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Topic subjectThere IS a meaning for the word "RACE"!
Topic URLhttp://board.okayplayer.com/okp.php?az=show_topic&forum=22&topic_id=2627
2627, There IS a meaning for the word "RACE"!
Posted by soulgyal, Sun Dec-21-03 12:02 PM
Ok, all of you who read my posts know that most of the time, i'm just letting off some steam. So once again, i'm back with yet something else that pisses me off...

Does it bother anyone else when you start or join in a discussion about race and you try to use the words "black," "white," etc., thinking that most people would know what you mean by now, but there's ALWAYS that ONE guy that has to test your words and try to reverse 'em on you; start talkin about how "I know an Indian that's pitch black coloured! He's a black Indian! So race doesn't mean anything!" or some crap like that...

I mean...really. You'd think that you wouldn't have to explain that type of stuff to people, but apparently some folks need things spelled out for them.

Most of the time, when we talk about RACE we mean it more according to the features than the colours. And going by features, the simplest way to classify the races of man is to go by the three major races, which are...the Mongloids, the Negroids, and the Caucazoids. You can classify all man into these three, or go into the technicalities which include the mixtures of these three or simply giving people of the world sub-classifications ( wording?) according to where they live. Please keep in mind that skin colour really has nothing to do with it and different societies have built on the idea of races going along with a certain "colour". All people from all races can range drastically in colour.

In a general sense, Mongloids include East Asians, Oceanic people, Arctic people, and the Native Indians of the Americas, whose features may or may NOT include almond-shaped eyes, or prominent cheek bones. Negroids include the peoples of Sub-Saharan Africa, whose features include thick lips, wide noses, and tightly coiled hair. Caucazoids include Europeans, West Asians (the Middle Easterners), and North Africans whose features include varying hair and eye/colour annd..(something i'm forgetting. I'll remember it later on, though). Please keep in mind that YES I realize that these features MAY happen in any of these races, but they are MOST prominent in the ones I have connected them with.

Now the technicalities include the fact that entire people's are a mixture of these three races including Hispanics who may be a mixture of all three, because of the mixing of the slaves, European masters, and the native indians of Central, South America and the Caribbean. And you can go so on and so forth when looking at a distinct peoples who have had a great deal of interracial encounters in their history.

Another technicality is the breaking down of these three major races (which I think simply confuses the situation). The indigenous people's of Southern Africa are known as Capoids, simply because their features do not resemble pure Negroid features, but are also a mix of Mongloid features as well. You can either acknowledge this mix, call them Capoids, or simply call them Negroids in the general sense that they still have dominating Negroid features. The indigenous peoples of Australia seem to be another mixture of Mongloid and Negroid and are called Australoids. Once again, you can either acknowledge the mixture, call them Austroloid, or call them Negroid because of their dominent Negroid features. And so on and so forth.

So next time somebody tries to hit me up with a "So and So is this colour, so race means NOTHING!" piece o' nonsense. Pleaze keep in mind...that those words mean nothing to me.
2628, So Arabs/Indians/Persians
Posted by dhalgren718, Sun Dec-21-03 12:14 PM
are Caucasian?
2629, RE: So Arabs/Indians/Persians
Posted by soulgyal, Sun Dec-21-03 12:22 PM
Arabs and Persians, yes. East Indians, no. Apparently, they are a mixture of Mongloid, Negroid, and Mediterranean peoples (another sub-classification). Native American Indians are included in the Mongloid race, though. Of course, I'm no expert on these things though. I just go by all the things I've read on the subject.
2630, East Indians (in the North) are related to Persians
Posted by 40thStreetBlack, Sun Dec-21-03 12:47 PM
there are varying degrees of mixture, but there's varying degrees of mixture with Iranians (Persians) too - I don't see how you can classify one as yes and the other as no, but then again arbitrary racial cagetorization is nothing new. I don't know where you get the 'Mediterranean peoples' mixture thing in India though.

" 'Dear Homer, I.O.U. one emergency donut. Signed, Homer.'
...Bastard! He's always one step ahead." - Homer
2631, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, yes
Posted by 40thStreetBlack, Sun Dec-21-03 12:27 PM
... and the U.S. Government wouldn't *lie* to me, or misrepresent the facts, would they?

