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Caucasian race (also Caucasoid or Europid) is the general physical type of some or all of the populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Western Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia. The term was used in biological anthropology for many people from these regions, without regard necessarily to skin tone. First introduced in early racial science and anthropometry, the taxon has historically been used to denote one of the proposed major races of humankind. Although its validity and utility is disputed by many anthropologists, Caucasoid as a biological classification remains in use, particularly within the field of forensic anthropology.
The term "Caucasian race" was coined by the German philosopher Christoph Meiners in his The Outline of History of Mankind (1785). Meiners' term was given wider circulation in the 1790s by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German professor of medicine and member of the British Royal Society, who is considered one of the founders of the discipline of anthropology.
Meiners' treatise was widely read in the German intellectual circles of its day, despite muted criticism of its scholarship. Meiners proposed a taxonomy of human beings which involved only two races (Rassen): Caucasians and Mongolians. He considered Caucasians to be more physically attractive than Mongolians, notably because they had paler skin; Caucasians were also more sensitive and more morally virtuous than Mongolians. Later he would make similar distinctions within the Caucasian group, concluding that the Germans were the most attractive and virtuous people on earth. The name "Caucasian" derived from the Southern Caucasus region (or what is now the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), because he considered the people of this region to be the archetype for the grouping.
Meiners' classification was not grounded on any scientific criteria. It was Blumenbach who gave it scientific credibility and a wider audience, by grounding it in the new quantitative method of craniology. Blumenbach did not credit Meiners with his taxonomy, however, claiming to have developed it himself — although his justification clearly points to Meiners' aesthetic viewpoint:
Caucasian variety—I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones (original members) of mankind.
In his earlier racial typology, Meiners put forth that Caucasians had the "whitest, most blooming and most delicate skin". Europeans with darker skin he considered "dirty whites", admixed with Mongolian. Such views were typical of early scientific attempts at racial classification, where skin pigmentation was regarded as the main difference between races. This view was shared by the French naturalist Julien-Joseph Virey, who believed that the Caucasians were only the palest-skinned Europeans.
In various editions of On the Natural Variety of Mankind, Blumenbach expanded on Meiners' popular idea and defined five human races based on color, using popular racial terms of his day, justified with scientific terminology, cranial measurements, and facial features. He established Caucasian as the "white race," as well as Mongoloid as the "yellow race," Malayan the "brown race," Ethiopian the "black race," American the "red race." In the 3rd edition of his On the Natural Variety of Mankind, Blumenbach moved skin tone to second-tier importance after noticing that poorer European people (such as peasants) whom he observed generally worked outside, often became darker skinned ("browner") through sun exposure. He also noticed that darker skin of an "olive-tinge" was a natural feature of some European populations closer to the Mediterranean Sea. Alongside the anthropologist Georges Cuvier, Blumenbach classified the Caucasian race by cranial measurements and bone morphology in addition to skin pigmentation, and thus considered more than just the palest Europeans ("white, cheeks rosy") as archetypes for the Caucasian race.
There was never any scholarly consensus on the delineation between the Caucasoid race, including the populations of Europe, and the Mongoloid one, including the populations of East Asia. Thus, Carleton S. Coon (1939) and Franco Bragagna (2013) included the populations native to all of Central and Northern Asia under the Caucasoid label. However, many scientists maintained the racial categorizations of color established by Meiners' and Blumenbach's works, along with many other early steps of anthropology, well into the late 19th and mid-to-late 20th centuries, increasingly used to justify political policies, such as segregation and immigration restrictions, and other opinions based in prejudice. For example, Thomas Henry Huxley (1870) classified all populations of Asian nations as Mongoloid and Lothrop Stoddard (1920) classified the populations of the Middle East, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa, as well as those of Central Asia and South Asia, as "brown", and counted as "white" only the European peoples.
Drawing from Petrus Camper's theory of facial angle, Blumenbach and Cuvier classified races, through their skull collections based on their cranial features and anthropometric measurements. Caucasoid traits were recognised as: thin nasal aperture ("nose narrow"), a small mouth, facial angle of 100°–90°, and orthognathism, exemplified by what Blumenbach saw in most ancient Greek crania and statues. Later anthropologists of the 19th and early 20th century such as Pritchard, Pickering, Broca, Topinard, Morton, Peschel, Seligman, Bean, Ripley, Haddon and Dixon came to recognise other Caucasoid morphological features, such as prominent supraorbital ridges and a sharp nasal sill. Many anthropologists in the 20th century, used the term "Caucasoid" in their literature, such as Boyd, Gates, Coon, Cole, Brues and Krantz replacing the earlier term "Caucasian" as it had fallen out of usage.
The physical traits of Caucasoid crania are still recognised as distinct (in contrast to Mongoloid and Negroid races) within modern forensic anthropology. A Caucasoid skull is identified, with an accuracy of up to 95%, by the following features:
Other physical characteristics of Caucasoids include hair texture that varies from straight to curly, with wavy (cymotrichous) hair most typical on average according to Coon (1962), in contrast to the Negroid and Mongoloid races. Individual hairs are also rarely as sparsely distributed and coarse as found in Mongoloids.
Skin color amongst Caucasoids ranges greatly from pale, reddish-white, olive, through to dark brown tones.
