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The term Caucasian race (also Caucasoid) has been used to denote the general physical type of some or all of the indigenous populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, West Asia, Central Asia, and South Asia. Historically, the term has been used to describe the entire population of these regions, without regard necessarily to skin tone. In common use, the term is sometimes restricted to Europeans and other lighter-skinned populations within these areas, and may be considered equivalent to the varying definitions of white people. The term has also sometimes been equated with the lesser known term Europid, or Europoid, although in classification europeans were considered a sub-branch of caucasian.

The concept of a Caucasian race is highly controversial today. It is rejected by many academics and political activists who view any system of categorizing humanity based on physical type as an obsolete 19th century racism, and human genome studies have shown that there is no single and simple genetic definition equivalent to "Caucasian". The term continues to be widely used in many scientific and general contexts, usually with its more restricted sense of "white".

Origin of the concept

The concept of a Caucasian race or Varietas Caucasia was developed around 1800 by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German scientist and classical anthropologist. Blumenbach named it after the peoples of the Caucasus (from the Caucasus region), whom he considered to be the archetype for the grouping. He based his classification of the Caucasian race primarily on craniology. Blumenbach wrote:
"Caucasian variety - I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasusmarker, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones (birth place) of mankind."

In physical anthropology

"Caucasoid race" is a term used in physical anthropology to refer to people of a certain range of anthropometric measurements. 19th century classifications of the peoples of India considered the Dravidians of non-Caucasoid stock as Australoid or a separate Dravida race, and assumed a gradient of miscegenation of high-caste Caucasoid Aryans and indigenous Dravidians.

By contrast, Carleton S. Coon in his 1939 The Races of Europe classified the Dravidians as Caucasoid as well, due to his assessment of what he called their "Caucasoid skull structure" and other physical traits (e.g. noses, eyes, hair). In his The Living Races of Man, Coon stated that "India is the easternmost outpost of the Caucasian racial region". Sarah A Tishkoff and Kenneth K Kidd state: "Despite disagreement among anthropologists, this classification remains in use by many researchers, as well as lay people."

According to Leonard Lieberman, Rodney C. Kirk, and Alice Littlefield, the concept of race has been all but completely rejected by modern mainstream anthropology. The United States National Library of Medicine has used the term "Caucasian" as a race in the past, but has discontinued its usage in favor of the term "European".

In the medical sciences

In the medical sciences, where response to pharmaceuticals and other treatment can vary dramatically based on ethnicity, there is great debate as to whether racial categorizations as broad as Caucasian are medically valid. Several journals (e.g. Nature Genetics, Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, and the British Medical Journal) have issued guidelines stating that researchers should carefully define their populations and avoid broad-based social constructions, due to the fact that these categories are more likely to be measuring differences in socioeconomic class and access to medical treatment that disproportionately affect minority groups, rather than racial differences. Nevertheless, there are journals (e.g. the Journal of Garstroentorology and Hepatology and Kidney International) that continue to use racial categories such as Caucasian.

Usage in the United States

In the United Statesmarker, the term Caucasian has been mainly used to describe a group commonly called White Americans, as defined by the government and Census Bureau. Between 1917 and 1965, immigration to the US was restricted by a national origins quota. The Supreme Courtmarker in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923) decided that Asian Indians – unlike Europeans and Middle Easterners – were Caucasian, but were not white, because most laypeople did not consider them to be white people. This was important for determining whether they could become naturalized citizens, then limited to free whites. The court and government changed its opinion in 1946. In 1965 major changes were made to immigration law, lifting earlier restrictions on immigrants from Asia.

See also




  • Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, On the Natural Varieties of Mankind (1775) — the book that introduced the concept
  • — a history of the pseudoscience of race, skull measurements, and IQ inheritability
  • — a major reference of modern population genetics

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