Amateur Linguistics / Race/Ethnicity

White People: Caucasian? Caucasoid? Cockatoo?

Lately, I’ve been seeing an increase in the use of the word Caucasian as an erroneous catch-all for white people in general. Being part Caucasian myself (and three other kinds of white), this bothers me. It tells me that people don’t know who they are or where they come from, and have simply given up the idea of even trying to understand this part of themselves. It also tells me that for one reason or another, the use of the word “white” to describe any Caucasoid is becoming associated with bad things. My best guess is that it’s becoming increasingly about socioeconomic status, as “Caucasian” sounds more elite, academic, and upper-class; while “white” simply sounds like the language of a working class person with no post-secondary education. The problem, of course, is that there couldn’t be a greater display of ignorance than the persistent misuse of a word like Caucasian for the express purpose of coming off as sounding more intelligent.

Caucasoid

Caucasoid is a term used exclusively in the practice of forensic anthropology (as far as this blogger knows). So, what does that even mean? What is forensic anthropology, and what does this word Caucasoid mean?

Forensic anthropology is the scientific study of human bones, allowing for different practical applications such as the reconstruction of a person’s entire face, even long after all that remains of them is their bones. If partially or fully decomposed human remains are discovered in a field or forest, for example, a forensic anthropologist can create a 3-dimensional representation of what this person looked like, which may then be compared against missing persons reports at any time in a given area, thus allowing for the reopening and potential closure of what’s called a cold case (i.e., a missing persons or homicide case which has remained unsolved since the trail of evidence went “cold”).

In the case of human remains that are considered Caucasoid, the forensic anthropologist can make educated guesses about skin, eye, and hair colour, based first on general physical qualities shared among all white people, and then further refined by physical qualities shared among particular ethnic groups among white people. From there, educated guesses can be made about various other physical features such as the shape of a person’s nose and lips or how prominently their cheekbones would or would not appear. Caucasoids are differentiated from two other general classes of human beings, which are referred to as Mongoloids and Negroids. Both of these latter terms have been used to justify and promote heinous racisms, and Mongoloid in particular has been used to describe physical traits of people born with specific genetic defects causing considerable barriers in social and mental development. Caucasoid seems to be the only class of the three that has not been used to further social barriers against people of colour (this should hardly come as a surprise) or against people living with mental disabilities.

It is from the term Caucasoid that somehow, over enough time, Caucasian came into common use as a general descriptor of all white people (see also: erroneous use). Even a forensic anthropologist will be among the first to assert that, outside the study of human remains, the terminology and applications of forensic anthropology are both functionally useless and problematic in erasing significant human ethnic and cultural diversity. One of the biggest tragedies is that the science of identifying human remains and tracing the histories and origins of ancient peoples through the same has been repeatedly corrupted by desperate white supremacists seeking any way they can to definitively “prove”everyone else’s alleged inferiority. A tragedy of equal magnitude is how many people bought into it.

Caucasian

As mentioned earlier, Caucasian is an ethnicity. So if it’s not the entire race of all white people, then who is it? Where does it come from, and why is it ignorant to use it as a catch-all for white people?

Long ago, particular tribes of people lived for tens of thousands of years in the Caucasus mountains. If you’re not sure where that is, it’s right in the middle of what is now known as Eastern Europe and the very Western-most regions of the continent of Asia. Literally, it’s smack-dab between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Due to their relationship to this particular place in the world, those tribes became known as Caucasians. Here’s a link to a general Wikipedia entry on the modern-day descendants of the Caucasus peoples (and those who colonized them). And here’s one dealing with the enormous diversity of ethnic, cultural, and linguistic groups currently inhabiting the region. In other words, over the past two millennia, a lot more people than just the Caucasians have become the permanent inhabitants of the Caucasus peoples’ ancestral home lands. Some of those inhabitants include Turks, Persians, and Jews. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being Turkic, a Persian, or Jewish (I’m part Jewish), I simply point this out to draw attention to the fact that even the Caucasus peoples of today aren’t all white people.

White people as a collective have utterly enormous cultural and ethnic diversity, and by comparison, the diversity of ethnicities and cultures in the Caucasus region today really represents little more than a drop in the bucket. To continue with this analogy, Caucasian is but a single molecule of water in an entire sea of white ethnicities and cultures. For that matter, Caucasian is not even representative of the social construction of whiteness that dominates European and North American colonial culture. Caucasian literally could not be further removed, either racially or culturally, from the qualities of hegemonic white culture and white supremacy that defines dominant North American society, for to remove it any further would be to seek out the namesake or cultural heritage of an Asian or Middle Eastern (e.g., Aryan) clan of people. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so profoundly ignorant.

Cockatoo

Some cockatoos are white, but not all of them. Also, this word has no relation whatsoever to the subject of the rest of this post. You might have to find another blog if you’re looking for writing about parrots.

3 thoughts on “White People: Caucasian? Caucasoid? Cockatoo?

  1. Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:
    Again, whiteness of Chechens from a different political POV. I am part Jew as well, North-African Jew. When I am among Dutch full Jews, I am the swarthy guy.

  2. Pingback: Philosophy Dudebros, Boston, & Nazis » The Crommunist Manifesto

  3. Pingback: Philosophy Dudebros, Boston, & Nazis | Crommunist

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