The Myth of Race

Posted in Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Science on 2013-01-01 16:52Z by Steven

The Myth of Race

154 pages
8.2 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
Paperback ISBN-10: 0786754362; ISBN-13: 978-0786754366

Jefferson M. Fish, Professor Emeritus of Psychology
St. John’s University, New York City

The Myth of Race deals concisely with a wide range of topics, from how the concept of race differs in different cultures and race relations in the United States, to IQ tests and the census. It draws on scientific knowledge to topple a series of myths that pass as facts, correct false assumptions, and clarify cultural misunderstandings about the highly charged topic of race. The book demonstrates that the apparently straightforward concept of race is actually a confused mixture of two different concepts; and the confusion often leads to miscommunication. The first concept, biological race, simply doesn’t exist in the human species. Instead, what exists is gradual variation in what people look like (e.g., skin color and facial features) and in their genes, as you travel around the planet—with more distant populations appearing more different than closer ones. If you travel in different directions, the populations look different in different ways. The second concept, social race, is a set of cultural categories for labeling people based on how their ancestors were classified, selected aspects of what they look like, or various combinations of both. These sets of categories vary widely from one culture to another.

The book draws on scientific knowledge to topple a series of myths that pass as facts, correct false assumptions, and clarify cultural misunderstandings about the highly charged topic of race.

Here are some of those myths:

  • The myth that humans are divided into Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid races
  • The myth that people cannot change their race
  • The myth of the tragic mulatto
  • The myth of biologically based differences in intelligence among the races

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1. The Myth of Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid Races
  • 2. The Myth that a Persons Race Cannot Change
  • 3. Racial Myths and Cultural Misunderstandings
  • 4. Racial Myths in the Census
  • 5. Racial Myths and the Authors Family
  • 6. Myths about Race and Intelligence
  • 7. Dreams from My Daughter: Mixed Race Myths
  • 8. How the Myth of Race Took Hold
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What Does the Brazilian Census Tell Us About Race?

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2012-01-12 16:25Z by Steven

What Does the Brazilian Census Tell Us About Race?

Psychology Today

Jefferson Fish, Ph.D.

Problems with Brazilian and U.S. census data on race.

In 2010 I posted a six-part series on the U. S. census and race (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). In it I pointed out numerous changes in race categories and sub-categories over the 23 censuses, and multiple contradictions between scientific knowledge about human variation and the census race categories. I also offered a simple solution that would allow the government to collect the information it needs without contradicting science and offending or perplexing many citizens.

Because race is a cultural concept, beliefs about race vary dramatically from one culture to another. In this regard, America and Brazil are amazingly different in the categories they use. The United States has a small number of racial categories, based overwhelmingly on ancestry. Thus, it is possible for an American who “looks white” to “really be black” because he or she has “black blood.”

In contrast, Brazilians classify people according to what they look like, using a large number of different terms. For example, one study in the Brazilian northeast conducted by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE)—the entity responsible for the census—asked people what color (cor) they were, and received 134 different answers! (Other studies have found even larger numbers; and the results vary regionally, with much fewer categories used in the south of the country.) In many Brazilian families different racial terms are used to refer to different children, while such distinctions are not possible in the United States because all the children—no matter what they look like—have the same ancestry.

Thus, I was fascinated to read that “For the first time, non-white people make up the majority of Brazil’s population, according to preliminary results of the 2010 census.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Mixed Blood: An analytical look at methods of classifying race

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2011-04-09 19:43Z by Steven

Mixed Blood: An analytical look at methods of classifying race

Psyhcology Today

Jefferson M. Fish, Professor Emeritus of Psychology
St. John’s University, New York, New York

An analytical look at methods of classifying race.

Race is an immutable biological given, right? So how come the author’s daughter can change her race just by getting on a plane? Because race is a social classification, not a biological one. We might just have categorized people according to body type rather tha skin color. As for all those behavioral differences attributed to race, like I.Q.—don’t even ask.

Last year my daughter, who had been living in Rio de Janeiro, and her Brazilian boyfriend paid a visit to my cross-cultural psychology class. They had agreed to be interviewed about Brazilian culture. At one point in the interview I asked her, “Are you black?” She said, “Yes.” I then asked him the question, and he said “No.”

“How can that be?” I asked. “He’s darker than she is.”…

…The short answer to the question “What is race?” is: There is no such thing. Race is a myth. And our racial classification scheme is loaded with pure fantasy…

…Since the human species has spent most of its existence in Africa, different populations in Africa have been separated from each other longer than East Asians or Northern Europeans have been separated from each other or from Africans. As a result, there is remarkable physical variation among the peoples of Africa, which goes unrecognized by Americans who view them all as belonging to the same race.

In contrast to the very tall Masai, the diminutive stature of the very short Pygmies may have evolved as an advantage in moving rapidly through tangled forest vegetation. The Bushmen of the Kalahari desert have very large (“steatopygous“) buttocks, presumably to store body fat in one place for times of food scarcity, while leaving the rest of the body uninsulated to radiate heat. They also have “peppercorn” hair. Hair in separated tufts, like tight curly hair, leaves space to radiate the heat that rises through the body to the scalp; straight hair lies fiat and holds in body heat, like a cap. By viewing Africans as constituting a single race, Americans ignore their greater physical variability, while assigning racial significance to lesser differences between them.

