As my senior paper revolves around data I collected at my college, I wrote a profile for the college to lend background context to my informants and my argument. In the process, I realized that over 80% of Luther’s students identify as “white/Caucasian.” Remembering classes that asked us to identify our cultural heritage, I remember only one or two instances where that label didn’t mean, “Western European immigrants settled down in the United States and reproduced with partners solely from people whose families also came from Western Europe.” (Both individuals have ancestors who identified as Lakota.) I specify the label’s use because “Caucasian” is an adjective describing people from a specific region in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that is currently in the news again because of turmoil with Russia.
Before Easter Break, I attended a lecture about Indonesia’s female Qur’anic reciters by a well-respected researcher of Arabic music. She said that the mainstream distinction in the music of the US is between Anglo or African (think Usher vs Taylor Swift), but really, there are other kinds of music, such as the musical heritage of the Norwegian immigrants that started Luther as a college. She elaborated to point out that often, generalizations conflate things that simply look similar – Scandinavian immigrants lumped into the “Anglo” category because their phenotypes are closer to British immigrants than African immigrants.
Similarly, the survey category “white/Caucasian” serves as a generalized conflation of people with similar phenotypes. Scandinavians, Brits, Anglos, northern French, northern Italians, Germans, etc. – people who can trace their lineages to these regions are not Caucasian because they’re not from the Caucasus Mountains. Yet in the US I’m considered Caucasian simply because I only have white-skinned ancestors. Are there motives behind the conflation other than American laziness? Why include cultural heritage from the Caucasus Mountains into an ethnic marker used (in the Midwest) by people whose immigrant ancestors came from Western Europe?