In the United States, Caucasian is often used as a synonym for "white" or "of European ancestry". But in anthropology, caucasian or caucasoid usually includes some or all of the populations of Europe, the Caucasus (a region in Europe between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, which includes Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and parts of Russia, Turkey and Iran), Asia Minor, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Western Asia, Central Asia and South Asia.

Historical Anthropological Evolution

In early attempts at racial classification, skin pigmentation was regarded as the main difference between the races. The term "Caucasian race" was coined in 1785 by Christoph Meiners, a German philosopher. Meiners recognized two races — the Caucasian or beautiful, and the Mongolian or ugly. According to his classification, the caucasian race encompassed the native populations of Europe, the aboriginal inhabitants of West Asia, the autochthones of Northern Africa, and Indians.

Anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach took racial classification further and divided humans into five races based on skin color — Caucasian (the "white race"), Mongoloid (the "yellow race"), Malayan (the "brown race"), Ethiopian (the "black race"), and American (the "red race").

Physical traits of caucasians

Variants of white skin
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Variants of white skin

Blumenbach tried to justify his classification with scientific terminology, cranial measurements, and facial features. Caucasoid traits he noted were:

Later anthropologists recognized other Caucasoid morphological features, such as

Caucasians are not always white; skin color amongst Caucasians varies widely — from pale, reddish-white, olive, or even dark brown tones. Hair color and texture varies too, with wavy hair the most common.

Legal Context

The Naturalization Act of 1906 stipulated that only "free white persons" and "aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent" were allowed by law to become U.S. citizens by naturalization.

In 1922 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Takao Ozawa, a Japanese-American man, was ineligible for naturalization. In issuing the ruling, the court defined "white person":

the words 'white person' were meant to indicate only a person of what is popularly known as the Caucasian race.

In 1923, the Supreme Court ruled on a similar case where Bhagat Singh Thind, a Sikh Indian man was seeking naturalization. He argued that as an "high-caste Hindu" he was a member of the caucasian race. His arguments were anthropologically sound, highlighting the linguistic ties between Indo-Aryan speakers and Europeans.

But the court rejected his argument, saying that authorities on the subject of race were in disagreement over which people were included in the scientific definition of the Caucasian race.

the words "free white person" in the naturalization act were "synonymous with the word ‘Caucasian’ only as that word is popularly understood," pointing out that the statutory language was to be interpreted as "words of common speech and not of scientific origin, . . . written in the common speech, for common understanding, by unscientific men.

References

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"Caucasian vs. White." Diffen.com. Diffen LLC, n.d. Web. 18 Oct 2017. < >