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Mixed Blood Jeffrey M. Fish Many Americans believe that people can be divided into races. For them, races are biologically defined groups. Anthropologists, on the other hand, have long argued that u.s. racial groups are American cultural construc- tions; they represent the way Americans classifY people rather than a geneti- cally determined reality. In this arlicle, Jeffrey Fish demonstrates the cultural basis ofrace by comparing how races are defined in the United States and Brazil. In America, a person s race is determined not by how he or she looks, but by his or her heritage. A person will be classified as black, for example, if one of his or her parents is classified that way no matter what the person looks like. In Brazil, on the other hand, people are classified into a series of tipos on the basis ofhow they look. The same couple may have children clas- sified into three or four different based on a number ofphysical mark- ers such as skin color and nose shape. As a result, Fish's daughter, who has brown skin and whose mother is Brazilian, can change her race from black in the United States to moreno (brunette), a category just behind branca (blond) in Brazil, by simply taking a plane there. "Mixed Blood" by Jeffrey M, Fish, Psychology Today, November-December 1995. Reprinted with permission from Psychology Today Magazine, Copyright © by 1995 Sussex Publishers, Inc. 249
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S I X • Identity. Roles. and Groups Last year my daughter, who had been living in Rio de Janeiro, and her Brazil- ian 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." Psychologists have begun talking about race again. They think that it may be useful in explaining the biological bases of behavior. For example, following publication of The Bell Curve, there has been renewed debate about whether black-white group differences in scores on IQ tests reflect racial differences in intelligence. (Because this article is about race, it will mainly use racial terms, like black and white, rather than cultural terms, like African-American and European-American.) The problem with debates like the one over race and IQ is that psycholo- gists on both sides of the controversy make a totally unwarranted assumption: that there is a biological entity called "race." If there were such an entity, then it would at least be possible that differences in behavior between "races" might be biologically based. Before considering the controversy, however, it is reasonable to step back and ask ourselves "What is race?" If, as happens to be the case, race is not a bio- logically meaningful concept, then looking for biologically based racial differ- ences in behavior is simply a waste of time. The question "What is race?" can be divided into two more limited ones. The an- swers to both questions have long been known by anthropologists, but seem not to have reached other social or behavioral scientists, let alone the public at large.
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This note was uploaded on 09/09/2011 for the course ANTHRO 194 taught by Professor Kailakuban during the Fall '09 term at UMass (Amherst).

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