Caucasian is a Dirty Word.

I read it on forms. I hear it conversation. And most annoying of all, people refer to me as such. I’m talking about the word Caucasian.

Sure we’re all trying to be PC when we invoke the formal racial title for a group of people we absolutely must designate. African American for blacks, Asian American for Asians, etc. But a history of struggle and racism called for such designators and more importantly, such designators as chosen by the people in question. It only follows that when making racial proclamations where you wish to include white folks, your brain will pause a moment to search for the nice formal self-designated word for whitey. Unfortunately, the word that comes up is Caucasian.

But where did that word come from and how did it rise to the lofty position of designated the white race as a whole? Some might be surprised to know, that like most racial designators, the history of the word Caucasian is racist, inaccurate and flawed. I’m writing this in order to bring light to this dirty word and hopefully work to remove it from our politically correct vocabulary.

Where is Caucasia?

I asked that same question when I was a wee lad first trying to divide my world into discrete boxes. Turns out, there really is a Caucasia. According to the mighty wikipedia this region is interesting for the following reasons:

  • It’s considered the “border” between Europe and Asia
  • Not surprisingly, the peoples and languages are extremely diverse
  • Noah’s Arc mythically landed in the Caucasus Mountains
  • Some human skulls were found there.

It’s that last point where we start. Popularized by a Joseph Friedrich Blumenbach, these Caucasian skulls were considered so modern (in the anthropological sense) and so well-formed that they must be the ancestors of the white race. Blumenbach goes on to compare them to the skulls of the pure and beautiful German race and even gives us an insight to his Georgian fetish:

[These skulls] 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 (birth place) of mankind.

By “mankind” Blumenbach of course meant white people who were tainted along the way to produce the other, inferior races. Please see the summary on wikipedia for Caucasian race for more hilarity.

White Chicks are Hot

There are several things working together to contribute to the racial designator Caucasian. First you obviously have the erroneous and egocentric claim that not only is the white race superior in beauty, intelligence and culture, but also that it’s the oldest. News flash: it’s not and I’ve seen plenty of ugly “pure” white people.

Second, since the cranial features defined as Caucasian happen to also be found in many dark-skinned and decidedly non-European peoples (North Africans, West Asians and Indians), the science of morphology had to be tempered with some good ol’ racist explanations of impurity and the added “fact” that Caucasians’ natural skin color is white. A fact that cannot possibly be construed from a naked skull, but who’s really paying attention, right?

Third, as it may already be clear, the racial designator of Caucasian has less to do with science as it does with European requirements to justify imperialism through racial superiority and stewardship. Recognizing this, the use of Caucasian to mean white people in Europe is no longer preferred. It does, however, live on in the United States through legal precedent.

The Story of Bhagat Singh Thind

Bhagat Singh Thind was a Punjabi immigrant working his way through school in an Oregon lumber yard in the early 20th century. He fought in WWI and after his discharge, Thind applied for U.S. citizenship in 1920. Turned out several Indians had been granted citizenship before, but in Thind’s case a disgruntled naturalization examiner appealed the decision.

After a long legal battle, it was decided that Indians are not considered white persons using the famous “they just look different” argument.

This decision was important in cementing the American notion that white and Caucasian are one and the same. Justice Sutherland rejected the historical and anthropological reasoning (as flawed as they be) that included South Asians into the Caucasian fold and Thind was not white because he didn’t look white. Ipso facto, Caucasian began to mean exclusively white in further legal and demographic instances.

Caucasian is a Dirty Word

No matter how you slice it, the word Caucasian to denote white people is racist and inaccurate. From a physical anthropology perspective, Caucasians are currently defined by a diverse range of people, most of whom are not European; and before that it was used to denote a perfect race of white people. From a sociological standpoint, Americans are really the only people who use the word to denote whites due to a particularly faulty legal precedent. Perhaps most important is that we do not need a formal word to denote white people.

African American, Asian American, Latino American and everything in between, came out of ethnic movements and struggle. The people in question — long given names by the controlling white population —decided it was time to give themselves a name. That history of struggle is not apparent with whites and in fact a history of assimilation and quite literally “white washing” makes up the culture of white America. Whether we can make claims to European ancestry is often rendered moot when considering the race politics of this country. Each European ethnic group had its period of struggle in America, this is true, but the ultimate goal was to be considered white. The Irish, Italians and Jews have all gained access by assimilation.

Why create another name in light of this peculiar history of whites in America ? The reason for this underlying need to be associated with a white race is the larger theme of this blog and it only starts here. But the fact of the matter is Caucasian is an improper and offensive word that shouldn’t be used to denote white people. White people, white folks and whites, are all accepted names for the people I identify with and while I find it charming and polite that some folks use the word Caucasian in formal speech on race topics, the dirtiness of the word irks me each and every time I hear it. Please strike it from your vocabulary.

