Saturday, April 25, 2009

Why White People Are Called 'Caucasian?'

Alone I sit with a cigarette lit and burning. Wondering what I've gotten myself into. I used google to locate the beginning of my research. I started by typing 'Caucasian American Studies' into the browser. Although the following article was not on the top page for this specific search, I kept scrolling until I discovered something from a prestigious and well respected university. Being that my goal is to eventually place this particular category of study into the college courses of America, I wanted to find a high ranking institutional learning facility. I stopped at page 4 on google search for 'Caucasian American Studies.' What I found was a humogous downloadable pdf file from Yale...

This is an excerpt from:

Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Gilder Lehrman Center International Conference at Yale University
Collective Degradation: Slavery and the Construction of Race November 7-8, 2003 Yale University New Haven, Connecticut

On first thought, the theme of collective degradation would seem to exclude white people, not only because white people are not now considered particularly degraded—at least, not as a race—and the themes of "slavery, resistance, and abolition" apply more intuitively to people of African rather than European descent. Even one of the classic texts in the history of whiteness, The Invention of the White Race, by Theodore W. Allen, associates slavery and race with black people. But as Allen realizes, the function of the general concept of race is to establish and maintain hierarchical boundaries in human taxonomy, even when the categories are not "black" and "white"; Allen, therefore, begins the first volume of his study with the case of the Irish. Sound as it is, Allen's Irish opening is relatively rare in race studies, which usually finger blackness compulsively. Blackness, however, is not my subject here; whiteness is. I address the issue of white people as "Caucasian" as a heuristic: usually the question is not asked, because whiteness has not been problematized as thoroughly as blackness. My question of why white people are called "Caucasian" and its answer belong to the relatively new field of whiteness studies, a field nowhere as developed as African-American studies, with its sophisticated literature on race, enriched by the scholars featured in this conference. Including the invention of "Caucasian" as the name of white people makes good sense in a conference dedicated to collective degradation, for the still current term "Caucasian" connects directly to collective degradation, in the form of the gendered, eastern slave trade, via the network of learned societies that so deeply influenced the history of science in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Before this essay turns to Göttingen in 1795 and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1762-1840), who is known for having invented the association, let me locate the Caucasus and its peoples.

Obviously the name "Caucasian" connects to the Caucasus, the 440,000 square kilometers of land separating the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The two ranges of the Caucasus Mountains cross the region running roughly east to west.
The northern, Caucasus range forms the natural border with Russia; the southern, lesser Caucasus forms the natural border with Turkey and Iran. Anthropologists classify the fifty Caucasian ethnic groups into three main categories: Caucasian, Indo-European, and Altaic. Among the Altaic peoples are the Kalmuck, whom Blumenbach and his colleagues considered an embodiment of ugliness. Circassian peoples and Georgians, famed for their beauty, also fall into the category of Caucasian people. Known to Westerners since prehistoric times, this geographically and ethnically complex area has been subject to numerous overlords and considerable confusion. They have sent slaves into Western Europe and Asia Minor since before the time of Herodotus. (continue reading article)

That is a story behind the origin of the meaning of Caucasian.
Here are more links to sites that offer more literal definitions of Caucasians:

* Wikipedia has their definition here.

* The Free Dictionary by Farlex has theirs here.

* SLATE has an article written by Derek Thompson on the origin behind the name for Caucasian people. Crediting Johann Friedrich Blumenbach with the late 18th century definition.

Inmagine has photographs of Caucasian people.
(Take a break from reading for a sec!)

Well...this is starting to get interesting already. I think it really makes a difference, depending on the attitude you have, when you decide to research something specific. Google will be my tool for now. It should be even more interesting when actual people start adding their research, too. I'm sure the discoveries will be worth it.
Until next entry...


  1. So after reading Painter's Yale essay, do you still agree with calling yourself/consider yourself Caucasian? What would be a more appropriate name?

  2. I find it funny you've slashed Caucasian/American as if they are interchangeable or synonymous.