Divrsity Dictionary: Caucasian

It doesn't mean what you might think it means...

15th Sept 2023

'Caucasian' is often used to mean white european, but it's not only grossly inaccurate, it's also potentially offensive!

Do we mean White?

The word 'Caucasian' may not immediately strike you as a racially offensive term since, in its modern usage, Caucasian has become the PC word people use when they don't want to say 'white'.

But Caucasian didn't always mean white: before the 18th century, it was exclusively a term to describe people from the Caucasus region, located at the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, including countries like Armenia (cough, Kardashians).

Ok... so where did it all get messy?

In the late 18th century, a German anthropologist called Johann Friedrich Blumenbach collected 245 skulls from the Caucasus region and declared they were "the most beautiful race of men". This formed the foundation of his attempt to classify and rank human races based on physical characteristics. In his opinion, the “fair skin and distinct facial features” were THE most aesthetically pleasing so therefore at the top of his rankings.

He then expanded his 'definition' of Caucasian to include Europeans and the inhabitants of a region spanning from northern Africa, to the Ob River in Russia, to the Caspian Sea, to the Ganges; a definition which technically included Indians...

So how could this be racist?

Fast-forward to the early 20th Century: meet Bhagat Singh Thind - a Punjabi immigrant to America who not only had a PhD, was a top university lecturer and wrote several books, but also fought in the US army in WW1.

American law at the time stated that Caucasians - this superior & prized 'race' - had access to the right to secure US citizenship yet, when Thind applied for citizenship, he was denied. The court decided that Indians were not considered Caucasian (anymore). Convenient huh?

Another example of a 'convenient' twist of the definition was in the case of the US Boston bombings; despite the bombers being both white and quite literally Caucasian, the media struggled to accept that fact so used their 'radicalised' religion as a way to denounce the men as not 'white Americans'.

Just two of many brutal reminders that race is just a social construct, and that words & definitions associated with race are therefore entirely subjective. And, when systems of power are at play which proactively & intentionally cause inequity, exclusion & discrimination based on someone's 'race' - that is when it becomes racism.

Maybe let's stop throwing the word Caucasian about?

No matter how you personally identify, today's use of the team Caucasian is at the very least an inefficient and lazy way of (quite literally) white-washing entire populations with an identity that simply isn't theirs.

By embracing accurate terminology and celebrating the rich tapestry of human diversity, we can work towards a more inclusive and equitable society where all individuals are valued for who they are, rather than being reduced to inaccurate labels. Let us continue our journey to create a world where diversity is celebrated and every voice is heard.

How Divrsity can help

This is just one example of where inaccurate terminology can potentially cause offense. Diversity has many years of experience asking D&I questions in the "right" way, and our pre-configured Diversity & Inclusion questions are constantly evolving. This means you can be completely confident that running your workplace Diversity & Inclusion Survey with Divrsity will lead to actionable insights, rather than unhappy employees.

Not only that, but customers can constantly update their questions and Lenses to reflect learnings across our entire client base.

- Rochana Jackson

If your organisation is ready to move the dial when it comes to DE&I, don't hesitate to email support@divrsity.team or, better still, just sign-up and give it a go...

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