Negroid (less commonly called Congoid) is an outdated historical grouping of various people indigenous to Africa south of the area which stretched from the southern Sahara desert in the west to the African Great Lakes in the southeast,[1] but also to isolated parts of South and Southeast Asia (Negritos).[2]

The concept of dividing humankind into three races called Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid (originally named "Ethiopian") was introduced in the 1780s by members of the Göttingen School of History and further developed by Western scholars in the context of "racist ideologies"[3] during the age of colonialism.[3] With the rise of modern genetics, the concept of distinct human races in a biological sense has become obsolete. In 2019, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists stated: "The belief in “races” as natural aspects of human biology, and the structures of inequality (racism) that emerge from such beliefs, are among the most damaging elements in the human experience both today and in the past."[3]


Negroid has both Spanish and Ancient Greek etymological roots. It literally translates as "black resemblance" from the Spanish word negro (black), and Greek οειδές -oeidēs, equivalent to -o- + είδες -eidēs "having the appearance of", derivative of είδος eîdos "appearance".[4][5] The earliest recorded use of the term "Negroid" came in 1859.[6]

History of the concept


Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a scholar at the then modern Göttingen University developed a concept dividing mankind into five races in the revised 1795 edition of his De generis humani varietate nativa (On the Natural Variety of Mankind). Although Blumenbach's concept later gave rise to scientific racism, his arguments were basically anti-racist,[7] since he underlined that mankind as a whole forms one single species,[8] and points out that the transition from one race to another is so gradual that the distinctions between the races presented by him are "very arbitrary".[9] Blumenbach counts the inhabitants of North Africa among the "Caucasian race", grouping the other Africans as "Ethiopian race". In this context, he names the "Abyssinians" and "Moors" as peoples through which the "Ethiopian race" gradually "flows together" with the "Caucasian race".[10]

In the context of scientific racism

Before Darwin

The development of Western race theories took place in a historical situation where most Western nations were still profiting from the enslavement of Africans[11]:524 and therefore had an economical interest in portraying the inhabitants of sub-Saharan Africa as an inferior race. A significant change in Western views on Africans came about when Napoleon's 1798 invasion of Egypt drew attention to the impressive achievements of Ancient Egypt, which could hardly be reconciled with the theory of Africans being inferior.[11]:526–7 In this context, many of the works published on Egypt after Napoleon's expedition "seemed to have had as their main purpose an attempt to prove in some way that the Egyptians were not Negroes",[11]:525 but belonged to a "Hamitic race", which was seen as a subgroup of the "Caucasian race". Thus the high civilization of Ancient Egypt could be separated from the allegedly inferior African "race".[11]:526

Illustration of Negroid, Caucasoid, and Mongoloid skulls shown from above (Samuel George Morton, 1839)

As historian Edith Sanders writes, "Perhaps because slavery was both still legal and profitable in the United States ... there arose an American school of anthropology which attempted to prove scientifically that the Egyptian was a Caucasian, far removed from the inferior Negro".[11]:526 In his Crania Aegyptiaca (1844), Samuel George Morton, the founder of anthropology in the United States, analyzed over a hundred intact crania gathered from the Nile Valley, and concluded that the ancient Egyptians were racially akin to Europeans.[12]

Discussions on race among Western scholars during the 19th century took place against the background of the debate between monogenists and polygenists, the former arguing for a single origin of all mankind, the latter holding that each human race had a specific origin. Monogenists based their arguments either on a literal interpretation of the biblical story of Adam and Eve or on secular research. Since polygenism stressed the perceived differences, it was popular among white supremacists, especially slaveholders in the US.[13]

Through craniometry conducted on thousands of human skulls, Morton argued that the differences between the races were too broad to have stemmed from a single common ancestor, but were instead consistent with separate racial origins.[14] In Crania Aegyptiaca, he reported his measurements of internal skull capacity grouped according to Blumenbach's five races, finding that the average capacity of the "Caucasian race" was at the top, and that "Ethiopian" skulls had the smallest capacity, with the other "races" ranging in between.[15] He concluded that the "Ethiopian race" was inferior in terms of intelligence. Upon his death in 1851, when slavery still existed in the southern United States, the influential Charleston Medical Journal praised him with the words: "We of the South should consider him as our benefactor for aiding most materially in giving to the negro his true position as an inferior race."[16] While a controversy about the correctness of Morton's measurements has been going on since the late 1970s, modern scientists agree that the volume of the skull and intelligence are not related.[17]

