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The Myth of Race Paperback – November 27, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Jefferson Fish illuminates and dissects the myths, misconceptions, and prejudices that color our attitudes and anxieties about race. Writing with stunning clarity, Dr. Fish poses profound and perturbing questions about race, such as: Are the physical differences that exist within the human species rooted in biology, genetics or geography? How can a Brazilian the color of caramel be judged to be white, while an American the color of cream be considered black? Why is President Barack Obama classified as black when he is half white? Does the shape of one's skull or the color of one's skin reflect a higher or lower level of intelligence? Does one's "gray matter" have a color? ...The Myth of Race is must reading."
- William S. Cohen, former Senator and U.S. Secretary of Defense

"Scientists and scholars around the world have concurred that the idea of race has no basis in science. The Myth of Race, is an admirable attempt to explain and explore this new perspective on human variation."
- Audrey Smedley, PhD, author, Race in North America

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 154 pages
  • Publisher: Argo-Navis (November 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786754362
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786754366
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #542,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jefferson M. Fish, PhD is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at St. John's University, New York City, where he served as department chair and also as director of the PhD Program in clinical psychology. He is the author or editor of twelve books dealing with race, culture, therapy, and drug policy.

Dr. Fish's most recent book, The Myth of Race, draws on scientific knowledge to debunk a series of myths that pass as facts, correct false assumptions, and clarify cultural misunderstandings about the highly charged topic of race. Praise for The Myth of Race comes from former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and from anthropologist Audrey Smedley, author of Race in North America. Secretary Cohen said, "Writing with stunning clarity, Dr. Fish poses profound and perturbing questions about race...The Myth of Race is must reading."

Here are some of the myths dealt with in the book:
* 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

The Myth of Race 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.

Dr. Fish's personal background includes marriage to an African American anthropologist who studies the Krikati and related tribes of Brazilian Indians, two years as a visiting professor in Brazil (including a month with the Krikati), and, with his wife, raising a daughter in both the United States and Brazil. These experiences led him to an appreciation of human behavior as more varied than it may appear to psychologists who know only the United States.

Dr. Fish's website is, and his Psychology Today blog is Looking in the Cultural Mirror,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Fleisher, Ed.M. on March 29, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"The Myth of Race" by Jefferson M. Fish is a slender, modestly priced 140-page volume that will surprise you with its depth, erudition and power - qualities which are delivered in exceptionally clear prose. Even individuals who have worked assiduously to rid their minds of biased perceptions of human difference will find "ah hah" moments when reading Dr. Fish's work. There seems no better person to deliver this message and no better time for this important work to be taken up and shared with as many readers as possible. This book is invaluable to a wide audience, from academics in a multitude of fields, to school teachers and their advanced readers, to general readers who seek to challenge the received ideas of our culture.

As a recent graduate with an advanced degree in the learning and teaching of languages, I was delighted to discover that the model for human diversity which remains once Dr. Fish has carefully removed layers of stubborn untruths is similar to our model of language development. Just as language change throughout history resembles subtle webs of variation in human language use rather than socially-constructed hierarchies and discrete entities, the model which best describes human biological diversity is a "tangled lattice."

But why do such myths persist? Not only does Dr. Fish's work present key understandings about the differences between biological and cultural conceptions of human beings and how these conceptions surface in institutions such as the national census and education based on IQ testing, he also includes a final chapter which hypothesizes a plausible reason for the persistence of race based on the work of biologist, Richard Dawkins, and his concept of "the meme.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Greg Miller on April 13, 2013
Format: Paperback
Carrying all the typical baggage of a middle class white suburban male Baby Boomer, I had no idea what to expect when I picked up Jeff Fish's new book, "The Myth of Race." My first thought was that Jeff's PhD would have its fingerprints all over any sociological discussion of race and I would also have been shocked if the book had started out like Steve Martin's "The Jerk" claiming that he was "born a young black boy" who one day discovered Mantovani and was liberated from his southern sharecropper's hut and life.
Jeff's explanations are clear, and the book, for all the ominous possibilities of an academic text, is a very entertaining read. From the standpoint of diversity studies it well could be a game changer. If I were designing a curriculum and wanted to ease students into a thorough study of people's perceptions of race, "The Myth of Race" would be an excellent starting point.
But aside from the book being an explanation of the misconceptions of race, this is written in such a straightforward, logical style that it ought to be a must read for everyone in our society. Of course, the only way that practically happens is if it's on a core requirement reading list in school. If I was marketing this personally, I'd be rapping on every sociology department head's door in college and every school district adding diversity studies in high school.
Jeff's book goes a long way to explain that biological race simply doesn't exist and that race is a social way of creating a cultural category for labeling people that vary. His book goes a long way to understanding the concept of race and dispels the myths. Racism is a "socially learned response to socially defined races.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Hillel Halkin MD on November 13, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As an academic physician working in the field of pharmacogenetics I found the message of this thought-stimulating book, as having specific bearing on the current enthusiasm for "personalized" or "individualized" medicine. It is now well documented that many practicing physicians do not distinguish genetic variation between individuals in the way their body reacts with medications, which is well established, from so-called ethnic, or racial variation - which is not. Cultural or social racial constructs, as described in The Myth of Race, have found their way into clinical medicine in proportions which exceed what can be supported by available biological data. I strongly recommend it to all physicians and healthcare professionals
Hillel Halkin MD, author of: Telling Silences. A Doctor's Tales of Denial.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M.R.Adam on December 5, 2012
Format: Paperback
I really enjoyed The Myth of Race. I find the author's comparison of race in the US and Brazil especially interesting. For example the author discusses how the US concept of race is based on ancestry and the Brazilian on appearance. In his chapter on Racial Myths and Cultural Misunderstandings he shows what biases and inferences may arise about a persons name or religion. The personal style and the sometimes witty examples drawn from his own life, makes this book compelling and easy to read. The chapters on intelligence and the Census were a little more technical, but it is very readable and fascinating stuff. Overall a great book!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By William Courson VINE VOICE on February 21, 2013
Format: Paperback
Jefferson M. Fish, PhD is Professor Emeritus of psychology at Saint John's University, New York City, where he served as department chair and as director of the doctoral program in clinical psychology. He has authored or edited a dozen books dealing with race, culture, psychotherapy, and drug policy, and is as he writes "a white psychologist from the Bronx, married [to] an African American anthropologist from Brooklyn." The author writes succinctly on a wide range of topics, from divergent cultural conceptions of race, to race relations in the United States and other countries, to the impact seen in psychological measurements in assessing racial differences, both real and supposed.

Dr. Fish writes from the perspective of a partner to a racially mixed marriage, as the parent of a mixed race child and, having spent several years as a visiting professor in Brazil, one who has experienced a culture as racially mixed as that of his homeland but existing in a dramatically differing cultural milieu. He became fascinated with the ways in which Brazilians conceived of race, leading to an interest in the differing biological, sociocultural and psychological perspectives on the phenomenon.

The author draws on scientific data to overthrow longstanding and widely held misconceptions about the contentious subject illustrating the fact that the seemingly straightforward concept of race is actually a conflation of two divergent notions, viz., the concept of biological race and that of social race. This is a misapprehension that often breeds miscommunication, and engenders social friction, mistrust and enmity among and between the groups these concepts define.
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