64 thoughts on “Caucasian is a Dirty Word.

  1. Pingback: turkeydinner! » Blog Archive » Caucasian is a Dirty Word

    • Interesting. I never really thought of this before. I definitely think that race is a social construct. I have fairly light skin, and am often branded as white, but I identify as Latina or mixed. (Not all hispanics have dark tans, people!) I usually call black people dark-skinned (which can also go for people of other ethnicities who happen to have darker skin coloring. Often, you can’t really tell a person’s race or what they want to be called.) when describing them. Because in the end, I only really use race to describe people. If somebody wants to know which girl named Sarah I’m referring to, I might say the darker-skinned one, as opposed to the tan one or the one with really light skin. Instead of talking about race and telling people what race they are and labeling them, race is something that should always be self-labeled (like on exams and forms), and if you’re describing somebody, describe how they look. Not what race you think they are. Not what ethnicity they seem like they are. I’m not white. I’m not Italian-American, contrary to what most of my peers assume. I have lightly-tanned skin. I have dark curly hair. I wear glasses. I’m kinda short. Tell people I’m that. Not that I’m white. Not that you think I’m Italian/whatever ethnicity you think I am. I’m not that. It’s great that people have been working against the misgendering of transpeople, fighting heteronormativity and the assumption that everyone is straight, etc, but racial/ethnic mislabeling should definitely be something that people need to be fighting against.

      • What astute observations! I love hearing (or reading) others’ perspectives on such matters.

        I once worked with an immigrant from an African nation (I forget which as it’s been a while), and to perhaps cement your point of allowing race to be self-labeled, he hated being called African-American. His exact words were something like, “I’m African, not American! I moved here from Africa; I wasn’t born here!”

        He made the same argument in favor of Caribbean Islanders: Just because someone is of eventual African descent, and happens to live in the United States, does not make that person an African-American. I’ve met plenty of people who identify as Jamaican, or Haitian, etc., but certainly not as African.

  2. Dear friends, I am so please to stumble on your blog! I am currently taking a graduate Survey of Human Resource Development class at the University of Minnesota and a few weeks back the instructor spent 30 minutes lecturing to the class about how caucasian is “the correct” term to use for people who identify as white. I continue to be upset about this for a variety of reasons – first, this is an assistant professor at a PUBLIC university, and this is just simple wrong. I do not self-identify as caucasian – that is a biological construct – didn’t we stop using that word about the same time mongoloid was no longer used? I think that my whiteness is socially constructed NOT biologically defined, please help me understand why this instructor insisted on using caucasian, why? Is this true?

  3. Hey I went to public schools! We’re not all bad 😉

    I think my essay should give you enough ammunition as to why we, especially Americans, continue to use the word.

    But as to why your instructor insists on the word I can’t really say. But I will say that a lot of white folks are on the defensive against people of color’s social movements to correct the racist wrongs of the past. These folks are not necessarily racist themselves, but merely do not understand the complexity and difference of being white in America versus being anything else. I know this, because I used to be one of those white folks.

    The extreme case are white people who feel the need to fight back against “the minorities” and create PC names for themselves. But the more common association is not to back lash against anyone, but to be put forth the argument of equality. “If they have a special name, I want one too, it’s only fair.” What these folks don’t know is that it isn’t fair. The basic fact of the matter is that the history of whites versus people of color in this country and by extension, the world, is so fundamentally different that the wounded white person often just doesn’t understand. The colorblind myth and the distracting celebration of an essential “multiculturalism” work to obfuscate the very real history and present of racism that works to oppress and manipulate.

    As I’ve stated in this essay, there is no reason why Caucasian should be the “official” word for whites, when whites have worked so hard to become “just white.”

    For more on whiteness and whiteness studies and how it all became that way, I recommend starting with White Out edited by Ashley W. Doane and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva.

    Hope that helps.

    • You all seem to mistakenly think that Caucasian means “white”, which it does NOT mean. It is NOT racist in any way! According to The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition, here is the correct definition of “Caucasian”: a racial classification, traditionally distinguished by very light to brown skin pigmentation and straight to wavy or curly hair and including peoples indigenous to Europe, northern Africa, western Asia, and India.; of or relating to the Caucasus region. This does not seem to be taught today and I think by teaching erroneously that this means “white” is being done to divide us as a nation. The real, true definition does not put whites off in a group by themselves. Julie Scharfe

      • Please read the damn essay. I swear, I’m going to stop approving comments from people who haven’t read the essay.

        If you read it, you’d know where the actual origins of the word and how, yes, it is in fact, used to mean white. Where do you think dictionary definitions come from? Do you just read it and assume it must be arbitrary fact? The one you cite is more about how the scientific community uses it, but it’s not how it’s legally used and socially used. Of course you’d know that if you read the essay.