In the age of evolutionary biology

Meyers Konversations-Lexikon (1885–1890)
ethnographic map

  North Mongol

Darwin's landmark work On the Origin of Species, published in 1859, 8 years after Morton's death, significantly changed scientific discourse on the origin of humans. British biologist Thomas Huxley, a strong advocate of Darwinism and a monogenist, counted 10 "modifications of mankind", dividing the native populations of sub-Saharan Africa into the "Bushmen" of the Cape region and the "Negroes" of the central areas of the continent.[18]

By the end of the 19th century, the influential German encyclopaedia, Meyers Konversations-Lexikon, divided humanity into three major races called Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid, each comprising various sub-races. While the "Hamites" of northern Africa were seen as Caucasoid, "Australians", "Melanesians", and "Negritoes" were seen as Negroid sub-races, although living outside the African continent. The only sub-races attributed to Africa were the "African Negroes" and the "Hottentots".[19]

The justification for racist Jim Crow laws was provided by pseudo-scientific[20] opinions on "negro" psychology like those expressed by the entry for "Negro" in the Encyclopædia Britannica, 11th edition (1910-11):

Mentally the negro is inferior to the white... the arrest or even deterioration of mental development [after adolescence] is no doubt very largely due to the fact that after puberty sexual matters take the first place in the negro's life and thoughts. ... the mental constitution of the negro is very similar to that of a child, normally good-natured and cheerful, but subject to sudden fits of emotion and passion during which he is capable of performing acts of singular atrocity, impressionable, vain, but often exhibiting in the capacity of servant a dog-like fidelity which has stood the supreme test.[21]

Franz Boas and The Race Question

Since the 1920s, Franz Boas and his school of anthropology at Columbia University were criticising the concept of race as politically dangerous and scientifically useless because of its vague definition.[22]:248

Illustrations of "racial types" from The New Student's Reference Work (1914), edited by Chandler B. Beach and Frank Morton McMurry

In 1950, UNESCO published their statement The Race Question. It condemned all forms of racism, naming "the doctrine of inequality of men and races"[23]:1 among the causes of World War II and proposing to replace the term "race" with "ethnic groups" because "serious errors ... are habitually committed when the term “race” is used in popular parlance".[23]

Carleton Coon

American anthropologist Carleton S. Coon published his much debated[22]:248 Origin of Races in 1962. Coon divided the species Homo sapiens into five groups: Besides the Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Australoid races, he posited two races among the indigenous populations of sub-Saharan Africa: the Capoid race in the south, and the Congoid race.[24] In 1982, he used Negroid and Congoid as synonyms.[25]

Coon's thesis was that Homo erectus had already been divided into five different races or subspecies. "Homo Erectus then evolved into Homo Sapiens not once but five times, as each subspecies, living in its own territory, passed a critical threshold from a more brutal to a more sapient state."[26] He thought that the Caucasoid race had passed the threshold to Homo sapiens about 200,000 years earlier than the Negroid race,[22]:248 thus giving segregationists in the southern US the opportunity to make political use of his thesis in their fight against the civil rights movement.[22]:249 Although Coon publicly assumed a neutral stance regarding segregation, some fellow anthropologists accused him of being racist because of his "clear insensitivity to social issues".[22]:249 In private conversations and correspondence with his cousin Carleton Putnam, a prominent supporter of white supremacy, he went much further, helping Putnam "hone his arguments against integration".[22]:256

Coon's evolutionary approach was criticized on the basis that such sorting criteria generally do not produce meaningful results, and that evolutionary divergence was extremely improbable over the given time-frames.[27] Monatagu (1963) argued that Coon's theory on the speciation of Congoids and other Homo sapiens was unlikely because the transmutation of one species to another was a markedly gradual process.[28]

Since Coon followed the traditional methods of physical anthropology, relying on morphological characteristics, and not on the emerging genetics to classify humans, the debate over Origin of Races has been "viewed as the last gasp of an outdated scientific methodology that was soon to be supplanted."[22]:249

Cheikh Anta Diop and "Negroid" primacy

Afrocentrist author Cheikh Anta Diop contrasted "Negroid" with "Cro-Magnoid" in his publications arguing for "Negroid" primacy. Grimaldi Man, Upper Paleolithic fossils found in Italy in 1901, had been classified as Negroid by Boule and Vallois (1921). The identification was obsolete by the 1960s, but was controversially revived by Diop (1989).[29]

Physical features

General appearance

The Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition (1910–11) lists the following "well-defined characteristics" of the "Negroid" populations of Africa, southern India, Malaysia, and Australasia: "A dark skin, varying from dark brown, reddish-brown, or chocolate to nearly black; dark, tightly curled hair, flat in traverse section, of the woolly or the frizzly type; a greater or less tendency to prognathism; eyes dark brown with yellowish cornea; nose more or less broad and flat; and large teeth." [30] The Encyclopædia Britannica sees a tendency towards a "tall stature" and "dolichocephaly" (long-headedness), with the exception of the Negritos who are described as showing "short stature" and "brachycephaly" (short-headedness).[30]

