In modern usage, "caucasian" is a term, largely by scholars to be outdated and obsolete, used to racially categorize a person with light-colored, or "white" skin. Like most racial categorizations, the term has fallen into disuse as increasing evidence confirms that race is a social construct rather than a genetic classification. Historically, the caucasian people originated in Europe and remain the most common demographic group in much of Europe, as well as the United States and Canada. Because the term has evolved since its inception, "caucasian" has two possible meanings. In a historical context, a caucasian country would be one in a specific region of Western Asia/Eastern Europe. In a modern sense, a caucasian country is any in which the majority of the population is white.
Caucasian countries (historic definition):
|Armenia||Azerbaijan||Georgia||Russia (Causacus region only)|
Caucasian majority countries (modern "synonymous with white" definition):
|Belarus||Faroe Islands||Liechtenstein||Romania||United States|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||France||Luxembourg||San Marino||Vatican City|
The Caucasus and the original meaning of caucasian
The Caucasus was a specific region located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and divided into northern and southern halves, known as Ciscaucasia and Transcaucasia. Today, the area is the border between Europe and Asia, occupied by Armenia and the transcontinenal countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the southernmost tip of Russia.
While the 12 ethnic groups who inhabited the Caucasus region spoke a collective total of more than 100 languages, the caucasian race (as originally defined) was notably more expansive, including most people originating from Europe, Western Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa. By this original definition, caucasians displayed skin tones ranging from white to dark brown, hair from blonde to black, and eyes ranging from blue to brown.
History of the term caucasian
The term caucasian has its root in the late 18th century, but sources differ slightly upon the fine details of its origin. Some sources claim caucasian was created along with the word Caucasoid, which was one of three races—the other two being Mongoloid (Asians) and Negroid (black)—described by the Göttingen school of history in Germany in the 1780s. European scholars in that time believed the human race originated in the Caucasus Mountains, where Noah's Ark was said to have settled after the Biblical flood. Some theories went so far as to postulate that a person's skin color indicated which of Noah's three sons had sired that person's family line: Shem (Asians), Ham (Africans), or Japheth (Indo-Europeans).
Other sources instead name five races, first defined by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in 1779: Caucasians (Europe, North Africa, Western Asia, and Asia Minor), Mongolians (East, Central, and Southern Asia), Ethiopian/Aethiopians (Sub-Saharan Africa), Americans (Natives of North and South America), and Malayans (Southeast Asia/Polynesia).
Whichever origin one prefers, what followed is undisputed: The concept of races quickly took hold in the growing field of anthropology, which quickly added more races and subdivisions. For example, during the 19th century, the classification of the Caucasoid race was both refined and expanded upon to include three ethnolinguistic groups (the Aryans, Semitics, and Hamitics) as well as several subraces, including Atlantic, Arabid, Irani, Armenoid, Nordic, Alpine, and Mediterranean (among others).
Despite significant research designed to identify racial differences based upon qualities such as cranium shape and genetic predisposition to certain climates or geographies, specific races proved remarkably difficult to define. In his 1871 work, The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin noted that anthropologists couldn't seem to agree upon how many species the human race included. Some anthropologists said one. Others theorized there were two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, eleven, fifteen, sixteen, twenty-two, sixty, and even sixty-three different species, or races, of mankind.
Anthropologists may have experienced complications in determining the number of races in the world, but society as a whole had no such trouble creating divides between the races—and using race to exploit one another socially and economically. While the interactions between whites and blacks are arguably the most well-known, racism between other races (and ethnicities and/or nationalities) also thrived.
The phasing out of caucasian and other racial terminology
Over time, both the meaning of "caucasian" and the concept of race itself have evolved. Caucasian has become a synonym for "white"—particularly in North America—but is still fading in use. Moreover, the traditional concept of race has been largely discredited as advances in genetics have proven that the notion of genetically distinct races is scientifically inaccurate. There is, the prevailing theory states, one single human race with a dazzling range of variation therein. Today's anthropologists instead develop models based upon genetic phenotypes and socio-ethnic cultural lines. Ironically, racism still exists, further demonstrating the importance of moving on from the incorrect, regressive, and socially damaging "traditional" definition of race.