russia) has Caucasian genes more (citation needed).

    Looks like the continent Asia comprises of Caucasian, Mongoloid and Australoid genes which makes the people distinctly look different.

    However we share many cultural and historical bonds. Instead of socially out-casting each other, why not cherish that bond with a bigger word “Asia”

    Finally all the humans residing in the Continent Asia ARE Asian. The continent Asia belong to all the peoples living on this continent since thousands of years.

    And if you really want some distinct identification (to satisfy the child in you), here is it:

    – Next time the question “Are you asian? is asked to a Chinese, Korean or Japanese guy/girl, s/he should say:
    Yes I am East Asian and have Mongolian genes.

    – Next time the question “Are you asian? is asked to a Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi or ShriLankan or any south Asian guy/girl, s/he should say:
    Yes I am South Asian and have Caucasian/Mongoloid/Australoid genes.

    – Next time the question “Are you asian? is asked to a Russian guy/girl, s/he should say:
    Yes I am North/North-West/North-East Asian and have Caucasian/Mongoloid genes.

    Congratulations you have divided the greatest and amazingly rich continent in every aspect! Kudos!

  23. (I’m from Mongolia, male 24 years old and once traveled to China, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Australia, USA)

    Most people in my country (i dare say most orientals also) look at Indians with xenophobic look…and if some Indian come to say like…. “I’m your fellow Asian!”, well that’s real hard to digest. It’s the same or worse if the person is from Iran, Iraq or Arab.

    Think about America which is a continent. When someone says his friend is from America, people usually think he is from USA. Besides, i doubt if people from south America, like to say “I’m American”.

    The point is: India is/will NOT universally accepted as Asian because of racism and this racism thing doesn’t only apply to human but also animal, plant, planet and even god. However we already have a (ineffective) term that “One Humanity” but which can still be considered racist compared to “One Living Beings” or just “Everything is One”.

    So if India wants to be universally called “Asian”, then defeat or negotiate with leaders of those who oppose it. (but either way that’s unlikely)

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