" 'Dear Homer, I.O.U. one emergency donut. Signed, Homer.'
...Bastard! He's always one step ahead." - Homer
2632, I don't think the 'Australoids' are a mixture
Posted by 40thStreetBlack, Sun Dec-21-03 12:22 PM
I believe the genetic data indicates they are their own branch - check this out:


Click on the map to enlarge it, and you can see what I'm talking about.

I think the Polynesians might be distinct from the 'Mongoloids' as well, but I don't remember for sure. But I'm pretty sure about the Australian Aboriginies.

" 'Dear Homer, I.O.U. one emergency donut. Signed, Homer.'
...Bastard! He's always one step ahead." - Homer
2633, RE: There IS a meaning for the word "RACE"!
Posted by southphillyman, Sun Dec-21-03 12:49 PM
what area are these capoids from???
2634, RE: There IS a meaning for the word "RACE"!
Posted by soulgyal, Sun Dec-21-03 12:59 PM
Southern Africa
2635, oh yeah, they're not a mix either as I understand it
Posted by 40thStreetBlack, Sun Dec-21-03 01:04 PM
they got their own branch off the great tree of life that is mankind, like the Australian Aboriginies.

" 'Dear Homer, I.O.U. one emergency donut. Signed, Homer.'
...Bastard! He's always one step ahead." - Homer
2636, Excuse me...
Posted by soulgyal, Sun Dec-21-03 01:21 PM
I suppose it's my own folly with my wording...

I realize that Capoids and Australoids are indigenous peoples to their own respective places, and are, apparently, the oldest forms of the homosapien on Earth. When I said "a mixture of Mongloid and Negroid," I didn't mean as a cause of different races being introduced to each other, I meant by what is apparent in their features. This makes the difference between what was broken off into the three major races (the Capoids and Australoids being the predecessors) and what was reformed into new peoples after the forming of the current three major races of mankind, such as Hispanics.

Sorry bout the mixup 40thStreet...
2637, ok, I see what you're saying
Posted by 40thStreetBlack, Sun Dec-21-03 01:35 PM
but then, doesn't that mean that you acknowledge that racially classifying them as 'Negroid' is merely a social construct that has no scientific basis? I mean, I understand that if they lived in the US that people would call them niggers just like us, so in a sense that is what may matter most in sociological terms, and if that is what is of the most concern to you then OK, I get what you are saying. But the fact remains that scientifically speaking, it's bunk - so I guess it depends on whether you are talking in sociological terms or scientific genetic terms here.

" 'Dear Homer, I.O.U. one emergency donut. Signed, Homer.'
...Bastard! He's always one step ahead." - Homer
2638, RE: There IS a meaning for the word "RACE"!
Posted by southphillyman, Sun Dec-21-03 01:10 PM
so u mean south africans? people from botswana? what

thats my question
2639, RE: There IS a meaning for the word "RACE"!
Posted by neenit, Sun Dec-21-03 01:26 PM
I would have to agree with whoever was arguing with you. Basically race is bullshit. There is not much science behind it. Its a social classification system. Cmon how are you going to say that arabs are caucasion or people from Northern Africa are caucasion. You are turning nationalities in to racial categories which confuses the situation even more. RACE is just a broad classification system that Europeans used to nationalize themselves and dominate the world. Basically its bullshit, but they seem to have people chasing their tale trying make sense out of it!!! It is bullshit cmon capoids Austroids what about the hispanics what race are they. This just as funny as the coppleblasions or whatever Tiger Woods is
2640, yup
Posted by Harmonia, Sun Dec-21-03 04:14 PM
Europeans invented racial categories during the imperialistic and colonial days. A system to have groups that included or excluded people. Biology does not support human racial categories. Socially, sure, cuz we live in a world of racism due to the popularity of having racial categories. Even more so, racial categories based on facial features is more bullshit. This is important to note because there is alot more to the human physicality than facial appearance, but racial categories appear to be based off of facial features alone.
2641, RE: yup
Posted by soulgyal, Sun Dec-21-03 06:29 PM
>Europeans invented racial categories during the
>imperialistic and colonial days. A system to have groups
>that included or excluded people. Biology does not support
>human racial categories. Socially, sure, cuz we live in a
>world of racism due to the popularity of having racial

We live in a world of racism due to the popularity of thinking one kind of peoples more superior than the next, and if I'm not mistaken, this has been going on since the beginning of time.

