Race and Intelligence: Separating Science from Myth

By Jefferson M. Fish | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
5

The Myth of Race*
Jefferson M. Fish

The most important feature of Latin American lowland race relations since the abolition of slavery is the absence of sharply defined racial groupings … one is obliged to conclude … that there is no such thing as a Negro group or a white group.… One of the most striking consequences of the Brazilian system of racial identification is that parents and children and even brothers and sisters are frequently accepted as representatives of quite opposite racial types. (Harris, 1964, pp. 54–57)

The notion of mental illness [or, one might substitute in the current context, race] has outlived whatever usefulness it may have had and it now functions as a myth … the myth of mental illness [race] encourages us to believe in its logical corollary: that social intercourse would be harmonious, satisfying, and the secure basis for a good life were it not for the disrupting influences of mental illness [race].… Mental illness [race] is a myth whose function it is to disguise and thus render more palatable the bitter pill of moral conflicts in human relations. (Szasz, 1970, pp. 21–24)

____________________
*
This chapter is a revision, major expansion (including partial folk taxonomies of “race” from an additional six cultures), and substantial reshaping of the article Mixed Blood (Fish, 1995a) that appeared in Psychology Today. Because the chapter is about race, it uses mainly racial terms, like black and white (in lowercase, following a common practice in anthropology), rather than cultural terms, like African American and European American. The term American is also used to refer to the people and culture of the United States because that is our folk term, even though other inhabitants of the New World also think of themselves and their cultures as American.

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