        This is the last such comment, I’m allowing…

  4. The word “Caucasian” is in fact racist. The politically correct term to use for Americans of European heritage is “European-American.” As a European-American myself, I get offended when people call me “Caucasian.” Is it okay to call African-Americans “Negro” nowadays? No, it is not. So do not call European-Americans “Caucasian.” The terms “Negro” and “Caucasian” are racist terms. They are outdated terms. Be politically correct and not racist. Call us “European-Americans.” We are Americans of European ancestry, just as African-Americans are Americans of African ancestry, and Asian-Americans are Americans of Asian ancestry, etc. Just as African-Americans, Asian-Americans, etc. have a heritage to be proud of, so do us European-Americans. Our ancestors came from Europe. We are European-Americans. Say “no” to the racist term of “Caucasian.” Call us “European-Americans.” Thank you.

  5. Thank you so much for everything everyone here has said. I’ve been appalled at that word Caucasian. I also can not stand the notion of being PC. To me giving anyone a PC name is racism. This divides people and seems to stir the pot even more. When you try to correct what appears not to be PC you bring up an issue that probably was never meant to be racist. What do we do about this. How do our voices get heard. I now check other on forms and comment on the multiple nationalities I am. Each listed. Will there eventually be a check for Mutt. Just kidding. We can still be proud of heritage and instead of individual titles, why can’t we just go back to asking what nationality are you or where did your family originate, and stop being so offended when something isn’t PC. If someone says something that offends us, we just have to think it wasn’t meant that way or the person was just ignorant. In the end aren’t we all Americans. Thanks

  6. Thank you so much for this post! I think the use of the term caucasian takes away from the rich diversity of a person’s ancestry, just like negro takes away from an african-american’s ancestry. People should use the terms european-american, irish, south asian-american… I hate identifying myself as a caucasian instead of recognizing my heritage! We should push to change this.

  7. Interesting post. Calling someone of European descent a European-American is rather silly. As many African-Americans are of European descent as well so is it feasible for an African American to designate him or herself a European American?

  8. Everyone in the world is of mixed race, and if you go back far enough, you will find ancestors of differing ethnicity to you.

    However, unless your parents are of different races you will probably have a dominant physical features of a particular race, and you can call yourself of African, Asian, Native American, European origin, or whatever you are ethnically. If you are mixed race, you can call yourself mixed race and elaborate if you wish.

    Maylin, it’s not ridiculous for white Americans to call themselves European Americans, because if someone is white then the only place on earth where white people are indiginous (ie come from) is Europe. In the same way, that the only place on earth black people are indiginous is Africa.

    I am ethnically European. Whenever I have to fill in a form that includes my ethnicity I am very annoyed. I either have to tick a box called “Caucasian” which I think is a ludicrous and meaningless term. Or I have to tick the box “white”, which is inaccurate as no one, apart from European corpses, has white skin.

    It makes much more sense to ignore all the negative connotations that words which refer to skin colour have, and simply refer to people’s ethnicity by the native continent of their ancestors.

    If we’re doing this already for one race, why not do it for all? By continuing to refer to ethnic Europeans as “Caucasian” you make a mockery of all the progress we’ve made with racial terms.

    Caucasian is a racist term. Ban it.

  9. I totally agree that “Caucasian” is inaccurate. I wonder why, on every tv crime show, when they identify someone by fingerprint, up on the computer screen comes (for a white person) either C, Caucasian, or WHITE! Anytime the person is black, it is only AFRICAN AMERICAN. There are very dark skinned people from far away places (India, Aboriginal Australians,etc). I don’t get it!

  10. I’m of German extraction and I prefer the term “Kraut Baby Killer”.

    Seriously, when I have to check a box and my choices are “Caucasian” or “other”; call me other. Caucasian is a scientific term that went out with the words Negroid and Mongloid. Chuck it.

    My heritage does not include the Caucasus Mountains.

    I liked “Euro-American” for a bit but damn it, do we all have to have a hyphen? Can’t we just be Americans? Why does it matter?

  11. Although it is not polite to assert certain language to individuals based upon their unchosen color and equally to white people it seems to always elude white country bumkins that 99% of all serial killers are of white origin, 2/3Rd’s of the earths mass has been unfairly conquered by white folks usually though sadistic actions, notably the United States, Canada, and parts of Mexico, including and not limited to the entire continent of Australia, parts of south Africa, New Zealand, and at a period of time in history most of the country of India, and many more countries, and including some Islands like Hawaii. I currently reside in Native housing in the State of Oklahoma and it also seems to elude white folks that although Oklahoma as a state was the last home for Native Americans most of the Indian tribes ranging within 50 to 100 Indian Tribes in Oklahoma alone are mostly whites, showing once again history repeats itself. Much amusingly like the country and western song says “A country boy can do anything, so a country boy will survive” An intentionally racially directed song. Let’s not forget the European influence upon the Jewish population, the white influence upon the Slavic people’s when the Vikings slowly invaded and conquered the entire continent of Russia giving way to the death of millions of peoples through sadistic actions, and not to forget 300 years of slavery laws in the United States where African blacks were subject to be sold to the highest European bidder in public forums. And so, What are whites asking for?