Conceived as one of the great races, alongside Mongoloid and Negroid, it was taken to consist of a number of "subraces". The Caucasoid peoples were usually divided in three groups on linguistic grounds, termed Aryan (Indo-European), Semitic (Semitic languages), and Hamitic (Hamitic languages i.e. Berber-Cushitic-Egyptian).
19th century classifications of the peoples of India considered the Dravidians of non-Caucasoid stock as Australoid or a separate Dravida race, and assumed a gradient of miscegenation of high-caste Caucasoid Aryans and indigenous Dravidians. In his 1939 The Races of Europe, Carleton S. Coon thus described the Veddoid race as "possess[ing] an obvious relationship with the aborigines of Australia, and possibly a less patent one with the Negritos" and as "the most important element in the Dravidian-speaking population of southern India". In his later The Living Races of Man (1965), Coon considerably amended his views, acknowledging that "India is the easternmost outpost of the Caucasoid racial region". However, he still recognized an Australoid substrate throughout the subcontinent, writing that "the earliest peoples who have left recognizable survivors were both Caucasoid and Australoid food gatherers. Some of the survivors are largely Caucasoid; others are largely Australoid."
There was no universal consensus of the validity of the "Caucasoid" grouping within those who attempted to categorize human variation. Thomas Henry Huxley in 1870 wrote that the "absurd denomination of 'Caucasian'" was in fact a conflation of his Xanthochroi and Melanochroi types.
In 1920, H. G. Wells referred to the Mediterranean race as the Iberian race. He regarded it as a fourth sub-race of the Caucasoid race, along with the Aryan, Semitic, and Hamitic sub-races. He stated that the main ethnic group that most purely represented the racial stock of the Iberian race was the Basques, and that the Basques were the descendants of the Cro-Magnons.
Over the European and Mediterranean area and western Asia there are, and have been for many thousand years, white peoples usually called the Caucasians, subdivided into two or three subdivisions, the northern blonds or Nordic race, an alleged intermediate race about which many authorities are doubtful, the so-called Alpine race and the southern dark whites, the Mediterranean or Iberian race.
Physical anthropologists generally consider the Cro-Magnons, who emerged during the Upper Paleolithic, as the earliest or prototype representatives of the Caucasoid race. In a study of Cro-Magnon crania, Jantz and Owsley (2003) have noted that: "Upper Paleolithic crania are, for the most part, larger and more generalized versions of recent Europeans."
William Howells (1997) has pointed out that Cro-Magnons were Caucasoid based on their cranial traits:
... the Cro-Magnons were already racially European, i.e., Caucasoid. This has always been accepted because of the general appearance of the skulls: straight faces, narrow noses, and so forth. It is also possible to test this arithmetically. ... Except for Predmosti 4, which is distant from every present and past population, all of these skulls show themselves to be closer to "Europeans" than to other peoples — Mladec and Abri Pataud comfortably so, the other two much more remotely.
Proponents of the multiregional origin of modern humans argue that Caucasoid traits emerged prior to the Cro-Magnons, and are present in the Skhul and Qafzeh hominids or in the Neanderthals. Carleton Coon (1962), for example, considered the Skhul IV specimen as a proto-Caucasoid. He further argued that the Caucasoid race is of dual origin, consisting of Upper Paleolithic types (mixture of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals) and Mediterranean types (purely Homo sapiens).
In the medical sciences, where response to pharmaceuticals and other treatment can vary dramatically based on ethnicity, there is great debate as to whether racial categorizations as broad as Caucasian are medically valid. Several journals (e.g., Nature Genetics, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, and the British Medical Journal) have issued guidelines stating that researchers should carefully define their populations, and avoid broad-based social constructions—because these categories would more likely measure differences in socioeconomic class and access to medical treatment that disproportionately affect minority groups, rather than racial differences. Nevertheless, there are journals (e.g. the Journal of Gastroentorology and Hepatology and Kidney International) that continue to use racial categories such as Caucasian.
In the United States, the term "Caucasoid" is used in disciplines such as anthropology, craniometry, epidemiology, forensic medicine and forensic archaeology. It is also sometimes associated with notions of racial typology.
Besides its use in anthropology and related fields, the term "Caucasian" has often been used in the United States in a different, social context to describe a group commonly called "White people". "White" also appears as a self-reporting entry in the U.S. Census. Between 1917 and 1965, immigration to the United States was restricted by a national origins quota. The Supreme Court in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923) decided that Asian Indians were ineligible for citizenship because, though deemed "Caucasian" anthropologically, they were not white like European descendants since most laypeople did not consider them white people. This represented a change from the court's earlier decision Ozawa v. United States, wherein it had declared skin colour irrelevant in determining whether or not a person could be classified as "white" and instead emphasized ancestry. In 1946, the U.S. Congress passed a new law establishing a small immigration quota for Indians, which also permitted them to become citizens. Major changes to immigration law, however, only later came in 1965, when many earlier racial restrictions on immigration were lifted. This is where the confusion on whether American Hispanics are included as "white" comes from, as some American Hispanics are European in descent, while others are of mixed racial origins. In other countries, the term Hispanic is not nearly as associated with race, but with the Spanish language, and cultural affiliation.
The United States National Library of Medicine often used the term "Caucasian" as a race in the past. However, it later discontinued such usage in favor of the more narrow geographical term "European", which traditionally only applied to a subset of Caucasoids.