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The Myth of Race Paperback – November 27, 2012
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- 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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Jefferson Fish is a white psychologist, of Jewish heritage,who is married to an African American anthropologist. He compares his daughter’s childhood to Barak Obama’s and there are many similarities. I highly recommend this book.
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." Jeff uses the US Census questionnaire as an example of how the "government tells us what racial categories they use to count people." Over the years, according to the changes in the forms' questions, the government has had to reshape the boxes they drop their taxable minions into and government-created stereotypes abound.
A minor hindrance to a 100 percent general audience for this book is his use of President Barack Obama as an example to explain the perception of race. As an easily identified personality, Jeff uses the President's mixed race background [the absolute perfect example] to underscore several of his points, but in picking such a polarizing figure, he might possibly lose half his popular audience. Maybe ten years from now, this is easily overlooked but using it now, with such rampant political finger-pointing, could be as effective as writing a book in 1998 explaining the public's political attitudes on infidelity using Bill Clinton's testimony before the Senate impeachment proceedings. One of the reasons President Obama is a complicated choice is his public stance that his was not a racial election. If 93% of voting Martians voted for a Martian candidate, I'd be hard pressed to explain that choice any other way.
But President Obama is the perfect example to illustrate Jeff's theory and I cannot think who might be a better, more widely recognized example and, at the same time, politically neutral―probably baseball's Derek Jeter (African American-Irish-German) or basketball's Jeremy Lin (mainland China-Taiwan). Choice of either would immediately leave out a large part of the non sports-minded readership. Even the use of Jamaican-born Colon Powel (Jamaican-Scottish), to a lesser degree would have turned off a significant readership because of perceived political affiliation, although I think he'd be a fairly neutral choice.
Jeff is in an excellent position to parse the arguments for and against race because of his unique background as an extremely academically qualified professor who was born into a white Bronx, married a Brooklyn born African American anthropologist, had a daughter and went off to Brazil as a visiting professor. There Jeff and his wife spent an eye-opening month with the Krikati Indians, his wife's fieldwork study group. As with all books that eventually must be written, this has been percolating in Jeff's inkwell for years. That he finally managed to scratch the surface of a cogent discussion of race is to our benefit and "The Myth of Race" is a must read for entertainment, to round your outlook of the world, and a socially responsible requirement.
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.
The author ably points out that the first concept, that of biological race, does not exist in the human species, being mistaken for what is a variation in outward appearance (skin color, features, hair texture, physiognomy, etc.) that occurs over long periods of time and is coincident with a group's environment. The second concept, that of social race, is a set of cultural categories for labeling groups based on historical classifications, a set of classifications that varies widely from one region and culture to the next.
Some of the myths that the author dispels include the myth that the human species is divided into Caucasoid, Negroid, and Mongoloid races, that racial identity is immutable, and the myth that differences in intelligence and other traits exist between the races.
"The Myth of Race" is an important and groundbreaking work that is both exhaustively researched as well as (a rarity among such works) eminently readable. Dr. Fish's engaging writing style, in no way laborious or technical, is peppered with the author's anecdotes ("Why did my daughter's Brazilian boyfriend say he isn't black and my daughter say she is, even though he is darker than she?") and his seasoned sense of humor renders some rather recondite material into easily understandable terms for the lay reader. Many of the concepts are illustrated with examples from his own family life and his travels.
I thoroughly enjoyed and profited by reading "The Myth of Race" and unhesitatingly recommend it highly for those interested in and curious about the subjects of race, race relations and the scientific underpinnings of these subjects.