    • I cannot believe people are so obsessed about words. Word meanings evolve; just because a word ONCE had so-called racist connotations doesn’t mean it does now. The F word was once perfectly acceptable when talking about animal reproduction; When I was a teenager, NO ONE said the F word; it crept into our vocabulary and now, appears to be just fine. F you. The word shit was once perfectly acceptable when describing the physical function. I was taught to NEVER use ugly words like the N word (like we don’t all know what we’re saying), or call Jews or Catholics or anyone by a derogatory term. No one was upset by the word Negro. But it turned bad; we went to People of Color (but God forbid you said Colored People); that got phased out and we had Afro-American; now it’s African American, like Obama, only his mother was white. Hmmm. I guess she doesn’t count. Why don’t we all just get a little deeper than words…. why don’t we just be people; if you’re all so in love with your “heritage” why not buy a ticket and go live wherever that is. I’ve never heard of an American Black who decided to go live in a tribe in Africa. White people are not white; blacks are not black. Get a color wheel.

      • Contexts change and words change. With blacks and the use of the various forms of the “N” word, wasn’t so much the word itself, but rather who was doing the name: whites. “African American” was a word chosen by the people in question as I wrote in this essay above.

        While I applaud your optimism, it’s just not yet a reality.

        And actually Liberia was founded by former American black slaves.

    • (I realise this is an old comment, but I must correct at least some of the mistakes lest I lose my mind, seriously)
      “the white influence upon the Slavic people’s when the Vikings slowly invaded and conquered the entire continent of Russia (…)”
      1. Slavic people are white. What you mean by incorrectly using the term “white” here is “Germanic”. Vikings = Germanic, Slavic people = not Germanic, but both WHITE, by all historical and current definitions of the term.
      2. Continent of Russia? Since when is Russia a continent? Also, The Vikings never invaded the entire territory of Russia. An also, Slavic people live and have lived for centuries in many territories other than Russia, including territories that ‘Vikings’ have never set a foot in. The influence of Vikings (you probably mean Scandinavians here, right?) on Slavic peoples was minimal. (It doesn’t take much research to find out that to the contrary, the Scandinavian settlers of Slavic territories were assimilated into the local communities)
      I’m afraid I must question your education, I don’t think you have any idea what you are talking about at all, at least as regards Europe. I’m serious, those are such basic mistakes I assume you are not a European (= living in Europe) person and thus shouldn’t speak about our peoples and history unless you actually educate yourself first. I’m sorry but you just sound extremely ignorant.

  12. Seriously?….it did not need to go there. This essay is simply about the dated use of the word “caucasian”. It was not about what whites want or what whites are asking for. Ridiculous.
    A dear friend of mine (who is of hispanic descent) was telling me that she sometimes feels weird calling people “white” or “black”. She said she would call a white person “caucasian” because she thinks it’s more PC. I told her the origin of that word and she was extrememly suprised to hear it. I told her that calling us white-folk “white” is just fine.
    Great essay by the way! Very informative and well written!

  13. I hope I’m not going to sound simple by asking this question. I have had no luck aquiring the answer from anyone in the UK where I live and I have read the comments and now have a little understanding but my question still remains. In the Oxford English Dictionary in the UK the word Caucasian’s meaning is a description of White skinned of european origin which is not described or deemed derogatory or racist in the book but the words nigger coon & paki in the same book, are described as racist & derogatory. In England white people can’t be called caucasian by law because its racist, so
    Does that make the Oxford English Dictionary (worlds most trusted) wrong or racist? Are British people not of european origin? Can u see the confusion? I apologise if I’m showing ignorance on this matter.

    • Ms Gee, I didn’t know that the word Caucasian is actually considered racist in the UK, interesting! But I think the OED is attempting to provide a “scientific” definition of the word, which, to this day unfortunately is still used (although, it includes South Asians “pakis” and Arabs and other folk! since it’s based on skull facial structure rather than skin color). Dictionaries are great, but they are often not scientific and rarely updated in that way. However, I wonder if you look up the word “Negro” or “Mongoloid” and come up with a “scientific” definition. Sure, they are not nice to call people these things, but they are, in a sense, academic words.

      My argument with this essay is more about how I want to point out that the origin of the word caucasian has racist reasons and yet is still commonly used in a scientific and academic way, which is weird given the fact that it’s not even that accurate or scientific!

