Cultural Consent is an online magazine designed to foster public knowledge and debate around our current cultural beliefs. Each essay has been carefully curated with that purpose in mind.
The concept of Cultural Consent comes from a landmark moment in U.S. history, when the Supreme Court defined race as something determined by “common understanding.” This was a significant turning point in U.S. culture because, for the first time, the cultural construction of race was recognized by the law. For most of U.S. history, race was defined by pseudo-scientific categories. The result of this understanding, however erroneous, was that white supremacists could count on “scientific proof” to justify their acts of violence and oppression. As long as race was considered a biological fact, the power dynamics of racial difference were difficult to challenge.
1851 map of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach's five races
Henry Winkles; Johann Georg Heck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
All of this changed in 1922 when two court cases radically shifted the discourse on race in the U.S. That year, two Asian immigrants, Takao Ozawa and Bhagat Singh Thind, sued for the right to be categorized as white. Their push to become legally white was motivated by a desire for citizenship and land rights. Takao Ozawa attempted to gain entrance into whiteness by claiming Japanese people should be considered “free white persons.” Unsurprisingly, his attempt failed. Instead, the court found that only those of the so-called Caucasian race were considered white.
Just three months after the Ozawa ruling, Bhagat Singh Thind made the case that his ancestors were Aryan, and therefore he was indeed Caucasian. Unlike Ozawa, Thind attempted to engage the logic of scientific racism. Because he was an Indian man of a high caste, he claimed that he shared a common Indo-European heritage with white Americans. Thind’s claims poked holes in the already weak structure of pseudo-scientific racial categories. In doing so, Thind essentially forced the court to admit to a much deeper truth: whiteness was a social construct based upon power relations.
The Supreme Court articulated as much in the ruling. Rather than accept Thind’s claim to whiteness as a so-called historical Aryan, the court determined whiteness was “to be interpreted in accordance with the understanding of the common man, synonymous with the word "Caucasian" only as that word is popularly understood.”
The ruling in Thind v. United States is at the heart of Cultural Consent. In the 95 years since this court case, we, as a society, continue to contribute to this “common understanding” of race, along with a host of other social, cultural and political identities.
Cultural Consent Magazine is dedicated to probing questions of how and why we, as a culture, give our consent to certain ideologies and practices.
This site hosts essays and literature reviews created by a number of writers and artists. While an array of beliefs and experiences are represented here, they all work together towards the common goal of provoking critical thought.