The Surprisingly Racist History Of The Term 'Caucasian'

The Surprisingly Racist History Of The Term 'Caucasian'

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Have you ever wondered why we call white people Caucasian? 

The answer is surprisingly racist. 

Okay, so let's first go over the generally accepted definition of Caucasian. Most people would say something along the lines of: a white-skinned person of European descent. 

Weeeeeell, not exactly. That's the definition that is often used in North America, but outside of Canada and the US, most people would define Caucasian as: someone from the Caucasus region. 

Hold up... what's that? 

The Caucasus region is a region along the border of Europe and Asia that includes the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Russia, and Turkey. 

So, if this is the case... why do North Americans refer to all people of European ancestry as Caucasian? 

As you can probably imagine... the answer is pretty darn racist. 

It all started in the 1700s, with a German philosopher named Cristoph Meiners. He believed in the very-not-sound theory of scientific racism. He also believed that people from the Caucasus region had the "whitest, most blooming, and most delicate skin" and this somehow made non-Caucasians as inferior and, in his words, more "animal-like." I don't even know where to begin with how messed up that is. Let's just agree that it's messed up for all the obvious reasons that we're both thinking. 

Along came German scientist Johann Blumenbach, who was also interested in this very-not-sound theory of scientific racism. Blumenbach collected human skulls (skulls have a history of being used to try to "prove" differences between human races, like that men were smarter than women because their skulls are usually larger). Anyway, Blumenbach added to Meiners' theories. He stated that people from Georgia were the most beautiful on Earth (why he made this conclusion is unknown, he just liked the look). From there, he concluded that Georgia must be the birthplace of humanity (because, you know, that makes so much sense). He then went on to change this theory of race ever so slightly, saying that actually, all European people came from Georgia, and were therefore part of the same race: Caucasian. 

Then he took it a step further. 

Blumenbach created four other categories (pretty arbitrarily) of people that he deemed as "degenerate forms of God's original creation." These were: Mongolian (the yellow race), Malyan (the brown race), Ethiopian (the black race) and American (the red race). 

Nobody really took to these categories (because duh) except for... the United States. It is still the most common term to refer to all white people, today. 

Next time you go to refer to a white person as Caucasian, take a moment to think about the history of the term.  

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