Caucasian race

From Academic Kids

The term Caucasian race is used almost exclusively in North America to mean "white" or of European ancestry, especially in government and census forms (see Caucasian type). In the United States, it is currently used primarily as a distinction based solely on skin color; however, it was once considered a useful taxonomical categorization of human racial groups based on a presumed common geographic, linguistic, and/or genetic origin.

The term itself derives from measurements in craniology from the 19th century, and its name stems from the fact that its various ethnic groups were thought to have been originally from the region of the Caucasus mountains, itself imagined to be the location of Mount Ararat (where Noah's Ark eventually landed according to Biblical legend).

Historically the term has been used to refer to people of European, Semitic, North African, Iranian-Afghan descent, as well as a very small mionority of the various peoples from the Indian Subcontinent.

In Europe, "Caucasian" currently refers almost exclusively to people who are from the Caucasus.


History of the concept

The concept of a "Caucasian race" or Varietas Caucasia (sic) was first proposed under those names by the German scientist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840). His studies based the classification of the Caucasian race primarily on skull features, which Blumenbach claimed were optimized by the Georgians, a people living in the Southern Caucasus. Populations, formerly called "varieties," are no longer distinguished by Latin names, according to the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature.

The reason the Caucasus had such an attraction to Blumenbach and other contemporaries was because of its (imagined) proximity to Mount Ararat, where according to Biblical legend Noah's Ark eventually landed after the Deluge.

Later anthropologists, including William Z. Ripley in 1899 and Carleton Coon in 1957, further expanded upon the classification of the Caucasian race proposed by Blumenbach, and subdivided the group into Nordic, Alpine, Mediterranean, and at times Dinaric and Baltic subdivisions. Nordicism, the belief that the blond Nordic sub-division constitutes a "master race", was influential in Northern Europe and the United States during the early twentieth century, eventually becoming the offical ideology of the Nazi state. It was used to justify eugenics programs and the persecution and extermination of so-called "inferior" races then living in Europe, such as Jews and Roma.

The concept of Caucasian race and its stated or implied superiority over other races was often used as a moral excuse for colonialism by Western European countries, in the 19th and 20th centuries. In Europe, usage of the term declined in the 19th century as it did not allow for enough distinctions as required by the new forms of nationalism which were emerging, but in the United States it enjoyed a use which continues to the present. It has been (and is still) used to justify social discrimination in many other places of the world, such as against descendants of Native Americans, African slaves, and immigrants in the Americas and South Africa, and many more.

Nevertheless it is currently often used in the US as a more "scientific sounding" term for "white", and even used by many anthropologists and geneticists to refer generically to people of European origin.

Supreme Court rulings

The question of a difference between the "Caucasian race" and "white" as a racial category in the United States has led to at least one set of major legal contradictions in the United States Supreme Court. In the case of Ozawa v. United States (1922), the court ruled that a law which extended U.S. citizenship only to "whites" did not apply to fair-skinned people from Japan, because:

The term "white person", as used in [the law], and in all the earlier naturalization laws, beginning in 1790, applies to such persons as were known in this country as "white," in the racial sense, when it was first adopted, and is confined to persons of the Caucasian Race... A Japanese, born in Japan, being clearly not a Caucasian, cannot be made a citizen of the United States.

However a year later, the same court was faced with the trial of United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923), where they ruled that someone from the Indian subcontinent could not become a naturalized United States citizen, because they were not "white". The Court conceded that anthropologists had classified Indians as "Caucasians", and thus the same race as "whites" as defined in Ozawa, but concluded that "the average man knows perfectly well that there are unmistakable and profound differences", and denied citizenship.

Current views

Nowadays however views have changed and large numbers of people feel "uncomfortable" about attaching themselves to a certain race, in places such as Europe racial census' are highly controversial and in some cases not even used. Some have argued that due to the civil rights and politically correct movement many white people feel a certain guilt or shame when acknowledging their race in a "positive" manner although others have dismissed such arguments as racist. The relatively recent advances in biochemistry have so far tilted and revealed that racial genetic divisions are much smaller than had been previously thought. The term Caucasian's relevance as to identity/culture and socio/economic patterns as well as other topics is still being debated though in the scientific and cultural groups of America.

See also


  • Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, On the Natural Varieties of Mankind (1775) — the book that introduced the concept.
  • Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man — a history of the pseudoscience of race, skull measurements and IQ inheritability.
  • L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza, The History and Geography of Human Genes — a major reference of modern population genetics.
  • L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Genes, Peoples, and Languages.
  • H. F. Augstein, "From the Land of the Bible to the Caucasus and Beyond," in Waltraud Emst and B. Harris, Race, Science and Medicine, 1700-1960 (London: Routledge, 1999): rass



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