the changing face of “caucasian”

the changing face of “caucasian”

The State

Adam Rothstein, Insurgent Archivist and Researcher

It’s been widely mentioned among a certain set on social media networks that the suspect in the Boston bombings is Chechen, and therefore, “Caucasian.” The good-natured purpose of this being to foil the usual insipid bigotry let loose in similar situations, which assumes that all terrorists are non-White, that Muslims are of a separate, lesser race, and/or that any particular terrorist act is part of some larger, epochal war of “us versus them.”

All of these racist conclusions are ridiculous, and would be easily refuted with the most basic and widely-accepted social and scientific data of contemporary times. However, stating that because the suspect is from the region of the Caucasus Mountains he “is White” is a troubling statement. Most readily, this reifies a notion of Whiteness. But additionally, this overlooks the history of the term “Caucasian,” and how the racial history of anthropology brought this term into common parlance. To a person from the United States, where “Caucasian” is a synonym for racial Whiteness, there is an etymological connection that would allow you to say this, and think you are correct. But “Whiteness” has always only ever been exactly what “White people” want it to be. What part of the world a person is from has little to no affect on whether anyone thinks s/he is actually “White”, because “White” is a social class, not a place.

“Caucasian” was first identified as a race by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in 1779, as one of five: the others being Mongolian, Malayan, Ethiopian, and American. These categories were based upon the measurement of the human skull. While he was a proponent of “Degreneration Theory,” that theorized that all humans were originally Caucasian before having their appearance change due to poor living conditions, he was able to note what is now widely known—that phenotypical differences within races are as large as those between races. In other words, in any measureable characteristic, there is as great a difference between individual Africans, and as great a difference between individual Europeans, as there is between Africans and Europeans compared…

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