Forensic anthropologists writing around the turn of the millennium described "Negroid"[31] skulls as having a broad and round nasal cavity; no dam or nasal sill; Quonset hut-shaped nasal bones; notable facial projection in the jaw and mouth area (prognathism); a rectangular-shaped palate; a square or rectangular eye orbit shape;[32] a large interorbital distance; a more undulating supraorbital ridge;[33] and large teeth.[34]


Ashley Montagu lists "neotenous structural traits in which...Negroids [generally] differ from Caucasoids... flattish nose, flat root of the nose, narrower ears, narrower joints, frontal skull eminences, later closure of premaxillary sutures, less hairy, longer eyelashes, [and] cruciform pattern of second and third molars".[35]:254 He also suggested that in the extinct Negroid group termed the "Boskopoids", pedomorphic traits proceeded further than in other Negroids.[35] Additionally, Montagu wrote that the Boskopoids had larger brains than modern humans (1,700 cubic centimeters cranial capacity compared to 1,400 cubic centimeters in modern-day humans), and the projection of their mouth was less than in other Negroids.[35] He believed that the Boskopoids were the ancestors of the Khoisan.[35]


In the context of prominent successes of African-American athletes like Jesse Owens during the 1936 Summer Olympics, the speed advantage of the "Negroid type of calf, foot and heel bone" was discussed.[36]:161[37] Black Anthropologist W. Montague Cobb joined the debate in the same year, pointing out that "there is not a single physical characteristic, including skin color, which all the Negro stars have in common which definitely classify them as Negroes."[37][36] Today, suggestions of biological differences in athletic ability between racial groups are considered unscientific.[38][39][40]


The Oxford Dictionary of English states: "The term Negroid belongs to a set of terms introduced by 19th-century anthropologists attempting to categorize human races. Such terms are associated with outdated notions of racial types, and so are now potentially offensive and best avoided".[41]

Criticism based on modern genetics

In his 2016 essay Evolution and Notions of Human Race, Alan R. Templeton discusses various criteria used in biology to define subspecies or races. His examples for traits traditionally considered to be racial include skin colour: "[T]he native peoples with the darkest skins live in tropical Africa and Melanesia." While those two groups would traditionally be classified as "black", in reality Africans are more closely related to Europeans than to Melanesians.[42]:359 Another example is malarial resistance, which is often found in African populations, but also in "many European and Asian populations".[42]:359

Templeton concludes: "[T]he answer to the question whether races exist in humans is clear and unambiguous: no."[42]:360

Further reading

  • Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, New York: Nation Books 2016. ISBN 978-1-5685-8464-5


