This has been an extremely challenging week for me. My personal emotional response to the Zimmerman trial verdict has been severe; so much so that I have felt largely unable to communicate. As such, I am discussing neither the case nor my own responses to it here today. Suffice it to say, there is a river–indeed, a churning sea–within me that has been activated into a perfect storm that I feel only capable of discussing at low tide, perhaps through what Rilke once described as “blood-remembering.” I currently hold it contained, my body a glass jar of ocean, my snark a combatively tight lid, for fear my own insides overflow me to drowning.
Anyhow, enough esoteric nonsense.
Instead, I am posting today something that is short but highly relevant, and I am doing so as an academic public service. I have long intended to compose a dreary diatribe on the topic of this one seemingly innocuous word, but rather I aim to keep this short and sweet. ish.
As we move into (I hope I hope I hope ) more detailed and fruitful discussions about race as a result of recent events–the one positive result, in my opinion, of the tragic circumstances of both Martin’s and Zimmerman’s lives–I cannot ignore the extreme value of language. So in short form, I am donning my educator cap to express a brief layperson’s tutorial on the topic of why the term Caucasian, used often by highly educated and racially-concerned people, is extraordinarily fucking offensive.
For those who don’t know, the term Caucasian is a verbal descendent of the word, Caucasoid. Caucasoid comes from a racial taxonomy that divided humans first into two groups (Caucasian and Mongoloid), and later into three: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid. There is some further spiraling and subgrouping that goes on from there (Congoloid/Congoid is a particularly nice term that happens, as example), but this post is meant to be simple. I do implore you to do further research, as it becomes horrifically fascinating.
It follows that if one is to accept Caucasian as appropriate terminology, one must then, by extension, accept referring to “non-Caucasian” peoples as either Mongoloid or, more progressively, Negroid. This is how descriptive words work: the word soft is meaningless unless one also accepts the concept of hard. Taxonomies, in particular, are systems of categorization. Accepting one category means accepting all of them, or the chosen category is effectively rendered meaningless. Thus, the word disappears from usage… which should, in my opinion, be what happens to the word, Caucasian. (By the way, in this case, to accept “Caucasian,” one must also be willing to assert that all non-Mongoloid, non-Negroid people come from an obscure mountain region from which, for example, no one in the super-white wing of my own family history, no matter how far back you go, seems to have descended, but that, too, is neither here nor there for our purposes.)
Of particular note: Christoph Meiners, who coined the term Caucasian, was a profound racist and in fact one of the instigators of the practice that would be come to be known as scientific racism. By his definition, non-Caucasian people not only could not claim the vital history of descending from that not particularly significant mountain region, but as some sort of result of such were not only inferior generally, they also specifically lacked certain human abilities, for example, the ability to experience physical and emotional sensitivity (ie: pain or say, ANY other feelings). Why, then, could whippings etc. later be considered effective behavior modification tools for said people (um… people?)? Who knows? Who cares? It’s SCIENCE! And–oh yeah–Mongoloids/Negroids were assumed to be carnivores. Not omnivores like all other humans (er, which apparently only means Caucasians). BECAUSE SCIENCE.
Also, Caucasians were “beautiful.” Mongoloids/Negroids were “ugly,” by the criteria set by said taxonomy.
Again, this theoretical “beauty” v “ugliness” was literally considered a scientific criterion.
Now, we all know “White” is an inaccurate term, too. As, of course, is “Black.” I certainly don’t deny it. And the intersections of physical, economical, cultural, linguistic variations between groups of people are so highly complex that we crave simple terminology with which to describe ourselves and others. However, under no circumstances am I now or will I ever be willing to buy into Meiners’ ridiculous classification system. I’m sure you wouldn’t either. Who would, when employing Caucasian as a term basically means accepting Mongoloid and Negroid as viable classifications based on Meiners’ absurd system, inclusive of the related criteria, which falls, for me, way past ridiculous and into horrifying?
To recap, this is not an issue of political correctness. Linguistically, using the word Caucasian to describe “White” people essentially is the same thing as claiming that all non-White people are stupid, carnivorous non-human beings without feelings.
Please tell a friend.