Even more so, racial categories based on facial
>features is more bullshit. This is important to note
>because there is alot more to the human physicality than
>facial appearance, but racial categories appear to be based
>off of facial features alone.

Mmmm...too bad this ain't true. Racial categorizing include facial features as well as the shape and development of the entire body (or the bones), so to speak.

2642, RE: yup
Posted by Harmonia, Mon Dec-22-03 04:28 PM

> We live in a world of racism due to the popularity of
>thinking one kind of peoples more superior than the next,
>and if I'm not mistaken, this has been going on since the
>beginning of time.

Racism and racial identity came much, much later than the emergence of human civlizations. If you were to ask a sub-Saharan African before colonial contact if they were black, they wouldn't know what the fuck you were talking about.

> Mmmm...too bad this ain't true. Racial categorizing
>include facial features as well as the shape and development
>of the entire body (or the bones), so to speak.

If this were in fact always true, you're classification of 3 races would surely be complete bullshit. This is not to say that those who are foolish to believe in biological races don't use other parts of their human body in their twisted ideology, but just look at how you classified the races in your opening post. Again, facial characteristics.

2643, COSIGN...
Posted by DJ_Gonzo, Mon Dec-22-03 12:02 AM
thanks for typing this so i don't need to... race has no scientific merit at all. nuff said.
2644, I'm part of the short race
Posted by tappenzee, Sun Dec-21-03 02:25 PM
I'm 5'5, and there's a whole race of people my height and under.

Just like blacks and whites can be socially turned into different races, us shorts can be separated from you talls. The genetic differences are the same, we just look at it differently.

Think of it this way:


Say talls believed that shorts' lack of height is tied to a lack of intellectual growth.

Or that talls didn't want shorts dating their kids.

Or that talls brought a boatload of shorts over from a nation where shortness was rampant, sold the shorts into a system where they weren't people but property, and then freed them 300 years later, only to keep them from having any chance of regaining any chance of having an equal opportunity to compete with the talls in any area of life, financial or otherwise.

When you think about it this way, race is just a phony system designed by society to keep people that look alike superior to people that don't look like them.
2645, classic...
Posted by Whateva, Tue Dec-23-03 09:53 AM
I love this post.
2646, It has meaning only in form vs function discussion
Posted by Cocobrotha2, Sun Dec-21-03 02:55 PM
Can the myriad of human "forms" be broken down into mainly several races? Yes

Can the myriad of human "function" be broken down into those same groups? No.

It's almost idotic to argue the first point but I'm betting the people you're venting at believe your making blanket statements so they attempt to find obvious contradictions. It's a wasted argument on both sides so it's important to qualify your statements and speak precisely.
2647, lmao @ caucasoid, mongloid, & negroid
Posted by Harmonia, Sun Dec-21-03 04:05 PM
It's funny cuz these words sound "scientific" so people think they can throw these terms around scientifically speaking. If you were to really study race, you'd know these terms are bullshit and trying to classify people of this world into these categories or subcagetories is pointless and useless. Ethnic groupings have a lot more meaning and signifance than these absurd racial categories.
2648, RE: lmao @ caucasoid, mongloid, & negroid
Posted by soulgyal, Sun Dec-21-03 06:21 PM
Then pleaze explain to me how black people have come to have a "connection" with the word "Negro"? Isn't that exactly what you are talking about?
2649, RE: lmao @ caucasoid, mongloid, & negroid
Posted by oriana lee, Mon Dec-22-03 09:52 AM

Great discussion...
Indeed, race is a social construct that has not existed since the beginning of time. The concept does stem from colonial times. Divide & conquer is the underlying principle.

We do know that the ancient Kemetic (Egyptians) referred to themselves characteristically as Black. But that reference had nothing to do with what we now experience as the greater European concept of Racism, which is all honesty is more or less a perpetuated thought system that really does not exist. Race is only real to those who buy into it from the standpoint that "percieved reality is reality". Culture or epistemology are more accurate classifications of peoples from different backgrounds.