  1. ^ "A very prominent racial dividing line between African Caucasian and Negroid groups runs west to east, south of the Sahara Desert into Sudan before curving southward toward the Kenyan-Somali border." Stephen Emerson, Hussein Solomon, African security in the twenty-first century: Challenges and opportunities, Oxford University Press (2018), p. 41.
  2. ^ Molnar, Stephen (2006). Human Variation: Races, Types, and Ethnic Groups. Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-13-192765-0.
  3. ^ a b c American Association of Physical Anthropologists (27 March 2019). "AAPA Statement on Race and Racism". American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  4. ^ Company, Houghton Mifflin (2005). The American Heritage guide to contemporary usage and style. Houghton Mifflin Company. p. 512. ISBN 978-0-618-60499-9.
  5. ^ "Oid | Define Oid at". Retrieved 2012-06-12.
  6. ^ Harper, Douglas (November 2001). "Online Etymological Dictionary". Retrieved 2007-11-06.
  7. ^ Bhopal R (December 2007). "The beautiful skull and Blumenbach's errors: the birth of the scientific concept of race". BMJ. 335 (7633): 1308–9. doi:10.1136/bmj.39413.463958.80. PMC 2151154. PMID 18156242. Blumenbach’s name has been associated with scientific racism, but his arguments actually undermined racism. Blumenbach could not have foreseen the coming abuse of his ideas and classification in the 19th and (first half of the) 20th centuries.
  8. ^ Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1797). Handbuch der Naturgeschichte. p. 60. Retrieved 2020-05-24. Es giebt nur eine Gattung (species) im Menschengeschlecht; und alle uns bekannte Völker aller Zeiten und aller Himmelsstriche können von einer gemeinschaftlichen Stammrasse abstammen.
  9. ^ German: "sehr willkürlich": Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1797). Handbuch der Naturgeschichte. p. 61. Retrieved 2020-05-24. Alle diese Verschiedenheiten fließen aber durch so mancherley Abstufungen und Uebergänge so unvermerkt zusammen, daß sich keine andre, als sehr willkürliche Grenzen zwischen ihnen festsetzen lassen.
  10. ^ German: "Aethiopische Rasse": Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1797). Handbuch der Naturgeschichte. p. 62. Retrieved 2020-06-06. Die Aethiopische Rasse: Abbild. n. h. Gegenst. tab. 5. mehr oder weniger schwarz; mit schwarzem krausem Haar; vorwärts prominirenden Kiefern, wulstigen Lippen, und stumpfer Nase. Dahin die übrigen Afrikaner, nahmentlich die Neger, die sich dann in die Habessinier, Mauren ꝛc. verlieren, so wie jede andre Menschen-Varietät mit ihren benachbarten Völkerschaften gleichsam zusammen fließt.
  11. ^ a b c d e Sanders, Edith R. (October 1969). "The Hamitic Hypothesis; Its Origin and Functions in Time Perspective". The Journal of African History. 10 (4): 521–532. doi:10.1017/S0021853700009683. ISSN 1469-5138. JSTOR 179896.
  12. ^ Robinson, Michael F. (2016). The Lost White Tribe: Explorers, Scientists, and the Theory that Changed a Continent. Oxford University Press. pp. 96–97. ISBN 978-0199978502. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
  13. ^ Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning. The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, New York: Nation Books 2016. ISBN 978-1-5685-8464-5, chapters 4, 7-12, 14, 16 passim.
  14. ^ Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning. The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, New York: Nation Books 2016. ISBN 978-1-5685-8464-5, chapter 14.
  15. ^ Michael, John S. “A New Look at Morton's Craniological Research.” Current Anthropology, vol. 29, no. 2, 1988, pp. 349–354. JSTOR, Accessed 15 June 2020.
  16. ^ Stephen Jay Gould (17 June 2006). The Mismeasure of Man. ISBN 978-0393314250. Retrieved 2020-06-11. and by: Emily S. Renschler and Janet Monge. "The Samuel George Morton Cranial Collection. Historical Significance and New Research". Retrieved 2020-06-11.
  17. ^ Mismeasure for mismeasure. Nature 474, 419 (2011). doi:10.1038/474419a
  18. ^ Huxley, T. H. On the Geographical Distribution of the Chief Modifications of Mankind (1870) Journal of the Ethnological Society of London.
  19. ^ The German legend of the map shows the following names: Hamiten, Australier, Melanesier, Negritos, Afrikanische Neger, Hottentotten.
  20. ^ Roy L. Brooks uses the adjective "scientific" inside quotation marks in his discussion of that entry and its connection with Jim Crow laws: Brooks, Roy L., editor. “Redress for Racism?” When Sorry Isn't Enough: The Controversy Over Apologies and Reparations for Human Injustice, NYU Press, 1999, pp. 395–398. JSTOR j.ctt9qg0xt.75. Accessed 17 Aug. 2020.
  21. ^ Joyce, Thomas Athol (1911). "Negro" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 11 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 344.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Jackson Jr., John (June 2001). ""In Ways Unacademical": The Reception of Carleton S. Coon's The Origin of Races". Journal of the History of Biology. 34 (2): 247–285. doi:10.1023/A:1010366015968. JSTOR 4331661. S2CID 86739986.
  23. ^ a b "The Race Question", UNESCO, 1950, 11pp
  24. ^ Carleton S. Coon (1962). The Origin of Races. pp. 3–4. [The Congoid race] comprises the Negroes and Pygmies of Africa. I have named it Congoid after the region (not a specific nation) which contains both kinds of people. The term Negroid has been deliberately omitted to avoid confusion. It has been applied both to Africans and the spiral-haired peoples of Southern Asia and Oceania who are not genetically related to each other, as far as we know.