  14. The word Mongol, not mongoloid appears in the UK OED as 1. a person from Mongolia and 2. a person with Down’s Syndrome. Both of which are derivatives of the word mongolism. The latter two can be seen as offensive according to the book. The word Negroid does not appear but Negress and Negro does stating “a member of a dark skinned group of peoples that originate in Africa”. OED advocates that the word black should be used instead so not to cause offence. The word Caucasian does not say anything about it being offensive at all. It breaks the word into two groups 1.Relating to a division of humankind covering peoples from Europe, western Asia, part of India and North Africa and 2. white skinned of European origin. Most people of colour in the UK would, if looking for a more mature name for white people would use Caucasian thinking it fine, without the knowledge that this would cause offence to some and not realising that it is now deemed racist for a person of colour to use by British Law. Paki is a derogatory name for Pakistani’s as I understand (coming from UK)& does not enclude Arabs although most people of that hue (whatever shade)& their language/accent could possibly be tarred with the same brush no matter where they came from just as Africans, African Caribbeans & African Americans would be tarred with the nigger label. I have a mixed family here in the UK, both black and white & my white relatives see nothing wrong with being called a Caucasian because it is seen by them as a discriptive not racist word. It is the only real word that has been used to discribe white people, the only other I know to be is “honkey”, but that word does not exist in the OED. I do however take your point that there are some white people who find this word unacceptable, but unless is it is made very clear to all, just like the words nigger,paki & coon, is it not more likely that caucasian will still continue to be used regardless? Majority Black & Asians find those name offensive but the same cannot be said for whites about the word caucasian. Please set me straight if im wrong or have misunderstood.

  15. Just to add further
    Could it not be seen as Caucasian of lets say Irish decent or Caucasian of Italian decent, Dutch, etc. Caucasian is of white skinned as well as what you have explained. Just like black people are African-American, African Caribbean and Africans that can be seen of African decent as a whole or/and can break it down to where their immediate or grandparents came from. Asians enclude Indians, pakistani’s Bengali’s etc. Mediteranians, Greek and Cypriot decent. Lets say for example: ive seen white Jamaicans so would they not be caucasian Jamaicans of whatever (maybe Jamaican) decent?

    • This essay is arguing that yes, not many really finds the word “caucasian” offensive, but that maybe they should given its racist history and inaccurate applications. Secondly, I argue that there is no need for a special academic name for whites, particularly in America, due essentially to white privilege; the politically correct names for people of color came about in their own particular contexts. The want for some whites to distinguish themselves in the same way is a bit moot, redundant and frankly unnecessary using the word caucasian or euroamerican or anything else for that matter.

      • But there are medical reasons! Different ethnicities have different risk factors for various diseases. It is important to know that ‘Caucasians’ and Asians have a high rate of osteoporosis, for example. Being either of those is a listed risk factor.

      • So Caucasians (being Europeans, Arabs, Indians, North Africans, Muslims, Central Asians, among many others) sounds like an really defined tern for risk factors, huh? 😉

        Also, check out those “risk” factors and tell me how medical science (or is it pharmaceutical money?) determines those risk factors as being relevant when they fall far short of 99 or even 95 percent confidence levels.

      • I was with you 80% up to this point. “Caucasian” does have a scientific meaning and I hadn’t known its racist origins until now, sothank you! I do know, though, that there is real evidence that Europeans, Indians, Parsis, et al came from the Caucasus region–evidence originating, as you pointed out, in skulls, but also language similarities (Ancient Greek and Ancient Sanskrit were mutually intelligible) and the ubiquity of cows and the eating of dairy in these cultures. I’m sure you wouldn’t take any beef with the fact that it is, despite its racist origins, a descriptive term, albeit an outdated one. What I hear most commonly, however, and this may be because I’m in linguistics, is Indo-European, which seems far more descriptive and much less racist.

        All that nonsense aside, here’s where I take issue: it is the normativity, the obviousness of “whiteness” that makes whiteness powerful and ensures privilege. In fact, media and cultural studies call this power exnomination. It is the very fact of white exnomination that requires the naming of whiteness in order to dispel the ridiculous idea that whiteness is normal. Naming every other ethnicity and not whites only further emphasizes this and grows the power of whiteness. It is for the eradication of white privilege that naming whiteness is necessary. Then again, white/whiteness seems to be doing me just fine.

        Final note to ms gee: dictionaries reflect the usages of words, not their hard-and-fact, unchanging “definition” (which doesn’t exist). The fact that not many people are aware of “Caucasian”‘s racist origins, therefore the racist origins are not part of the term’s usage, explains OED’s leaving out that part of the definition. (Caucasian may be a racist term, but it is not a slur like “negro” “n**ger” or “paki”) Also: lexicographers (those who write the dictionary) are not gods. They make mistakes.

  16. Why must we humans be such nitpickers!!! We are really all the same and the term is called: PEOPLE

    BTW: I find it so refreshing that you don’t have to register to comment. I guess I’m lazy or paranoid but I don’t want to give out all my personal info to make a random comment! I also realize that nobody will most likely read this comment. Anyway, my comment was only a catharsis and if anyone else feels like I do then they must also love Peter Frampton 🙂 like I do!

