The Surprisingly Racist History of “Caucasian” | Decoded | MTV News


Have you ever wondered
why we call white people “Caucasian”? The answer is surprisingly— heck, you know how
what this show is about! Most people know the definition
of Caucasian as “a white-skinned person
of European descent”. Right? Not really. Outside of America,
white people generally aren’t seen as Caucasian
at all. Why? Because almost every country has a different definition
for Caucasian: “a person
from the Caucasus region”. Which, in case you’re wondering,
is actually right over here, with parts of Russia, Georgia,
Armenia, Azerbaijan, and northern Turkey. So why has Caucasian
become synonymous with all white people? Well bucket
your seatbelts ‘cause things are about to get pretty racist. A century before
Hitler’s rise to power, there was another German man who believed white people
were the perfect race: Christoph Meiners, who was one of the earliest
adopters of “scientific racism”. Now hold on, because it’s about
to get really unscientific. Meiners believed
that Caucasians, A.K.A. the actual people from that region
between Russia and Turkey, had, quote, the “whitest,
most blooming, and most delicate skin”. In fact, he viewed
every non-Caucasian race as ugly, inferior, immoral,
and animal-like. He also believed people
from the Middle East and Asia had little intelligence and were predispositioned
to be evil. Then German scientist Johann Blumenbach added
to this emerging definition. Blumenbach believed that
the Caucasus region was home to the most beautiful race
of men: the people of Georgia. And what made the Georgian
people so beautiful? Well this creepy guy
had a huge collection of human skulls and, out of the 245, the Georgian skull
was his favorite. Did I mention
that he had a collection of 245 human skulls? So this weirdo, using
no science at all, decided that all of humanity
must have come from this region. Spoiler alert— we didn’t. He also decided
that all light-skinned people from Europe belonged
to the same race: Caucasian. Then he split the rest
of the world into four other races, which he referred to
as “degenerate forms of God’s original creation”. Sounds like a fun guy. Those other races were:
Mongolian, the “yellow” race; Malayan, the “brown” race; Ethiopian, the “black” race; and American, the “red” race. Blumenbach’s racial
classifications went on to be adopted
by the newly formed United States,
because of course it did. It helped our Founding Fathers
justify things like slavery and selective
immigration quotas. But that was
a long time ago, right? So why does the word
Caucasian persist while other old-timey categories like Mongoloid and Negroid
have disappeared? Well there seems to be
a few reasons that are a little intertwined. In America there’s a long
legal history of the word. The Supreme Court has actually
used Caucasian in 64 cases, including one
from 1928 that is key. During the 1920s,
only free whites, or Caucasians, were allowed
to become naturalized citizens. In 1928, Bhagat Singh Thind, an Indian man
who fought for the U.S. in World War I, tried to become a U.S. citizen by arguing
that many anthropologists defined Indians as Caucasians. After a major legal battle,
the Supreme Court decided that Caucasian really only
meant white Europeans. This decision legally codified
the modern American definition of Caucasian as “whites
with European ancestry”. Why else?
We don’t exactly know for sure, but one reason I think Caucasian
has likely stuck around is because of its power. Language is one of the most
systematic, subtle, and significant vehicles
for spreading racial ideology. And Caucasian implies
that white people are different from other racial groups
in America. It makes is seem
like white people are somehow connected in a way that’s not just based on
the pigmentation of their skin. It even sounds kinda scientific, even though it’s really,
really not. So were you surprised
by the history of the word Caucasian? Sound off in the comments below and we’ll see you next week
right here on Decoded. …like Marcus: he thought he was definitely
getting in because he was black. Nope, that’s just not
how affirmative action works. Even Marcus may as well have lit that 75 dollar
application fee on fire. And if you really want
to get upset, meet Bradley. He’s a legacy. Bradley got in
because his dad and grandpa both went to school here.

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