Are Syrians technically caucasian?

Mr. and Mrs. Assad and their kids look incredibly “white”. Are Syrians actually caucasian instead of “middle eastern”?

Sorry for the awkward question.

Yes, as are all Arabs and other “middle eastern” peoples, not to mention most Indians. Caucasian does not mean white. Of course, it is a bullshit pseudoscientific racist concept anyway.

There is no such thing as a ‘Caucasian’ or ‘Middle Eastern’ race. There are various peoples of the Caucasus region and/or speakers of the Caucasic family of languages, most of whom are significantly darker skinned than thr typical descendant of Northern and Western Europe. What is now known as Syria was once the Lavant region whose inhabitants had features typical to Mediterranean peoples; an olive complexion, wavy hair, and dark eyes. However, the region has been a crossroads for merchants and armies since the dawn of civilization and there is a wide mix of genes from nearly every culture in Europe and Asia. Walking down the streets of Damascus you will see people from every hue of skin tone from ‘black’ to ‘pasty’, and eyes that are brown, blue, green, and hazel. Blond hair is unusual but not unseen.

The “Middle Eastern” apparance of the peoples of the Arabian peninsula has more to do with the genetic isolation imposed by those population than being from any particular heritage.


“Caucasoid” is more precise. Syria’s just a little south of the Caucasus proper.

But yeah, the Assads are very white, and probably closer to the sense of the original “Caucasian” type than are my own Nordic ancestors. The term was defined, by a German physical anthropologist a couple centuries ago, as roughly resembling a certain shape of face. East Asians have a little different bone structure and eyelid shape. Of course, all of this is on a gradient, or really multiple gradients; so as a racial rather than descriptive category, it’s been stretched to include a lot of people who don’t really have the same shape of head anyway. So we have “Caucasians” with broadly set eyes, weak-chinned “Caucasians,” “Caucasians” who look like especially fair Chinese but for the eyes, and so forth.

And skin color is a different thing anyway. There are very, very dark–as in, make Michael Jordan look light-skinned–very, very Caucasoid people in East Africa and south India.

Yeah, I was going to say too, they’re a heckuva lot closer to the Caucus region than us.

Plus the mix - if you have seen Lawrence of Arabia, when Lawrence (Peter O’Toole) is captured and pretends to be a local, the Turk authorities are wondering if he is the wanted Englishman and someone remarks that there are a lot of lighter-haired, blue-eyed people wandering the Ottoman Empire due to various ethnic mixing.

I’d put them in the same category as Egyptians, Saudis, etc. - some could pass for Europeans like Italians or Greeks or Spaniards, maybe a few can pass for more northern Europeans. There are no fixed races, there’s more variation within a national group than between countries.

Technically the question is meaningless since there are no technical definitions of races. There was a moderately dark-skinned Indian living across the street who, when asked race on a form (e.g. census) always wrote down “Aryan”, which is correct. The peoples who inhabit the Mediterranean regions (both sides) tend, on average, to have a darker skin, hair, and eyes, than those whose ancestors lived near the North Sea. But so what?

I am violating the rules of GQ, but I cannot help but say that the world would be a better place had the whole notion of race never existed.

Race is a political concept, so the answer depends on what the popular consensus is or what the applicable government says it is.

To continue with the gradient thing mentioned above, ever met any Ethiopians? They tend (on average…) to have facial features that are much more “European” than West Africans. Most of the “black” people in countries like the US are descended from West Africans rather than East Africans and tend to have a certain “look” that goes beyond color. Barack Obama, having ancestors from Kenya in East Africa, also has a look that is more Ethiopian/European.

I don’t see why. I suspect that you think that the concept of race can only exist in the context of slavery based on race?

Not to speak for the other poster, but the entire concept of race has predominately been used to distinguish between “Us” and “Them” for the purpose of making “Them” seem threatening, sinister, slow-witted, unvirtuous, intellectually or morally inferior, et cetera. Note that this isn’t just limited to ‘white’ Europeans enslaving ‘black’ sub-Saharan Africans; nearly every culture has used race or an analogous concept to justify oppressing, enslaving, exploiting, or making genocidal war upon another culture. The current divisions–‘Caucasoid’ or ‘Aryan’, ‘Asian/Indian/Pacific Islander’, ‘Black’, and ‘Native American’–stem back only to about the 18th Century. From a standpoint of what we know today from genetic studies, there is essentially no validity to these categories. ‘Black’ Africans alone comprise a greater degree of genetic and phenotypical variability than all of the other ‘races’ combined.


What he said. The only benefit to classifying people based on race is it allows you to do things which correct prior classifications based on race, like affirmative action. I guess it’s also useful for treating diseases which affect distinguishable ethnic groups, but there aren’t many of those.

Against other cultures, yes. Against other “races” : not so sure. I’m quite convinced that the concept of races is mostly a modern construct (and difficult to support to boot in face of the evidences that its mostly meaningless. My opinion is that we need quite a lot of cultural conditioning to buy into the idea that there are human races, not the other way around).

