“Democrats Criticize [Gov.] Haley’s Checking of ‘White’ on Voter Registration Application”

So reports the Charleston Post & Courier:

The South Carolina Democratic Party tried Thursday to make Haley out as a liar for checking “white” as her race on her 2001 Lexington County voter registration application.

But the application had no specific option for “Indian.” Her options were “white, black/African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Native American or other.” …

Dick Harpootlian, the Democratic Party chairman, said whether Haley listed her race as white or not doesn’t matter to him. The point is, he said, that the governor has a pattern of twisting the truth.

“Haley has been appearing on television interviews where she calls herself a minority — when it suits her,” Harpootlian said. “When she registers to vote, she says she is white. She has developed a pattern of saying whatever is beneficial to her at the moment.” …

The commission doesn’t attempt to verify a person’s race, but that data is used by U.S. Department of Justice to enforce fair voting practices. Collecting the information is a requirement of state law, Whitmire said. If a person checks “other,” he or she is asked to specify….

This strikes me as a pretty ridiculous criticism. Racial and ethnic categories are notoriously mushy on the boundaries, and South Asia is one of those boundaries. “Asian” has often been understood to mean what was once called “Mongoloid” and then later “Oriental” (though “Oriental” was itself ambiguous) — basically having the appearance features characteristic of East Asians, such as the Chinese. “White” has often been understood to mean what was once generally called “Caucasian,” and is still often called that; to quote the Random House, ” of, pertaining to, or characteristic of one of the traditional racial divisions of humankind, marked by fair to dark skin, straight to tightly curled hair, and light to very dark eyes, and originally inhabiting Europe, parts of North Africa, western Asia, and India” (emphasis added).

So if you’re a relatively dark-skinned Indian, do you call yourself “white,” because you see that as basically Caucasian, and because your facial features are pretty close — other than with regard to skin color — to European facial features? Or do you call yourself “Asian,” because this term focuses more on the continent of Asia (even though you’re aware that your Asian near-neighbors to the west, such as Iranians, would pretty surely not call themselves Asian)? Or do you label yourself “other,” on the grounds that you see “white” as different enough from “Caucasian” that the skin color difference suffices to put you in a separate group? I should think that this is a pretty quintessentially personal decision.

Nor is it a decision that’s inconsistent with labeling yourself a “minority,” a term that means different things depending on the context but that in many instances is entirely consistent with being “white” — for an obvious example, see, for instance, Jews or Arabs, who are white and minorities. The Post & Courier asserts that “Haley, the daughter of Indian immigrants, has never emphasized herself as South Carolina’s first female and minority governor and the country’s second Indian-American governor, but it has earned enormous national notoriety.” But even if she had referred herself to as South Carolina’s first minority governor, I don’t see any inconsistency between that and her box-checking on the voter registration form.

Moreover, checking the “white” box on that form actually was not “beneficial to her at the moment,” just as checking Asian or other would not have been beneficial. A voter in modern South Carolina gets no tangible benefit at all from lying about her race on a voter registration application. It’s not like a job application for an employer that gives some people (whether white, black, East Asian, or what have you) a preference based on race, where there’s at least some suspicion that a person may be fudging her racial designation for financial gain. This casts further doubt on the theory that she was somehow deliberately “twisting the truth,” as opposed to just interpreting the boxes the way she sincerely thought was most sensible under the circumstances.

Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.