Lie #1: “Caucasian” is a Scientific Category

One of the ways racism is super-sneaky is that it provides terms we have come to assume are real, scientific, and factual, when really they are the stuff of legend and myth. In the 1700s, Johann Blumenbach coined the term Caucasian for “the White Race” as one of five subcategories of humans (the other four were: Malayan – The Brown Race, Ethiopian – The Black Race, Mongolian – The Yellow Race, and American – the Red Race, none of which we uphold as distinct racial categories today). He named the “white” race Caucasian because he felt the “most beautiful” skull in his human skull collection was from the Caucasus mountain range (“particularly its southern slope, which produces the most beautiful race of men” – J. Blumenbach), and thereby must represent his own people (he was German). The Caucasus Mountain Range, however, is in Azerbaijan and Armenia, places from which citizens would likely not even be considered “white” today: places that are nowhere near Europe or wherever “white” people are supposed to have originated.

When we use the term Caucasian, we are unwittingly upholding the white supremacy that Blumenbach promoted. We are also falsely suggesting that racial categories exist, which they do not. Our skin carries differing pigmentations depending on the intensity of sunlight wherever our ancestors settled. If they lived for generations somewhere in or near the equator, where sunlight is most intense (parts of Australia, Africa, India and South America), chances are good that their (and our) skin is darker in order to have better protected us from sunburn, skin cancers, etc.. If, however, our ancestors moved far from the equatorial band, they/we needed more vitamin D to penetrate our skin, and therefore our skin gradually lost its melanin in order to take in more sunlight. Skin color differs gradually by location, by distance from the equator – not by race. Think about it logically: if you were to walk from the tropics to the North pole, could you mark where people’s “race” suddenly changed? No – there would be a gradual change in the depth of color of residents’ skin. As Jay Smooth likes to say, “Race is a dance partner that was designed to trip us up.” For more information on this, please consider watching RACE: The Power of an Illusion, a PBS production which can be found on YouTube and Vimeo.


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