Studying the Racial Experience of Indian Doctors in Southern California Through Interviews and Observations


From 2006 to 2007, I researched the racial experiences of Southern California’s Indian immigrant physicians. Over-represented in medicine, Indian physicians constituted more than 7% of US doctors but only 1% of the US population. Previous social research paid little attention to these professional immigrants’ racial experience, assuming that their class status and scientific occupations shielded them from racism. My research, based primarily on 52 interviews with first- and second-generation Indian doctors in Southern California, showed that these doctors’ high occupational status serves as only a partial, situational shield against racism. Additionally, participant observation at the meetings of two Indian medical associations and non-participant observation of seven Indian doctors at work revealed that Indian doctors had what I call occupational citizenship—partial access to White privilege only when perceived as benefiting the United States both professionally and economically. This case study discusses the methodological challenges of studying the racial experiences of professional US immigrants. It particularly addresses the practical problems that a researcher who was racially an insider but professionally an outsider encountered, first in gaining entry into the community, then in establishing sufficient trust and rapport to interview individual members about race, and finally in confirming the validity of interview results.

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