When those of us who have the knowledge begin to refute this concept then we will begin to experience a long-awaited paradigm shift. UHURU.
2650, I've found Black folx have more of a connection..
Posted by theSON, Tue Dec-23-03 09:35 AM
with "nigga" as opposed to "Negro" nowadays. Both terms are bullshit. Just 'cause white folx seem to think it's one in the same doesn't mean we should...
2651, Ok, here is an interesting article on the
Posted by Harmonia, Mon Dec-22-03 04:55 PM
origins of racial classification systems. It's long, but if you're really interested, it will give you some insight.

Discover, Nov 1994 v15 n11 p64(6)
The geometer of race. (Cover Story) Stephen Jay Gould.
Brief Summary: Scientific attempts to define and compartmentalize the term 'race' have often been tainted by the prejudices and biases of scientists. A brief overview of the German naturalist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach's attempts to define race is presented.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1994 Discover

INTERESTING STORIES often lie encoded in names that seem either capricious or misconstrued. Why, for example, are political redicals called "left" and their conservative counterparts "right"? In many European legislatures, the most distinguished members sat at the chairman's right, following a custom of courtesy as old as our prejudices for favoring the dominant hand of most people. (These biases run deep, extending well beyond can openers and scissors to language itself, where dexterous stems from the Latin for "right," and sinister from the word for "left.") Since these distinguished nobles and moguls tended to espouse conservative views, the right and left wings of the legislature came to define a geometry of political views.

Among such apparently capricious names in my own field of biology and evolution, none seems more curious, and none elicits more questions after lectures, than the official designation of light-skinned people in Europe, western Asia, and North Africa as Caucasian. Why should the most common racial group of the Western world be named for a mountain range that straddles Russia and Georgia? Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840), the German anatomist and naturalist who established the most influential of all racial classifications, invented this name in 1975, in the third edition of his seminal work, De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa (On the Natural Variety of Mankind). Blumenbach's definition cites two reasons for his choice--the maximal beauty of people from this small region, and the probability that humans were first created in this area.

Caucasian variety. I have taken the name of this variety from

Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and espe-

cially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of

men, I mean the Georgian; and because ... in that region,

if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probabil-

ity to place the autochthones of mankind.

Blumenbach, one of the greatest and most honored scientists of the Enlightenment, spent his entire career as a professor at the University of Gottingen in Germany. He first presented De Generis Humani Varietate Nativa as a doctoral dissertation to the medical faculty of Gottingen in 1775, as the minutemen of Lexington and Concord began the American Revolution. He then republished the text for general distribution in 1776, as a fateful meeting in Philadelphia proclaimed our independence. The coincidence of three great documents in 1776--Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (on the politics of liberty), Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (on the economics of individualism), and Blumenbach's treatise on racial classification (on the science of human diversity)--records the social ferment of these decades and sets the wider context that makes Blumenbach's taxonomy, and his subsequent decision to call the European race Caucasian, so important for our history and current concerns.

The solution to big puzzles often hinges upon tiny curiosities, easy to miss or to pass over. I suggest that the key to understanding Blumenbach's classification, the foundation of much that continues to influence and disturb us today, lies in the peculiar criterion he used to name the European race Caucasian--the supposed superior beauty of people from this region. Why, first of all, should a scientist attach such importance to an evidently subjective assessment; and why, secondly, should an aesthetic criterion become the basis of a scientific judgment about place of origin? To answer these questions, we must compare Blumenbach's original 1775 text with the later edition of 1795, when Caucasians received their name.

Blumenbach's final taxonomy of 1795 divided all humans into five groups, defined both by geography and appearance--in his order, the Caucasian variety, for the light-skinned people of Europe and adjacent parts of Asia and Africa; the Mongolian variety, for most other inhabitants of Asia, including China and Japan; the Ethiopian variety, for the dark-skinned people of Africa; the American variety, for most native populations of the New World; and the Malay variety, for the Polynesians and Melanesians of the Pacific and for the aborigines of Australia. But Blumenbach's original classification of 1775 recognized only the first four of these five, and united members of the Malay variety with the other people of Asia whom Blumenbach came to name Mongolian.

We now encounter the paradox of Blumenbach's reputation as the inventor of modern racial classification. The original four-race system, as I shall illustrate in a moment, did not arise from Blumenbach's observations but only represents, as Blumenbach readily admits, the classification promoted by his guru Carolus Linnaeus in the founding document of taxonomy, the Systema Naturae of 1758. Therefore, Blumenbach's only original contribution to racial classification lies in the later addition of a Malay variety for some Pacific peoples first included in a broader Asian group.