  17. Hey, this is a pretty good article here but it sort of smacks of racism against the White people. Especially when you said that we really don’t need a politically correct term for the White race. How do you come to that conclusion?
    If the media and government and all the powers that be have adopted these sort of terms for the other race other than White and you can write an article explaining to the world why Caucasian is a dirty word, then how can you conclude that we don’t need a new term for our race? Sounds like the same old double standard that the media is determined to continue to use.
    I believe European-American is the most appropriate term for the White race. No matter how much studying you do about anthropolgy and ethnics the bottom line is, all White people originated in Europe, as far as we can tell. If we rally believe in racial equality and fairness for all people we need to stop using all the references to the past and what White people did bad and just live for today and the future. We are not all guilty for what our ancestors did, eventhough our government still uses affirmative-action to to make us feel guilty. Get over that and work to abolish race based policies. Until then give the White people the same respect and consideration as the other races. Call us European-Americans. Comments are welcome. Even from racist or dumb asses.

    • I’m not sure you read the second to last paragraph where I clearly tell you why coming up with a “politically correct” name for “the white race” is unhelpful. There’s a power differential that is not a “double-standard” because that would imply all races are treated equally and they just aren’t!

      Learn about your own white privilege and what that actually means. Put way too simply, it’s the ability for white folks to have a liquid identity of white, caucasian, euro-american or just plain ol’ American. And yet, a person of color can’t as easily do that since some racist will be there to “put them in their place” because they don’t “look” American. Also see Arizona’s latest attempt to codify a racist America you seem to condone.

      • In response to what raaw said July 28 2010 at 3:00pm.

        THANK YOU! If you could just mass produce and distribute that beautiful synopsis of white privilege…well I don’t know, but it would be awesome.

        While race is a social construct, there are ramifications behind the construction, and as people, we are always going to want to classify each other whether its for geographic, political, geo-political, social, etc. reasons. Caucasian is definitely out, but because people grouping will never go away, “you” (any person) are white if you have never reflected about race until forced to as an outside perspective (and for some, this may be an entire lifetime). I feel like that’s kind of the bottom line. Everyone else gets to determine their own classification term.

        side note, I think it is really annoying when white people get all pissed off when black people prefer the term African American. It’s always, “well, I’m white, what’s the big deal? They’re not from Africa anymore” or “This is confusing for people who are 1st or 2nd generation immigrants from an African country.” To be able to even feel like you have a say in this sort of thing is kind of the epitome of white privilege. I would even argue that labeling whites as “white” in whatever frustration that might cause will maybe force us (yes, I’m white) to look at ourselves in relation to others. At least in this way, we will have to be ‘something’ and think about what that something is rather than being whatever we feel like whenever the spirit moves us. The latter being the driving force behind white privilege (as you said).
        Also, I’m thinking of the context of the US since the black/white history here is unique and has definitely shaped the ideas and feelings behind the terms we use.

  18. loved the post.. thanks gfor giving me insight. i am an “afrian american literaly.. father is from africa and my mother’s family idk where they originate from.. have to do a family tree… they are from a white man who claims to be indian -but everyone now says he is white italian.. geesshh my family is confused.. be cause his side of the family do not claim white at all.. my aunt chlarine says they aer not white they are african americans but when you look at the family.. they look white or maybe mixed with a little something like italian… n e ways… i will def. erase that word from my vocab.. didn’t know it could be so offensive! wow and i just made a whole post with the word caucasian all over it.. (it’s sociology class) i will def. post the link to your article on the my class discussion.. this should blow their minds!!!!

    • Thanks glad you found this essay informative on the racist and inaccurate origin of the word “caucasian”!

  19. Hi Everyone, all great comments. I commented in
    06/08. Question, how many generations have to go by before you just American. My grandfather came from England, his father from Ireland. I’m second generation on my paternal grandfathers side, no idea about my other grandparents. It’s just an example. What if your “white” born in Africa and previous genertions were also born there and now an american. What are you. What if you are mixed nationalities. Which do you pick. I know these questions really don’t have to be answered, just curios

  20. It’s good to see that people are talking about this. The problem is that you won’t hear it being discussed on the news. Until it is brought out things will just continue the way they are. White people will be fair game for discrimination through Affirmative-Action. In the name of stamping out racism we are victims of racism. It’s gone on for 40 years now.
    California ended it’s race based policies a few years ago but I believe it’s still subject to Affirmative-Action policies on a federal level. We must speak out against this if we ever want to see our people free. There are probably Black people or other races seeing this and laughing or saying what crock of crap but the truth is the truth. We, the White race are the only ethnic group of people here in American, in this great land of freedom who are still legally discriminated against. Even if it’s with good intentions to minorities that doesn’t make it fair. As it stands right now, every person who is born White is branded guilty for the injustices of the past and eventhought they had nothing to do with the days of segregation they are still seen as guilty and subject to the legalized discrimination called Affirmative-Action. If you’ve a White male you’re even doubly discriminated against. How do you folks feel about this?
    If it bothers you then speak out against it. That’s the only way it will change. The government, the media and big business will not do it voluntarily.

