In a 1775 doctoral dissertation which divided mankind into four races, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach introduced the term "Caucasian." By his formulation, this "race" included all Europeans, North Africans, Middle Easterners, South Asians, and most Central Asians. The only groups not included, in fact, were East Asians, sub-Saharan Africans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders.

By Blumenbach's definition, I am almost entirely Caucasian.

In the United States, though, the term Caucasian became interchangeable in common usage with the term "white," a label that carried certain privileges. The associated privilege made Caucasian status more restrictive. In the 1923 case United States vs. Bhagat Singh Thind, the Supreme Court ruled that a Punjabi applicant for citizenship, though Caucasian by Blumenbach's system, did not classify as white and thus could not be granted citizenship or own land under the U.S. laws of the time. Census and survey forms today often retain the word Caucasian, but include separate categories for many of the groups, including Indians, who originally fell under the term.

At different times and/or for different audiences, even groups like Jews or Italians did/do not count as Caucasians. It's a tough thing deciding, sometimes, which of someone else's boxes you can fit into.

Even by very restrictive definitions, however, there have been a lot of people in my family history who counted as white. According to an informal 2009 poll of my colleagues, just under 50% of respondents said I could "pass for white." Certainly, I'm connected to a past of immigration from Western Europe and of some belonging in mainstream, Western-European-immigrant U.S. society. And so this American idea of what it means to be Caucasian is a big part of my ethnic and historical heritage.

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