Although it is true that most inhabitants of northern Europe, east Asia, and central Africa look like Americans’ conceptions of one or another of the three purported races, most inhabitants of south Asia, southwest Asia, north Africa, and the Pacific islands do not. Thus, the 19th century view of the human species as comprised of Caucasoid, Mongoloid, and Negroid races, still held by many Americans, is based on a partial and unrepresentative view of human variability. In other words, what is now known about human physical variation does not correspond to what Americans think of as race…

…Americans believe that race is an immutable biological given, but people (like my daughter and her boyfriend) can change their race by getting on a plane and going from the United States to Brazil—just as, if they take an avocado with them, it changes from a vegetable into a fruit. In both cases, what changes is not the physical appearance of the person or avocado, but the way they are classified.

I have focused on the Brazilian system to make clear how profoundly folk taxonomies of race vary from one place to another. But the Brazilian system is just one of many. Haiti’s folk taxonomy, for example, includes elements of both ancestry and physical appearance, and even includes the amazing term (for foreigners of African appearance) un blanc noir—literally, “a black white.” In the classic study Patterns of Race in the Americas, anthropologist Marvin Harris gives a good introduction to the ways in which the conquests by differing European powers of differing New World peoples and ecologies combined with differing patterns of slavery to produce a variety of folk taxonomies. Folk taxonomies of race can be found in many—though by no means all—cultures in other parts of the world as well…

Read the entire article here.

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Looking in the Cultural Mirror: How understanding race and culture helps us answer the question: “Who am I?”

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Identity Development/Psychology, New Media, Social Science, United States on 2010-08-17 22:38Z by Steven

Looking in the Cultural Mirror: How understanding race and culture helps us answer the question: “Who am I?”

Psychology Today

Jefferson M. Fish, Ph.D.

The Census and Race—Part I–Key Issues: What can science tell us about the census’s race questions? (2010-07-06)

The 2010 Census is well on its way to completion. Its controversial questions about race have raised many issues that deserve to be explored in depth. This is the first post in a multi-part series dealing with the census’s race questions and what we can learn from them about science, politics, and American culture…

The Census and Race—Part II—Slavery (1790-1860): How did the census deal with race during slavery? (2010-07-13)

…The term “color”–not “race”– first appeared in the 1850 census, with three options: white, black, or mulatto; and these options were repeated in 1860. Whatever folk beliefs about “race” Americans may have held prior to the Civil War, they were of secondary importance. Instead, the census questions were organized around the institution of slavery, and were aimed at getting the information needed to apportion taxes and allocate congressional representation.

The key to understanding these questions is political, not biological. The Three-Fifths Compromise, was the deal that made possible the formation of a national government consisting of both free states and slave states; and it did so by counting each slave as 3/5 of a person. (The constitution euphemistically avoided the words “slave” or “slavery” by referring to “other Persons.”) The interrelatedness of the three critical issues of congressional representation, the distribution of taxes, and the creation of the census is embodied in the way they are bound together in just two sentences. Here is the relevant part of Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the United States Constitution:..

Read part II here.

The Census and Race—Part III— Reconstruction to the Great Depression (1870-1940): How did the census deal with race during segregation? (2010-07-20)

…The terms mulatto, quadroon, and octoroon reify the non-scientific American folk concept of blood. Blood is a biological entity, and many people inaccurately believe that it is the same as genes. The following explanation shows why they are wrong.

Suppose that there are eight genes for race, so that a mulatto has four black genes and four white genes, a quadroon has two black genes and six white genes, and an octoroon has one black gene and seven white genes. Now suppose that a mulatto man and a mulatto woman have a lot of children. Each child would get half its genes from the father and half from the mother. One child might get all four white genes from each parent and be 100% white, another might get all four black genes from each parent and be 100% black, and other children might wind up with all the other possible combinations of white and black genes. However, American culture views mulattos as black (e.g., President Obama); and believes that two blacks cannot have a 100% white baby. This is why the folk concept of blood does not act like genes…

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PAGE ONE — No Biological Basis For Race, Scientists Say / Distinctions prove to be skin deep

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2010-02-14 05:10Z by Steven

PAGE ONE — No Biological Basis For Race, Scientists Say / Distinctions prove to be skin deep

San Fransisco Gate Chronicle

Charles Petit, Chronicle Science Writer

This is one of a series of articles in “About Race,” a year-long public journalism project in which The Chronicle, KRON-TV, BayTV and KQED-FM are examining various aspects of race relations in the Bay Area.

The President’s Initiative on Race, designed to attack prejudice by bringing people of different races together to talk, may have overlooked something.

Namely, that the very concept of race is bogus and has no basis in biology, according to most scientists.

“This dialogue on race is driving me up the wall,” said Jefferson Fish, a psychologist at St. John’s University in New York who has written extensively about race in America. “Nobody is asking the question, ‘What is race?’ It is a biologically meaningless category. It is a cultural term that Americans use to describe what a person’s ancestry is…

…Despite this, many Americans still believe in three great racial groups, a system developed in Europe and North America in the 18th century…

…If anything, the president’s initiative should have been on racism, say the scientists. For, even without race, racism can exist as a belief that ancestry is a significant factor in cultural and behavioral differences among peoples…

…In years past, children of mixed marriages “were assigned the racial (and legal) status of the more subordinate parent,” said Faye Harrison, an anthropologist at the University of South Carolina [now University of Florida].

“That rule, called . . . the ‘one drop rule’ (for one drop of blood), has worked to classify me as African American, period,” said Harrison. “Despite the fact that I, like most other African Americans I know, have a mixed heritage and mixed ‘race’ genealogy. But that multicultural or multiracial reality is part of my extended family’s private transcript, not our public identity as blacks, as African Americans.”

Studies show that the ancestry of American blacks is about 70 percent African, with the rest European and American Indian….

Read the entire article here.

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