This change seems so minor. Why, then, do we credit Blumenbach, rather than Linnaeus, as the founder of racial classification? (One might prefer to say "discredit," as the enterprise does not, for good reason, enjoy high repute these days.) But Blumenbach's apparently small change actually records a theoretical shift that could not have been broader, or more portentous, in scope. This change has been missed or misconstrued because later scientists have not grasped the vital historical and philosophical principle that theories are models subject to visual representation, usually in clearly definable geometric terms.

By moving from the Linnaean four-race system to his own five-race scheme, Blumenbach radically changed the geometry of human order from a geographically based model without explicit ranking to a hierarchy of worth, oddly based upon perceived beauty, and fanning out in two directions from a Caucasian ideal. The addition of a Malay category was crucial to this geometric reformulation--and therefore becomes the key to the conceptual transformation rather than a simple refinement of factual information within an old scheme. (For the insight that scientific revolutions embody such geometric shifts, I am grateful to my friend Rhonda Roland Shearer, who portrays these themes in a forthcoming book, The Flatland Hypothesis.)

BLUMENBACH IDOLIZED his teacher Linnaeus and acknowledged him as the source of his original fourfold racial classification: "I have followed Linnaeus in the number, but have defined my varieties by other boundaries" (1775 edition). Later, in adding his Malay variety, Blumenbach identified his change as a departure from his old mentor in the most respectful terms: "It became very clear that the Linnaean division of mankind could no longer be adhered to; for which reason I, in this little work, ceased like others to follow that illustrious man."

Linnaeus divided the species Homo sapiens into four basic varieties, defind primarily by geography and, interestingly, not in the ranked order favored by most Europeans in the racist tradition--Americanus, Europaeus, Asiaticus, and Afer, or African. (He also alluded to two other fanciful categories: ferus for "wild boys," occasionally discovered in the woods and possibly raised by animals--most turned out to be retarded or mentally ill youngsters abandoned by their parents--and monstrosus for hairy men with tails, and other travelers' confabulations.) In so doing, Linnaeus presented nothing original; he merely mapped humans onto the four geographic regions of conventional cartography.

Linnaeus then characterized each of these groups by noting color, humor, and posture, in that order. Again, none of these categories explicitly implies ranking by worth. Once again, Linnaeus was simply bowing to classical taxonomic theories in making these decisions. For example, his use of the four humors reflects the ancient and medieval theory that a person's temperament arises from a balance of four fluids (humor is Latin for "moisture")--blood, phlegm, choler (yellow bile), and melancholy (black bile). Depending on which of the four substances dominated, a person would be sanguine (the cheerful realm of blood), phlegmatic (sluggish), choleric (prone to anger), or melancholic (sad). Four geographic regions, four humors, four races.

For the American variety, Linnaeus wrote "rufus, cholericus, rectus" (red, choleric, upright); for the European, "albus, sanguineus, torosus" (white, sanguine, muscular); for the Asian, "luridus, melancholicus, rigidus" (pale yellow, melancholy, stiff); and for the African, "niger, phlegmaticus, laxus" (black, phlegmatic, relaxed).

I don't mean to deny that Linnaeus held conventional beliefs about the superiority of his own European variety over others. Being a sanguine, muscular European surely sounds better than being a melancholy, stiff Asian. Indeed, Linnaeus ended each group's description with a more overtly racist label, an attempt to epitomize behavior in just two words. Thus the American was regitur consuetudine (ruled by habit); the European, regitur ritibus (ruled by custom); the Asian, regitur opinionibus (ruled by belief); and the African, regitur arbitrio (ruled by caprice). Surely regulation by established and considered custom beats the unthinking rule of habit or belief, and all of these are superior to caprice--thus leading to the implied and conventional racist ranking of Europeans first, Asians and Americans in the middle, and Africans at the bottom.

Nonetheless, and despite these implications, the overt geometry of Linnaeus's model is not linear or hierarchical. When we visualize his scheme as an essential picture in our mind, we see a map of the world divided into four regions, with the people in each region characterized by a list of different traits. In short, Linnaeus's primary ordering principle is cartographic; if he had wished to push hierarchy as the essential picture of human variety, he would surely have listed Europeans first and Africans last, but he started with native Americans instead.

