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The term Caucasian race (also Caucasoid, Europid, or Europoid) has been used to denote the general physical type of some or all of the 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, specifically in American English, 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.
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 Caucasian peoples (from the Southern 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 Caucasus, 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."
According to monogenist thought, God formed humans in their pure form. As they spread out over the globe, they differentiate in appearance.
In physical anthropology"Caucasoid race" is a term formerly used in physical anthropology to refer to people of a certain range of anthropometric measurements. Conceived as one of the "great races", alongside Mongoloid and Negroid, it was taken to consist of a number of "subraces". The Caucasoid peoples were usually divided in three groups on linguistic grounds, termed Aryan (Indo-European), Semitic (Semitic languages) and Hamitic (Berber-Cushitic-Egyptian).
The postulated subraces vary depending on the author, including but not limited to Nordic, Mediterranean, Alpine, Dinaric, East Baltic, Arabid, Turanid, Iranid and Armenoid subraces.
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."
There was no universal consensus of the validity of the "Caucasian" grouping within those who attempted to categorize human variation. Thomas Henry Huxley in 1870 wrote that the "absurd denomination of 'Caucasian'" was in fact a conflation of his Xanthochroi and Melanochroi types.
In 1920, H. G. Wells referred to the Mediterranean race as the Iberian race. He regarded it as a fourth subrace of the Caucasian race, along with the Aryan, Semitic, and Hamitic subraces. He stated that the main ethnic group that most purely represented the racial stock of the Iberian race was the Basques, and that the Basques were the descendants of the Cro-Magnons. In 1994, in his book The History and Geography of Human Genes, population geneticist L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza stated that “there is support from many sides” for the hypothesis that the Basques are the descendents of the original Cro-Magnons.
In a 1989 article in Scientific American by Colin Renfrew, he classifies the Dravidian race along with the Semitic race and the Aryan race as the three major subdivisions that emerged from the Proto-Caucasian race, which he states separated into the aforementioned three groups about 9,000 BCE after migrating from North Africa—-the Semitics (i.e., Proto-Semitics) establishing themselves in and radiating from Jericho, the Aryans (i.e., Proto-Indo-Europeans) establishing themselves in and radiating from Catal Huyuk, and the Dravidians (i.e., Proto-Dravidians) establishing themselves in and radiating from what is now southern Iran.
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, because 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 Gastroentorology and Hepatology and Kidney International) that continue to use racial categories such as Caucasian.
Usage in the United States
In the United States, the term Caucasian has been mainly used to describe a group commonly called Whites, 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 Court in United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923) decided that Asian Indians and Middle Easterners – unlike Europeans – 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.
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,".
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