Caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negroid
These three terms are disputed, and many consider them obsolete, and even offensive. They refer to what some people considered the three “base races” in the world:
In simple, cultural terms:
- Caucasian: White people
- Mongoloid: Asian people
- Negroid: Black people
One of the original theories of race says that every human stemmed from one of those three groups, and those groups were unique to each other. The theory claimed that these were the three “base” or “pure” races.
However, in the intervening years, the idea of pure races has been questioned and largely discounted. Today, most anthropologists accept that the human species simply diverged in phenotype based on environmental factors, a point buttressed by the fact that these races are specific to geographic areas.
In 1950, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a famous statement entitled “The Race Question,” which sought to eliminate the term “race” altogether, and rather speak of “ethnic groups,” though it didn’t explicitly reject the “base race” theory. However, a revised statement in 1951 clarified that all humans were of the species Homo Sapian, further stating:
There is no evidence for the existence of so-called “pure races” and no scientific justification exists for discouraging reproduction between persons of different races.
We speak of “race” frequently in cultural conversation, but that assumes there are fundamental differences between a Black, Asian, and White person. The counter-argument to this is that the differences between those groups is very small, but happens to be highly visual – namely skin color and facial features.
The variation in phenotypes between two people within a race is often far larger than the difference between two people of different races.
In other words, if all physical characteristics of one White person and two Black people were quantified, the differences between the two Black people might be larger than the differences between the White person and either of the Black people. However, given the superficially obvious differences in skin color and facial features, we intuitively consider the White person more different to either of the Black people than the two Black people are to one another.
When we speak of “race,” what we’re usually referring to is “cultural race,” which is how a society subjectively views a person’s upbringing, values, and perspective. We tend to correlate those with physical characteristics which we fit into the race classifications listed above.
Why I Looked It Up
I was reading a book about Black athletic performance, and this came up a lot.
Also, while in high school, my daughter dated a boy that happened to be of all three races listed above. His mother was White, and his father was half-Black and half-Asian (Filipino, specifically). He was light-skinned for a Black person, and had curly black hair, and Asian influence in some of his facial features. You could clearly see the influence of all three races.
I talked to him about it once, and he said he considers himself Black. But he added, “I only think of myself as Black because everyone else does,” which is a fascinating comment when you think about it.
Also notable – the term “Mongoloid” was used for many years to describe someone born with Down’s Syndrome. Apparently, the scientist who first documented the syndrome thought that the Down’s facial features looked like those from the population then-named Mongoloid, thus he used the term and it stuck.
Usage of the term started to decline in 1965 after the World Health Organization and the Mongolian government announced opposition to it.
I remembered this usage of the word from the Devo song “Mongoloid” in 1977, which clearly references someone with Down’s Syndrome:
He was a mongoloid, mongoloid
Happier than you and me
Mongoloid, he was a mongoloid
And it determined what he could see
Mongoloid, he was a mongoloid
One chromosome too many
I was singing it once – probably in the early 80s. My mother heard me say the word and got very upset with me. She told me it was “a mean word for a retarded person” (the word “retarded” was still used back then).