The shift from a geographic to a hierarchical ordering of human diversity must stand as one of the most fateful transitions in the history of Western science--for what, short of railroads and nuclear bombs, has had more practical impact, in this case almost entirely negative, upon our collective lives? Ironically, blumenbach is the focus of this shift, for his five-race scheme became canonical and changed the geometry of human order from Linnaean cartography to linear ranking--in short, to a system based on putative worth.

I say ironic because Blumenbach was the least racist and most genial of all Enlightenment thinkers. How peculiar that the man most committed to human unity, and to inconsequential moral and intellectual differences among groups, should have changed the mental geometry of human order to a scheme that has served racism ever since. Yet on second thought, this situation is really not so odd--for most scientists have been quite unaware of the mental machinery, and particularly of the visual or geometric implications, lying behind all their theorizing.

An old tradition in science proclaims that changes in theory must be driven by observation. Since most scientists believe this simplistic formula, they assume that their own shifts in interpretation record only their better understanding of newly discovered facts. Scientists therefore tend to be unaware of their own mental impositions upon the world's messy and ambiguous factuality. Such mental impositions arise from a variety of sources, including psychological predisposition and social context. Blumenbach lived in an age when ideas of progress, and the cultural superiority of European ways, dominated political and social life. Implicit, loosely formulated, or even unconscious notions of racial ranking fit well with such a worldview--indeed, almost any other organizational scheme would have seemed anomalous. I doubt that Blumenbach was actively encouraging racism by redrawing the mental diagram of human groups. He was only, and largely passively, recording the social view of his time. But ideas have consequences, whatever the motives or intentions of their promoters.

Blumenbach certainly though that his switch from the Linnaean four-race system to his own five-race scheme arose only from his improved understanding of nature's factuality. He said as much when he announced his change in the second (1781) edition of his treatise: "Formerly in the first edition of this work, I divided all mankind into four varieties; but after I had more actively investigated the different nations of Eastern Asia and America, and, so to speak, looked at them more closely, I was compelled to give up that division, and to place in its stead the following five varieties, as more consonant to nature." And in the preface to the third edition, of 1795, Blumenbach states that he gave up the Linnaean scheme in order to arrange "the varieties of man according to the truth of nature." When scientists adopt the myth that theories arise solely from observation, and do not grasp the personal and social influences acting on their thinking, they not only miss the causes of their changed opinions; they may even fail to comprehend the deep mental shift encoded by the new theory.

Blumenbach strongly upheld the unity of the human species against an alternative view, then growing in popularity (and surely more conductive to conventional forms of racism), that each major race had been separately created. He ended his third edition by writing: "No doubt can any longer remain but that we are with great probability right in referring all ... varieties of man ... to one and the same species."

AS HIS MAJOR ARGUMENT for unity, Blumenbach noted that all supposed racial characteristics grade continuously from one people to another and cannot define any separate and bounded group. "For although there seems to be so great a difference between widely separate nations, that you might easily take the inhabitants of the Cape of Good Hope, the Greenlanders, and the Circassians for so many different species of man, yet when the matter is thoroughly considered, you see that all do so run into one another, and that one variety of mankind does so sensibly pass into the other, that you cannot mark out the limits between them." He particularly refuted the common racist claim that black Africans bore unique features of their inferiority: "There is no single character so peculiar and so universal among the Ethiopians, but what it may be observed on the one hand everywhere in other varieties of men."

Blumenbach, writing 80 years before Darwin, believed that Homo sapiens had been created in a single region and had then spread over the globe. Our racial diversity, he then argued, arose as a result of this spread to other climates and topographies, and to our adoption of different modes of life in these various regions. Following the terminology of his time, Blumenbach referred to these changes as "degenerations"--not intending the modern sense of deterioration, but the literal meaning of departure from an initial form of humanity at the creation (de means "from," and genus refers to our original stock).

