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Race,Culture and Prejudice


Read all of the items below. Feel free to ask, state your agreements and disagreements and any implications for your personal or professional life.



The term Caucasian originated in the eighteenth century as part of the developing European science of racial classification}

After the region of the Caucasus Mountains, between the Caspian and Black seas, German anatomist Johann Blumenbach declared its inhabitants the most beautiful in the world, the ideal type of humans created in “God’s image,” and

deemed this area the likely site where humans originated. (Humans actually originated in Africa.) He decided that all light-

skinned peoples from this region, along with Europeans, belonged to the same race, which he labeled Caucasian.


Blumenbach named four other races that he considered physically and morally “degenerate” forms of “God's original creation.” He classified Africans (excepting lighter-skinned North Africans) as “Ethiopians” or “black.” He split non-Caucasian

Asians into two separate races: the “Mongolian” or “yellow” race of China and Japan, and the “Malayan” or “brown” race,I ncluding Aboriginal Australians and Pacific Islanders. Native Americans were the “red” race.


Blumenbach’s system of racial classification was adopted in the United States. American scientists tried to prove that


Caucasians had larger brains and were smarter than people of other races.3 Racial science dovetailed with nineteenth-century

evolutionary theories, which ranked races from more “primitive” “savages” to more “advanced” or “civilized,” with Caucasians

on top. Racial hierarchies were used to justify slavery and other forms of racial discrimination.


The U.S. legal system drew on Blumenbach’s definitions to decide who was eligible to become a naturalized citizen.


The North American system of racial classification continues to shift in response to historical, economic, and political events.Yet the basic conceptual framework  biologically distinct racial categories remains surprisingly stable. The word

Caucasian is still used in many forms of data collection, medical circles, and popular discourse.

New terms more accurately reflect geographic locations or ancestral origins, broadly defined. In contrast, the more biological-sounding word Caucasian stubbornly persists. I suggest that each time we, as educators, use or subject our students uncriticallyto the term Caucasian, we are subtly re-inscribing key elements of the racist world view.


Caucasian has more explicitly biological connotations than other contemporary racial terms. To most of us, the Caucasus does not signify a geographical area. Virtually none of our students and probably very few of us could locate the Caucasus on a map o specify what countries or regional groups it includes today (answer: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, parts of north Iran, and central southern Russia).

So what does it mean to designate someone Caucasian? It does not, at least in the twenty-first century United States, suggest anything cultural—that is, a shared set of behaviors and beliefs. U.S. Caucasians do not speak Caucasian.


What would you do?



Race the power of an Illusion. Interview with Alan Goodman, Exercises: