Short Form: Why Caucasian is Not Okay

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.

You’re welcome.

Please tell a friend.

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My Thoughts on Horse Meat – Or, the Problem of Diagnoses, pt 1.

SO… I  ranted again today on social media.

The rant is reposted here in bold.  Again, I report sans another edit, save the unbolded type, which I am now writing  largely to elaborate on the point I made very loosely that I feel deserves some fleshing out.

If you eat meat, it is incongruous to be offended by the idea of eating horse meat. It is so incongruous that… well, that… that I can’t even wrap my brain around how people aren’t embarrassed to be reactive to this issue at all. I seriously cannot. And honestly, the more I think about it, the more I realize the way we think about animals and food is not very far removed from our pervasive cultural lack of attentiveness to our own institutional racism. On a metacognitive level. And no, I am not joking. Please just think about that for a minute.

So.

I wrote this thinking there must be clear connections. But once I sat down to articulate them, it became complicated. What I started thinking about was the problem of diagnoses–about how in many situations, we categorize or identify an issue because we have solutions/resources that correlate with our diagnoses or categories. This is true in medicine, mental health and social work, and education, among many other fields. Anyone who knows me is certainly tired of my going on and on about the problem of emotional and psychological diagnoses creating essentially self-fulfilling prophesies and–possibly more importantly–limiting providers from seeing other avenues that may prove more relevant. This stems, for me, from my virtual obsession with personal choice and my fear of limitations (you’ll hear more about this later in the original rant), but also has some basis in evidence-based theory.

More specifically, though, it connects for me to the history of tracking in education. And I can imagine it’s difficult to reach from which animals we eat to what we teach which students… But is it? Our social constructs are largely built out of categorizations. We categorize so that we know how we are supposed to react to things. Reactions, then, as we know, begin to create how things (or people) behave, and thus reinforce not only what defines each category but also how the things in each category behaves. It becomes cyclical. This is not unrelated to how diagnoses of mental illnesses can sometimes reinforce said illnesses, especially  in unskilled hands. This is the same general idea as interference theory in studies of memory–that a formation of memory can inhibit the ability to remember something differently.  There is a similar theory in education about the difficulty of transferring knowledge when contradictory knowledge has already been learned. This is, in part, why learning a foreign language can be difficult, and why IQ test scores generally decrease as a subject ages: Unlearning things to make room for learning other things is quite a challenge.

So… categories. How do we treat a cute animal? A powerful animal? A smart animal? What about ugly? Weak or lazy? Dumb?

Poor?

What about a child?

Too far a reach? Well, bear with me.

Here is a list of (interpreted) facts on the topic of “tracking.”

1. A basic problem of tracking in education is that historically it has proven very difficult to separate economic advantage and racial/ethnic identity from the tracking systems. This was a huge problem fairly immediately following segregation and for many years following. But it was also a large problem long before that, when the public school systems first began in the 19th century as largely Protestant entities and cities (such as New York) had large Catholic populations. In this case, for example, the victims of tracking were largely Irish immigrants. By the way–the Bible riots of 1844 stemmed not only out of resentment about the religious aspect of what children were being taught, but also the idea that Catholic youth (as well as other students living in poverty) were being trained for factory jobs rather than for higher thinking.

2. Special education (and in particular, the diagnosis of generic “learning disability”), particularly in urban areas, has a disproportionate representation of black and Latino males. Yes, this is indeed similar to the disproportionality of same who are incarcerated. (Interestingly, there is actually a distinct tie between incarcerations and restrictive special education programs, but we’ll get into discussing the potential causalities of that another time).

3. Children who receive any type of Special Education services (no matter what their level or type of disability) are legally required to be provided with a service aspect known as Transition Planning. Transition Planning in the current model is a formalization of the idea that if we can identify what a student (a) wants to do and (b) may be good at, we can help prepare him or her to reach their goals and become a functioning member of society. On the surface, this is an excellent idea, and really should be a part of all children’s education. But think a little deeper, and for me it becomes extremely complicated. For one thing, this was the idea behind tracking, too. And I am not saying that tracking is all bad. Even today–ESPECIALLY today–we “assess” and “differentiate,” using “data” (all very hot education buzzwords) to determine how to “differentiate instruction” for all learners. Some could call this tracking, of course, but it is also how we try to bring all learners to as high an academic standard as possible, ideally using different resources for different students’ “needs.” This has also pretty much always been accepted as the best way to ensure that all children are learning as much as possible. In theory. And I agree with it not only in theory, but also in my practice.

What gets tricky is how these things fit together. In simplest terms, we had a disproportionality of boys of color being tracked into labor jobs rather than college or professional work for much of the past century. Now we have a disproportionate amount of boys of color in special education, which, despite the current auto-focus on inclusion (more on that heady topic another time), has systems that are built specifically to provide resources towards an end… not to mention that we ALSO  have a disproportionality of students from economically and educationally challenged families in special education.

So I’m still not sure I have approached in any kind of a non-yawn-inducing way why I am so upset about people taking moral issue with eating one kind of animal but not another and how it relates to institutional racism. Tracking and special education are one example, but the main point is that we categorize. We categorize things all the time, for very real and practical reasons: Ice cream belongs in the freezer, not the cabinet; subway trains are more dangerous than tricycles, and so on. But categorizing people… well, we separate Us from Them, again for our own safety, usually emotional safety.  And because we pretend we don’t do it, we do not afford ourselves the opportunity to question the criteria of our categories, or to cop to the fact that we perceive something (someone) as different, as separate, largely due to our experiences, whether or not it makes a deeper type of sense.  So  if you’ll grant me one last indulgence for today, I will say, it relates in some ways to another thing I witnessed in social media, which I was quite happy to repost, early last November, just before our last election. It was a meme directed at white voters. It said,

VOTE. Vote as if your kids were black.

So let’s please just think about that for a minute.

No, really, a full minute.

Anyhow, I get how it is upsetting to feel like you are purchasing one thing and actually getting another. As United Statesians, in particular, we HATE that. I, in particular, very MUCH hate that, as I am obsessed with personal choice (note to therapist). But I also happen to know that horse meat is much better for you than cow meat and quite delicious, so it’s really not much of a dupe. If you bought a steak and they made it with a better cut of meat than advertised, would you be offended?

If you happen find horse meat offensive, as a friend mentioned recently, that may indicate a deeper discomfort with eating animals at all, and as such, you may want to consider not eating meat, period.

Side note: typing meat this many times has made me hungry.