Most of these degenerations, Blumenbach argued, arose directly from differences in climate and habitat--ranging from such broad patterns as the correlation of dark skin with tropical environments, to more particular (and fanciful) attributions, including a speculation that the narrow eye slits of some Australian aborigines may have arisen in response to "constant clouds of gnats ... contracting the natural face of the inhabitants." Other changes, he maintained, arose as a consequence of customs adopted in different regions. For example, nations that compressed the heads of babies by swaddling boards or papoose carriers ended up with relatively long skulls. Blumenbach held that "almost all the diversity of the form of the head in different nations is to be attributed to the mode of life and to art."

Blumenbach believed that such changes, promoted over many generations, could eventually become hereditary. "With the progress of time," Blumenbach wrote, "art may degenerate into a second nature." But he also argued that most racial variations, as superficial impositions of climate and custom, could be easily altered or reversed by moving to a new region or by adopting new behavior. White Europeans living for generations in the tropics could become dark-skinned, while Africans transported as slaves to high latitudes could eventually become white: "Color, whatever be its cause, be it bile, or the influence of the sun, the air, or the climate, is, at all events, an adventitious and easily changeable thing, and can never constitute a diversity of species," he wrote.

Convinced of the superficiality of racial variation, Blumenbach defended the mental and moral unity of all peoples. He held particularly strong opinions on the equal status of black Africans and white Europeans. He may have been patronizing in praising "the good disposition and faculties of these our black brethren," but better paternalism than malign contempt. He campaigned for the abolition of slavery and asserted the moral superiority of slaves to their captors, speaking of a "natural tenderness of heart, which has never been benumbed or extirpated on board the transport vessels or on the West India sugar plantations by the brutality of their white executioners."

Blumenbach established a special library in his house devoted exclusively to black authors, singling out for special praise the poetry of Phillis Wheatley, a Boston slave whose writings have only recently been rediscovered: "I possess English, Dutch, and Latin poems by several , amongst which however above all, those of Phillis Wheatley of Boston, who is justly famous for them, deserves mention here." Finally, Blumenbach noted that many Caucasian nations could not boast so fine a set of authors and scholars as black Africa has produced under the most depressing circumstances of prejudice and slavery: "It would not be difficult to mention entire well-known provinces of Europe, from out of which you would not easily expect to obtain off-hand such good authors, poets,philosophers, and correspondents of the Paris Academy."

Nonetheless, when Blumenbach presented his mental picture of human diversity in his fateful shift away from Linnaean geography, he singled out a particular group as closest to the created ideal and then characterized all other groups by relative degrees of departure from this archetypal standard. He ended up with a system that placed a single race at the pinnacle, and then envisioned two symmetrical lines of departure away from this ideal toward greater and greater degeneration.

WE MAY NOW RETURN to the riddle of the name Caucasian, and to the significance of Blumenbach's addition of a fifth race, the Malay variety. Blumenbach chose to regard his own European variety as closest to the created ideal and then searched for the subset of Europeans with greatest perfection--the highest of the high, so to speak. As we have seen, he identified the people around Mount Caucasus as the closest embodiments of the original ideal and proceeded to name the entire European race for its finest representatives.

But Blumenbach now faced a dilemma. He had already affirmed the mental and moral equality of all peoples. He therefore could not use these conventional criteria of racist ranking to establish degrees of relative departure from the Caucasian ideal. Instead, and however subjective (and even risible) we view the criterion today, Blumenbach chose physical beauty as his guide to ranking. He simply affirmed that Europeans were most beautiful, with Caucasians as the most comely of all. This explains why Blumenbach, in the first quote cited in this article, linked the maximal beauty of the Caucasians to the place of human origin. Blumenbach viewed all subsequent variation as departures from the originally created ideal--therefore, the most beautiful people must live closest to our primal home.

Blumenbach's descriptions are pervaded by his subjective sense of relative beauty, presented as though he were discussing an objective and quantifiable property, not subject to doubt or disagreement. He describes a Georgian female skull (found close to Mount Caucasus) as "really the most beautiful form of skull which ... always of itself attracts every eye, however little observant." He then defends his European standard on aesthetic grounds: "In the first place, that stock displays ... the most beautiful form of the skull, from which, as from a mean and primeval type, the others diverge by most easy gradations.... Besides, it is white in color, which we may fairly assume to have been the primitive color of mankind, since ... it is very easy for that to degenerate into brown, but very much more difficult for dark to become white."