I think we’re arging the same side of the coin, here. In order to demonize another culture, you first identify them as being a seperate and inferior race, e.g. the English senitment about the Irish ‘race’ which allowed them to storm in, take land wholesale, push the inhabitants into serfdom, and starve them at will all the way into the 19th Century. Today, nobody would argue that the Irish aren’t part of the ‘white’ race, but that is a very recent change in sentiment; only a century ago were Irish emmigrants treated with the same degree of contempt and disregard that other ‘races’ are today.


I think Hari Seldon’s point is that “race” is false science and false knowledge. The misery is a consequence of the lie, but the lie is bad as a lie.

Precisely, I’m saying that this didn’t happen during most of history. I’m arguing that, say, the Romans or the Mongols didn’t have a concept a race similar to ours so couldn’t use it to demonize their opponents.

Doesn’t apply to the British/Irish, obviously, and I include that in “recent history”.

“Race” started off as just any definable ethnicity or common descendancy that you could identify as “different”, for the purpose of distinguishing “Us” from “Them”. It was relatively late in the game that the pseudoscience of “Races” as in Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid, etc. arose.

To some of the ancient civilizations, anyone “not Us” was just “the Barbarians” and you could deal with them well or badly as circumstances called for.
Going back to the OP - the Assads look like many other people from coastal Syria would look like, which is what many people all around the Mediterranean basin look like. The Levant coast has been an active zone of trade and travel since the Bronze Age. On the land side Western Syria, Lebanon and Palestine have been Highway 1 for invasion, occupation, migration and ethnic displacement dating back to the time of the Pharaohs. So it would not be unusual to have a large range of mixes and variations.

Well, both the Roman and Mongol Empires conquered and expanded by integrating existing cultures into a unified (more or less) identity rather than suppressing them, so of course trying to make such distinctions would be counterproductive. On the other hand, cultures such as China under the Ming Empire or Japan in the feudal era (Kamakura through Edo periods) were isolationist and actively suppressed conquered people or outside influences specifically by identifying people from other cultures or having a different appearance as being inferior. So, race or analogues to it are not really modern innovations, although the attempts to legitimize them through pseudoscientific rationales stems back to only the mid 19th Century.

Note that isn’t to say that there are clear phenotypical distinctions between populations from different regions and due to endogamy within such populations. It is also legitimate to observe that the prevalence of these phenotypes creates variability in the capabilities of different populations; we will never see a Bambuti NBA player, for instance. But the fixity of these capabilities is dependent upon maintaining a restricted gene pool; the offspring of a Bambuti and a Watutsi may be either tall or short or somewhere in between, depending on the interaction and expression of genes within the chromosomes which are selected. Trying to make clear distinctions about the capabilities of different ‘races’ or even better defined ethnicities based upon observable phenotypes without consideration for the gamut of socialization, education, nutrition, et cetera often gives very misleading conclusions.

For instance, we might look at the NBA and observe, based upon the predominance of ‘black’ players, that Negros are uniquely suited to play basketball. This ignores the various influences other than height and native athleticism such as that there is a greater social impetus to excel at sports for inner city kids who happen to be predominately black, for many blacks sports are viewed as the best route to financial success, the lack of support for intellectual pursuits which might otherwise divert would-be basketball players into other fields, and of course that regardless of ethnicity, professional basketball players represent the extreme and tiny subset of the population which has the very best natural athletic abilities and (generally) well above average height. So, it may not be that basketball is a sport that naturally lends itself to the innate talents of blacks, but rather than ‘black culture’ (in the United States, of course) has embraced basketball as a highly lauded attainment, just as Russians excel at ballet or the British revel in building shitty cars.


“Race” should properly, IMO, regard obvious and also subtle elements of appearance. Ethnicity is not the same thing; neither is genetic heritage. If racial types label desciptions of appearance, not DNA or language/ cultural elemants, I don’t see the problem everyone has with the term “race” except the negative baggage it has accrued by association with terms like “race war”, “racist”, etc. The actual concept of a type of appearance doesn’t have to have a scientific basis, just a simple set of mutually accepted physical traits, like facial structure, eye shape, hair texture, eye color. The descriptions don’t need to be of subspecies or refering to cenotypes, just subtleties of appearance. This allows for glaring scientific errors, but allows for convenient descriptions, which really oughtn’t imply negativity or “racism”, but probably will, in spite any intentions to the contrary.

Elements of appearance are more “physical type” than “race,” though.

An Anglo from Oklahoma, an Arab from Jordan, an Argentine, and an Armenian might all look alike but be from different heritages. Are they really the same “race”?

A Swede might have high cheekbones, tan skin, squinty eyes and “Lapp” features, or pale freckled skin and “Germanic” features. And Swedish genes mix and match different points on these gradients all the time. Is a Swede that looks like a stereotypical Dutchman a different “race” from one who could pass for a Turk?