I am sort of confused. I’m an American. I am also supposed to identify myself as either white, or Caucasian, or Caucasoid. The only problem is my skin is not white, none of my ancestors ever came close to setting foot in the Caucasus Mountains of central Europe, and I don’t like the sound of being called anything that ends in “oid.”
Whenever I’m asked to fill out on some form, I usually just put “American.” Were I to be pressed on the issue, I’d have to say the Andorians in Star Trek and the Taurens in Warcraft III would have it almost right if they called me a ‘Pink Skin.” However, as I am a Georgian, I think I would prefer to be called a “Peach Skin.”
Depending on whom you listen to, or read, in the worlds of science and art, both ‘Black’ and ‘White’ colors are described as either the absence of color or the collection of all colors. Talk about confusing! In my mind, the real question here is why do we even refer to ourselves by our supposed colors at all?
Exactly how is it that all of the world’s major human ethnic groupings came to be given such ‘colorful’ names? According to historical research, these terms were first used by the German scientist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach.
It turns out that in 1795 he came up with five separate groupings for the world’s five major human sub-species: Caucasian; Mongolians; Malayans; Ethiopians; and American Indians. Blumenbach set each of his sub-species apart according to differences in their physical features, and not by skin color.
Like most European scientists he believed the Caucasians to be the first people on Earth, as the Bible states that Noah’s Ark came to ground at Mount Ararat near the modern-day Turkish/Armenian border. We now know the first ancestor of the Homo species of man came from Eastern Africa, and not Turkey.
Blumenbach’s grouping of Caucasians included not only the Europeans, but many Northern Africans, and even those Asians who lived no further east than the Ganges River in modern-day India. However, the term Caucasian soon became synonymous with someone who was a ‘White’ European, and not of African or Asian origin.
What started as a scientific means of classifying various cultures soon devolved into a racial system of three classifications: they were ‘White’ for the Caucasoid; ‘Black’ for the Negroid; and ‘Yellow’ for the Mongoloid; and were based almost solely upon skin color.
Africans who were forcibly transported from their homes in Africa by slave-traders to other nations were usually called ‘negros’, a word found in both the Spanish and Portuguese languages.
The word meant, very simply, black, and was used to describe the skin color of the African men and women whom they were transporting to the New World. Now, using the term ‘negros’ to describe these slaves as ‘Black’ was quite incorrect.
Research has shown there may be even more variations in the skin colors of ‘Blacks’ than there are in ‘Whites.’ According to a century of scientific research, the color of these Africans skin color was, over time, determined by how close they lived to the Equatorial belt.
In historical documents, it is recorded the first slaves preferred to call themselves ‘African.’ Furthermore, when Americans of African descent formed their first group in Philadelphia in 1787, they called it “The Free African Society." In fact, their preamble declared "We, the Free Africans and their descendants...”
Now, it is a fact that most Americans when referring to their heritage these days adopt the nation of their ancestry, referring to themselves as members of groups such as Irish-American or Italian-American.
For the majority of Americans who are descendants of slaves, there is often no direct connection to a specific homeland or culture because it was lost over time. Therefore, the term African-American has become their standard.
So, what is the one thing that every person in these United States has in common? We are Americans! For better or for worse, be it richer or poorer, whatever our particular family history and ethnic background is, we are Americans first and foremost. As such, we can both celebrate our nation, and at the same time glory in our differences.
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