  25. ^ Coon, Carleton S. (1982). Racial adaptations. p. 11. ISBN 9780830410125. The five primary races are the Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Australoid, Congoid (more commonly called Negroid), and the Capoid
  26. ^ Cited according to Jackson Jr., John (June 2001). ""In Ways Unacademical": The Reception of Carleton S. Coon's The Origin of Races". Journal of the History of Biology. 34 (2): 248. doi:10.1023/A:1010366015968. JSTOR 4331661. S2CID 86739986. The reference given there is to "Coon, Origin of the [sic] Races, 1963 [sic], p. 657".
  27. ^ Carlson, David; Armelagos, George (September 1971). "Problems in Racial Geography". Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 61 (3): 630–633. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8306.1971.tb00812.x.
  28. ^ Dobzhansky, Theodosius; Ashley Montagu; C. S. Coon (1963). "Two Views of Coon's "Origin of Races" with Comments by Coon and Replies". Current Anthropology. 4 (4): 360–367. doi:10.1086/200401.
  29. ^ Masset, C. (1989): Grimaldi : une imposture honnête et toujours jeune, Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, vol. 86, n° 8, pp. 228–243. "Cornevin seems to ignore the depth of morphological differences that exist between the Black and the White when he dates these differences back to Antiquity as recent as the eleventh millennium B.C. By doing so he opposes the one hypothesis at the disposal of scholars to confer upon the Whites an antiquity equal to that of the Blacks. He errs most regrettably in claiming that the Asselar man looks more like the Cro-Magnoid European of Grimladi and the Bushman than like modern Blacks. By definition, the Grimaldi Negorid is not Cro-Magnoid, and he is the only one the Asselar man could possibly resemble; he shares no feature with the so-called Cro-Magnon man who lived later in the same cave and is the prototype of the White race as the 'Negroid' is the prototype of the Black race." C. A. Diop, The African Origin of Civilization: Myth Or Reality (1989), p. 266.
  30. ^ a b "Negro". The Encyclopaedia Britannica : a dictionary of arts, sciences, literature and general information. Internet Archive. 19. p. 344. Retrieved 2020-08-13.
  31. ^ A critical reflection on the use of "Negroid" and related terms in this context is given by: Diana Smay, George Armelagos (2000). "Galileo wept: A critical assessment of the use of race of forensic anthropolopy" (PDF). Transforming Anthropology. 9 (2): 22–24. doi:10.1525/tran.2000.9.2.19. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  32. ^ George W. Gill, Stanley Rhine (eds.) (1990). Skeletal Attribution of Race: Methods for Forensic Anthropology. Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. ISBN 978-0-912535-06-7. OCLC 671604288.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  33. ^ Wilkinson, Caroline (2004). Forensic Facial Reconstruction. Cambridge University Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN 978-0-521-82003-5. Retrieved 2 June 2015.
  34. ^ Brace CL, Tracer DP, Yaroch LA, Robb J, Brandt K, Nelson AR, Clines and clusters versus "race:" a test in ancient Egypt and the case of a death on the Nile, (1993), Yrbk Phys Anthropol 36:1–31, p.18
  35. ^ a b c d Montagu, Ashley Growing Young Published by Greenwood Publishing Group, 1988 ISBN 0-89789-166-X
  36. ^ a b Wiggins, David K. (1989). ""Great Speed But Little Stamina:" The Historical Debate Over Black Athletic Superiority" (PDF). Journal of Sport History. 16 (2): 158–185. S2CID 27097059.
  37. ^ a b Cited in: Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning. The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, New York: Nation Books 2016. ISBN 978-1-5685-8464-5, chapter 27.
  38. ^ Saini, Angela (23 July 2019). "Sports and IQ: the persistence of race 'science' in competition". Nature. 571 (7766): 474–475. Bibcode:2019Natur.571..474S. doi:10.1038/d41586-019-02244-w. S2CID 198191524.
  39. ^ Wiggins, David K. (2018). More Than a Game: A History of the African American Experience in Sport. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 151. ISBN 978-1538114988.
  40. ^ "Interview with Robert Graves Jr". 2003.
  41. ^ Stevenson, Angus (2010). Oxford Dictionary of English. ISBN 9780199571123. As of 2020, the same text was still present on the website: "Ask Oxford – Definition of Negroid". Oxford Dictionary of English. 2020. Retrieved 2020-08-05.
  42. ^ a b c Templeton, A. (2016). EVOLUTION AND NOTIONS OF HUMAN RACE. In Losos J. & Lenski R. (Eds.), How Evolution Shapes Our Lives: Essays on Biology and Society (pp. 346-361). Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctv7h0s6j.26. That this view reflects the consensus among American anthropologists is stated in: Wagner, Jennifer K.; Yu, Joon-Ho; Ifekwunigwe, Jayne O.; Harrell, Tanya M.; Bamshad, Michael J.; Royal, Charmaine D. (February 2017). "Anthropologists' views on race, ancestry, and genetics". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 162 (2): 318–327. doi:10.1002/ajpa.23120. PMC 5299519. PMID 27874171. See also: American Association of Physical Anthropologists (27 March 2019). "AAPA Statement on Race and Racism". American Association of Physical Anthropologists. Retrieved 19 June 2020.