    Call or e-mail NPR,CNN,Fox,NBC,CBS,ABC,USA Today,AP or any media outlet you can think of and let them know that it’s time for a change.

    Demand that they start calling White people European-Americans and give us the same consideration they give the other races. That’s the first step in having White people recognized as a people who actually deserve to be listened to. Right now they think we only exist to be accused of racism and to point out how horrible we used to treat the minorities and we must do more to make them feel better. I’m sorry, I was 4 years old when the passed the civil rights act in the 1965 so I’m not guilty of anything.
    Tell ’em about it, White people. More to come.

    Let’s have some real intelligent debate about this. All you folks who post these one liners on here, do some research on this and you’ll understand why everybody is classified by race. It’s the liberal do gooderes who demand it so the minorities can get their fair share, even if it means knocking White people back to make room for them. It’s mandated that way. Check it out.

    • You obviously haven’t read the essay closely and you don’t understand how white privilege and how race in America works. I know you think you know what you’re talking about but you don’t and frankly, I’m tired of people using the popularity of this article to bolster their own racist fears so I’m outing you as just another ignorant fearful racist.

      Study up and maybe even read the essay. You’ll see in the second to last paragraph how clearly there is no need and it really doesn’t make any sense to call white Americans “European-Americans” especially since some of your blessed European-Americans were historically seen as not white and were actually oppressed and legally discriminated against, that is, until, some other scapegoat came along to hang white fears on…

  21. 1) I don’t like being told which words I can’t use. The fact that someone used a word in a derogatory manner 200 years ago shouldn’t mean I have to change my vocabulary.

    2) Loads of words are used to mean things that they originally did not. As long as people know what you mean it’s fine.

    3) “Why do we need a word at all, we’re all PEOPLE”. Well I have red hair but I don’t want the police describing it as red, it’s all HAIR.

    • The essay is about how from the very get-go, the word Caucasian is racist and misleading and the BECAME a technical (and benign term). You should read the essay. It would be nice to sit back and realize that we are all just “people” but there are far too many people in this world who don’t believe that and this blog and this essay are meant to show how pervasive racism is, even in the technical words we use.

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  23. Historically, many whites probably did originate in the Caucasus and then moved into Europe along the Danube and Rhine following the end of the last ice age. Thus the Causcasus is in many respects the starting point for European culture.

    However, Europeans may well have come from other areas to, and Europeans also have some Neanderthal blood from other parts of Europe, so Causcasian is an overly specific name for white people.

    • Sorry, but it was folks like Blumenbach who thought Europeans (whites) came from the Caucasus region and only used morphology to determine that. There isn’t much evidence at all that any “race” first developed anywhere, except the bulk of the human race was derived from a stock that left Africa 150-200,000 years ago.

  24. How come medical researchers still use the c** word? You see it all the time in medical journals. Or is it one of those words like vag**a and pe***s where it is improper to use those nasty words outside of a medical setting? Are medical researchers unable to understand the history of the c* word?

    • Because it’s still very much accepted as a technical and medical term in medicine, research and by the police. It’s important to note that at almost all times it has proven inaccurate and misleading even in these uses. They are one of the reasons I wrote this essay in order to jar the term loose as misleading and unscientifically founded.

  25. So what word would you use to specifically describe white-but-not-aryan? I’ve never heard of anyone using the word Caucasian to describe white people in general, that’s just not what the word means.

    Of course the history of the word is as grossly inaccurate as “antisemitism” but it’s not etymology that defines what a word means.

  26. Reply

    JUlie Scharfe said
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    May 1, 2011 at 4:32 pm

    You all seem to mistakenly think that Caucasian means “white”, which it does NOT mean. It is NOT racist in any way! According to The American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition, here is the correct definition of “Caucasian”: a racial classification, traditionally distinguished by very light to brown skin pigmentation and straight to wavy or curly hair and including peoples indigenous to Europe, northern Africa, western Asia, and India.; of or relating to the Caucasus region. This does not seem to be taught today and I think by teaching erroneously that this means “white” is being done to divide us as a nation. The real, true definition does not put whites off in a group by themselves. Julie Scharfe

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  28. I am from Russia and the American use of “Caucasian” as “White” always puzzled me mainly because Russian neo-nazis do not consider Muslim Caucasian (actual Caucasian!) people like Chechens or Dagestanis “white” at all. More “imperial” of Russian nazis are willing to compromise on Christian Caucasians, though.

    And now I learn that it’s based on weird race theories of 18-19th centuries. Huh.