Blumenbach then presented all human variety on two lines of successive departure from this Caucasian ideal, ending in the two most degenerate (least attractive, not least morally unworthy or mentally obtuse) forms of humanity--Asians on one side, and Africans on the other. But Blumenbach also wanted to designate intermediary forms between ideal and most degenerate, especially since even gradation formed his primary argument for human unity. In his original four-race system, he could identify native Americans as intermediary between Europeans and Asians, but who would serve as the transitional form between Europeans and Africans?

The four-race system contained no appropriate group. But inventing a fifth racial category as an intermediary between Europeans and Africans would complete the new symmetrical geometry. Blumenbach therefore added the Malay race, not as a minor, factual refinement but as a device for reformulating an entire theory of human diversity. With this one stroke, he produced the geometric transformation from Linnaeus's unranked geographic model to the conventional hierarchy of implied worth that has fostered so much social grief ever since.

I have allotted the first place to the Caucasian ... which

makes me esteem it the primeval one. This diverges in both

directions into two, most remote and very different from each

other; on the one side, namely, into the Ethiopian, and on

the other into the Mongolian. The remaining two occupy

the intermediate positions between that primeval one and

these two extreme varieties; that is, the American between

the Caucasian and Mongolian; the Malay between the same

Caucasian and Ethiopian.

Scholars often think that academic ideas must remain at worst, harmless, and at best, mildly amusing or even instructive. But ideas do not reside in the ivory tower of our usual metaphor about academic irrelevance. We are, as Pascal said, a thinking reed, and ideas motivate human history. Where would Hitler have been without racism, Jefferson without liberty? Blumenbach lived as a cloistered professor all his life, but his ideas have reverberated in ways that he never could have anticipated, through our wars, our social upheavals, our sufferings, and our hopes.

I therefore end by returning once more to the extraordinary coincidences of 1776--as Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence while Blumenbach was publishing the first edition of his treatise in Latin. We should remember the words of the nineteenth-century British historian and moralist Lord Acton, on the power of ideas to propel history:

It was from America that ... ideas long locked in the breast

of solitary thinkers, and hidden among Latin folios, burst

forth like a conqueror upon the world they were destined to

transform, under the title of the Rights of Man.

2652, RE: Ok, here is an interesting article on the
Posted by oriana lee, Mon Dec-22-03 05:43 PM
Definitely long...but truly insightful & interesting indeed.
Thanks for the science. It is very important to have a solid grasp from all of the Eurocentric points-of-view. Only then can we sift through it all & put it in proper context for the now.

2653, Great read...
Posted by Whateva, Tue Dec-23-03 10:23 AM
2654, RACE is not quite valid...get over it
Posted by Pinko_Panther, Tue Dec-23-03 01:14 PM
Check out this website by PBS. It is quite a fascinating read. You know, I personally don't believe in race, but I do believe in identity. In a society where our common human identities are cast aside in favour of individualistic and competitive commerce, the idea of race keeps many people in common while the system tries to break us down into individuals. Anyway, that has nothing to do with the website, that's my own rant. Here is the website:

2655, that is an excellent link!
Posted by Harmonia, Tue Dec-23-03 06:04 PM
The information is right on, and the interacrive section is great. I hope everyone checks it out.
2656, Isn't it a fantastic link! I was also impressed....
Posted by Pinko_Panther, Wed Dec-24-03 02:16 AM
And I too, hope that everyone checks it out.
2657, Even your conditioning has been conditioned.
Posted by tha8thjewel, Fri Dec-26-03 02:24 PM
Hope you read some of the replies. Race is a social category that is a critical tool in interpreting the shape of the world as we know it, it's not a reality. Racial analysis can uncover serious problems in public policy and in understanding the maldistribution of resources. In that way, it can be understood as a close cousin to colonialism.

In a broader sense, race as a paradigm for interpreting everyday interactions between people is a convenient shorthand for understanding cultural and socioeconomic dynamics. But once again, race is a method of interpretation -- it's at its fullest an epiphenomenon, but primarily a mode for understanding various phenomena. In this context and the previous context, though, it's often the simplest way to understand Western social phenomena, but the least likely to yield solutions to social issues and problems that don't lead to further social stratification and estrangement, at least without being coupled with other analyses.

That's my take -- black people who reify race find ourselves in a philosophical and real-life cul-de-sac.