Jefferson Fish is a white psychologist from the Bronx who married an African American anthropologist from Brooklyn. Because his wife’s work is with Brazilian Indians, the couple went off with their daughter to live in Brazil for a couple of years. While there, Dr. Fish became fascinated by the different way Brazilians think about race. Over time, he immersed himself in the biological, sociocultural, and psychological literature, and did research on the topic–leading ultimately to the publication of The Myth of Race.
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 confusing mixture of two different concepts, and that confusion often leads to miscommunication. The first concept, biological race, simply doesn’t actually exist in the human species. Instead, what we think of as “race” 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.
Jefferson Fish is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at St. John’s University, New York City, where he previously served as Chair of the Department of Psychology and as Director of the PhD Program in Clinical Psychology. He received his PhD in clinical psychology from Columbia University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at SUNY Stony Brook. His specialties are clinical psychology and cross-cultural psychology. He is the author or editor of twelve books, and more than a hundred other works dealing with race, culture, Brazil, therapy, drug policy, and other topics. His articles have appeared in popular media—e.g., Psychology Today, Newsday, and The Humanist—and in academic journals—e.g., American Psychologist, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, and American Anthropologist. Dr. Fish speaks Portuguese, French, Spanish, and German.
His website is www.jeffersonfish.com, and his Psychology Today blog is Looking in the Cultural Mirror.
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