  29. Oh man… I see from the comments that this (very good!) article was completely misunderstood by some (most?) people.
    What I get is that the term Caucasian is not racist against, you now, white people. Correct me if I’m wrong but I think you meant that the word was BORN out of racism, out of some white-supremacism which proposed some special value to the white race. The person who made up the term Caucasian didn’t mean to offend the white people, and it’s use nowadays is not offensive to white people – it’s offensive to our current understanding of race and ethnicity in general! It’s offensive to science, and it’s offensive to POC because the term Caucasian was invented by a guy who considered those he deemed “Caucasian” as better than everybody else. It’s a ridiculous term and I’m surprised it is still used in the English language. “Aryan” is no longer used/accepted, so why use “Caucasian”?
    When I first came across this word on the internet, I didn’t know what it mean and genuinely thought “why on earth are they discussing people of the Caucasus here?…”. For a non-English speaking person it’s a completely irrational and confusing word.
    While this word is so problematic, I’ve never seen anyone get offended by being called ‘white’, so why this falsely PC word?
    I sincerely hope this terminology stemming from racist pseudo-science will stop being used in English.

  30. wow i had no idea that the word caucasian was considered derogitory. I have used this word many times to describe a person who is of mainly european descent. Now, after reading this essay this is not a word that I will contuinue using. I suppose it would be the same as using nigger to describe a person of color and midget to desribe a little person. I am happy to have read this essay. I will be more careful from now on in how i describe people.

    • Thanks for reading! But caucasian is not at all “offensive” in the way you describe it to most people. What I’m trying to say is more that the origin of the word should make it as offensive and offensive to ALL races since it has that white-supremist origin.

  31. As a start, I really liked this essay, and fully support all of it. However, there is one thing I would add, though I am not sure if you’d necessarily agree. Figured I’d get your opinion on it:

    I saw one person comment ages ago that because Caucasian as it is used now is not meant in the way it did when first created allows it to be fair game in conversation. Essentially: the intent of the word currently is what matters, not its history.

    I’d have to disagree with this sentiment on the basis that using a word, even without any racist intent whatsoever, symbolically condones its origins. It ignores the years that people struggled under its oppressive nature, legally and socially. Continuing to use the word, even after being taught its history, is essentially saying that it wasn’t bad enough for us to have the minor inconvenience to stop using it now.

    Sure, most people don’t use the word in a racist way, and thus are not directly guilty of anything. I wouldn’t call someone who uses the word racist. But, to find out where the term comes from, and to continue using it would be like someone buying clothing from a store and finding out later that it was made in a sweat shop, then still continuing to buy from that store. (Maybe not the most apt comparison, but it was the best I could come up with right now).

    Thanks for reading!

  32. Because New Zealand is the grovelling 51st State of the American Empire the word ‘Caucasian’ has come in to use here, when we had a perfectly good work – Pakeha!
    I note that you blame ‘Europeans’ for the word and the racist concepts behind it – don’t.
    Europe and England had outlawed slavery, and fought the Nazis, long before the USA did.
    Don’t blame us for American racism.

    • I don’t “blame” Europeans. True, it was a European from the past that bent the word to imply a superior white European race but then I go on and explain how it was American courts who codified it.

  33. The term Caucasian meaning the so-called white or European race originated with Johann Frederich Blumenbach (1752-1840), a German professor of natural history in Göttingen. Blumenbach is arguably the founder of scientific anthropology. He viewed mankind as an object of natural history–an animal like any other, although superior to the rest. He surveyed characteristics of human races, mapped their distribution, and invented comparative physiological anatomy.

    While he observed many traits, he felt that the skull was the ultimate measure and indicator of race. Based on skull measurements, he classified five races: American, Caucasian, Ethiopian, Malayan, and Mongolian.

    He selected a skull from Georgia (the one next to Russia) that he thought was the ideal of the Caucasian race, so named because of the Caucasus mountains that form Georgia’s northern border. He thought that the Caucasus region was the home of a hypothetical race (for a time called Aryans, later Indo-Europeans), who many believe spoke a protolanguage from which many modern languages derive. By the way, the word “Caucasus” is from the Greek Kaukasos (Mt Caucasus), which gave the region its name.

    His views are no longer held, of course. But don’t get the wrong idea about Blumenbach. He viewed his work as purely scientific and vigorously attacked any political or social abuses of his race classifications. For instance, he is on record opposing the notion that blacks were a “lower level of humanity” than whites. The use of racial classifications as a political and social weapon to put down “lesser” races came from others.

    The word “Caucasian” is still sometimes used in popular terminology, but has no scientific meaning. Webster’s New 20th Century Dictionary says the word is used “in default of better” and defines it as “one of the main ethnic divisions of the human race: [including] Mediterranean, Alpine, and Nordic subdivisions . . . loosely called the white race.”


    • I really hate it when people don’t read my posts and then try to write it for me. Fill out some forms, Caucasian is still there.

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