Tom Tomorrow has posted an excerpt of an article on race by Jack Hitt, a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine. Here is an excerpt of the excerpt, on the history of the term “Caucasian”:
It was not until the Age of Reason that scientists tried to figureout empirically what race meant and how it came to be. The signal year was 1776, with the publication of a book called On the Natural Varieties of Mankind, by German biologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. At the time, Blumenbach’s theory had a certain symmetry that made it the very model of good science. These days, his theory seems insane. He argued that Native American Indians were the transitional race that eventually led to Asians. (Don’t try to work out the geography of this: it will make your head explode.) And another group— which Blumenbach simply conjured from a faraway people, the “Malayans”—evolved over time to become Africans. (Again, if you’re puzzling out the geography, watch your head.) At the center of all this change was the white race, which was constant. Blumenbach believed darkness was a sign of change from the original. All of mankind had fallen from perfection, but the darker you were, the farther you had fallen. As a result, the best way to locate the original Garden of Eden, according to Blumenbach, was to follow the trail of human. . . beauty. The hotter the women, the hunkier the men, the closer you were to what was left of God’s first Paradise. Here is Blumenbach explaining the etymology of the new word he hoped to coin:
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 . . .
Blumenbach’s theory is totally forgotten today by everybody (except maybe Georgian men). All that remains is a single relic, the word he coined for God’s most gorgeous creation—”Caucasian.” The word itself is lovely. Say it: Caucasian. The word flows off the tongue like a stream trickling out of Eden. Its soothing and genteel murmur poses quite a patrician contrast to the field-labor grunts of the hard g’s in “Negroid” and “Mongoloid.” Caucasian. The exotic isolation of those mountains intimates a biblical narrative. You can almost see it when you say it: the early white forebears walking away from paradise to trek to Europe and begin the difficult task of creating Western Civilization.