(When it comes to being legally privileged, I'm a Big Tent guy. I want as many people stuffed into the unprivileged tent with me to share the burden. But that's a pretty rare insight these days.)
|Golfer Vijay Singh|
Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning?
By SHAILA DEWAN
Published: July 6, 2013
AS a racial classification, the term Caucasian has many flaws, dating as it does from a time when the study of race was based on skull measurements and travel diaries.
As opposed to today, when the study of race is based on assertions of political power in imposing intellectual taboos.
It has long been entirely unmoored from its geographical reference point, the Caucasus region.
Actually, the Caucasus Mountains are near the center of the traditional range of the Caucasoid race. People from the Caucasus region, such as Armenians, were always considered white in America for legal purposes.
Even now, the word gives discussions of race a weird technocratic gravitas, as when the police insist that you step out of your “vehicle” instead of your car. ...
I associate the word "Caucasian" with the LAPD from watching Adam 12 in the 1960s. It worked well for police radio talk "See the man, male Caucasian" especially in low light situations. Joseph Wambaugh's LAPD cop novels over the last 40 years have had a running theme of almost always having at least one character who is sort of a white European and sort of not.
The Supreme Court, which can be more colloquial, has used the term in only 64 cases, including a pair from the 1920s that reveal its limitations. In one, the court ruled that a Japanese man could not become a citizen because, although he may have been light-skinned, he was not Caucasian. In the other, an Indian was told that he could not become a citizen because, although he may have been technically Caucasian, he was certainly not white.
(A similar debate erupted more recently when the Tsarnaev brothers, believed to be responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing, were revealed to be Muslims from the Caucasus.) ...
Ramzan Kadyrov throwing money
There is another reason to use it, said Jennifer L. Hochschild, a professor of government and African-American studies at Harvard. “The court, or some clever clerk, doesn’t really want to use the word white in part because roughly half of Hispanics consider themselves white.”
It's almost as if white Americans could use Hispanic racism to divide and conquer, when we all know the duty of whites is to unite-and-submit to The Others.
There are a number of terms that refer to various degrees of blackness, both current and out of favor: African-American, mulatto, Negro, colored, octaroon.
They are out of favor because lighter-skinned elites like the mulatto Barack Obama saw it was in his career interest to be "black" instead of something more accurate, as he demonstrates at some length in Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.
... IN the South, I was often asked about my ethnic origins, and I had a ready answer. “My father is from India,” I would recite, phrasing it in such a way as to avoid being mistaken for an American Indian. “And my mom is white.” Almost invariably, if I was speaking to black people, they would nod with understanding. If I was speaking to white people, I would get a puzzled look. “What kind of white?” they would ask. Only when I explained the Norwegian, Scottish and German mix of my ancestry would I get the nod.
I theorized that this was because blacks understood “white” as a category, both historical and contemporary — a coherent group that wielded power and excluded others. Whites, I believed, were less comfortable with that notion.
But Matthew Pratt Guterl, the author of “The Color of Race in America, 1900-1940,” had a different take. “They’re trying to trace your genealogy and figure out what your qualities are,” he said. “They’re looking in your face, they’re looking in the slope of your nose, the shape of your brow. There’s an effort to discern the truth of the matter, because all whitenesses are not equal.” In other words, they weren’t rejecting the category, they were policing its boundaries.
Such racial boundaries have increasingly been called into question in the debate over affirmative action, once regarded as a form of restitution to descendants of slaves, but now complicated by all sorts of questions about who, exactly, is being helped. “What if some of them aren’t poor, what if some of them don’t have American parentage, what if some of them are really stupid?” Ms. Painter, the historian, asked. “There’s all kinds of characteristics that we stuff into race without looking, and then they pop out and we think, ‘I can’t deal with that.’ ”
Doubtless, this society will continue to classify people by race for some time to come. And as we lumber toward justice, some of those classifications remain useful, even separate from other factors like economic class. Caucasian, though? Not so much.
Shaila Dewan is an economics reporter for The New York Times.