Brown (racial classification)

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Brown or Brown people is a racial and ethnic classification. Like black people and white people, it is a metaphor for race based on human skin colour. In racialist anthropology, the colour brown and the term brown people was used to describe a series of hypothesized racial groups that included various populations from North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Western Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, North America, and South America. In Brazil, brown people is a cognate term for pardo.

A category used by racialist scientists[edit]

In the 18th and 19th century, racialist written works proposed geographically based "scientific" differences among "the races." Many of these racial models assigned colours to the groups described, and some included a "brown race" as in the following:

  • Early German anthropologist Johann Blumenbach extended Linnaeus' four-colour race model by adding the brown race, "Malay race", which included both the Malay division of Austronesian (Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Pattani, Sumatra Madagascar, Formosans, etc.) and Polynesians and Melanesians of Pacific Islands, as well as Papuans and Aborigines of Australia.[1][2]
  • In 1775, "John Hunter of Edinburg included under the label light brown, Southern Europeans, Sicilians, Abyssinians, the Spanish, Persians, Turks and Laplanders, and under the label brown, Tartars, Africans on the Mediterranean and the Chinese."[3] These races formed two elements of a seven-race schema.
  • Jean Baptiste Julien d'Omalius d'Halloy's five-race scheme differed from Blumenbach's by including Ethiopians in the brown race, as well as Oceanic peoples. Louis Figuier adopted and adapted d'Omalius d'Halloy's classification and also included Egyptians in the brown race.[4]
  • In 1915, Donald Mackenzie conceived a "Mediterranean or Brown race, the eastern branch of which reaches to India and the western to the British Isles and Ireland... [and includes] predynastic Egyptians... [and some populations of] Neolithic man".[5]
  • Eugenicist Lothrop Stoddard in his The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy (1920) mapped a "brown race" as native to North Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Near East, Middle East, Central Asia, Southern Asia and Austronesia. Stoddard's "brown" is one of five "primary races", contrasting with "white", "black", "yellow" and "Amerindian".
  • Due to what he considered the relatively close physical relationship between many populations "from the Red Sea as far as India, including Semites as well as Hamites", Grafton Elliot Smith conceived the Brown Race as a natural extension of Giuseppe Sergi's earlier Mediterranean race concept. In this popular conception, the Brown Race consisted of a joint "Mediterranean-Hamite-Semite" grouping of ancestrally related peoples, into which Elliot Smith included the Proto-Egyptians.[6]
  • Carleton Coon adopted six and thirty human divisions before returning to Blumenbach's five in his 1962 The Origin of Human Races. Coon proposed that different "races" crossed from being Homo erectus to Homo sapiens at different moments in history, with Europeans in the lead.

These and other racialist theories have been dismissed scientifically. As a 2012 human biology textbook observes, "These claims of race-based taxonomy, including Coon's claims for homo-sapienation, have been discredited by paleontological and genomic research showing the antiquity of modern human origins, as well as the essential genomic African nature of all living human beings."[7]


In the 19th century, the notion of a single "brown people" was sometimes superseded by multiple "brown peoples." Cust mentions Grammar in 1852 denying that there was one single "brown race", but in fact several races speaking distinct languages.[8] The 1858 Cyclopaedia of India and of eastern and southern Asia[9] notes that Keane was dividing the "brown people" into quaternion: a western branch that he termed the Malay, a north-western group that he termed the Micronesian, and the peoples of the eastern archipelagos that he termed the Maori and the Polynesian.

Ethnic and racial identifier[edit]

The appellation "brown people" has been applied in the 20th and 21st centuries to several groups. Edward Telles, a sociologist of race and ethnicity, and Jack Forbes[10] both argue that this classification is biologically invalid. However, as Telles notes, it is still of sociological significance. Irrespective of the actual biological differences amongst humans, and of the actual complexities of human skin colouration, people nonetheless self-identify as "brown" and identify other groups of people as "brown", using characteristics that include skin colour, hair strength, language, and culture, in order to classify them. Forbes remarks upon a process of "lumping", whereby characteristics other than skin colour, such as hair colour or curliness, act as "triggers" for colour categories "even when it may not be appropriate."[10][11]

Coloureds in South Africa[edit]

Main article: Coloured

In 1950s (and later) South Africa the "brown people" were the Coloureds, referring to those born of black-white sexual unions out of wedlock. The Afrikaans terms, which incorporate many subtleties of heritage, political agenda, and identity, are "bruin" ("brown"), "bruines" ("browns"), and "bruinmense" ("brown people"). Some South Africans prefer the appellation "bruinmense" to "Coloured".[12][13]

The South African pencil test was one example of a characteristic other than skin colour being used as a determiner. The pencil test, which distinguished either "black" from "Coloured" or "Coloured" from "white", relied upon curliness and strength of hair (i.e. whether it was capable of retaining a pencil under its own strength) rather than upon any colour factor at all. The pencil test could "trump skin colour".[14][15]

Stephen Biko, in his trial in 1976, rejected the appellation "brown people" when it was put to him incorrectly by Judge Boshoff:[16]

Boshoff: But now why do you refer to you people as blacks? Why not brown people? I mean you people are more brown than black.
Biko: In the same way as I think white people are more pink and yellow and pale than white.
Boshoff: Quite ... but now why do you not use the word brown then?
Biko: No, I think really, historically, we have been defined as black people, and when we reject the term non-white and take upon ourselves the right to call ourselves what we think we are, we have got available in front of us a whole number of alternatives ... and we choose this one precisely because we feel it is most accommodating.

Penelope Oakes[16] characterizes Biko's argument as picking "black" over "brown" because for Biko it is "the most valid, meaningful and appropriate representation, even though in an individualistic decontextualized sense it might appear wrong" (Oakes' emphasis).

This contrasts with Piet Uithalder, fictional protagonist of the satirical column "Straatpraatjes" (whose actual author was never revealed but who is believed to have been Abdullah Abdurahman) that appeared in the Dutch-Afrikaans section of the newspaper APO between May 1909 and February 1922. Uithalder would self-identify as a Coloured person, with the column targeted at a Coloured readership, introducing himself as "een van de ras" ("a member of the race") and characterizing himself as a "bruine mens".[12]

Pardos in Brazil[edit]

Main article: Pardo Brazilians

In Brazil, the "brown people" are the pardos, one of the skin colour categories (branco, pardo, preto, amarelo, and indígena being Portuguese for "white", "(grey) brown", "black", "yellow", and "indigenous", respectively) that have been used by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics since 1940. It is a broad classification that encompasses mestizos (caboclos), mulattoes (mulatos), zambos (cafuzos), eurasians ("ainoko","hafu"), gypsies ("ciganos") etc. in short, multiracial Brazilians and assimilated, westernized Amerindians.

Pardo is a colour which can be translated from Portuguese as brown (properly called marrom [maˈʁõw]), grayish brown, beige (properly called bege [ˈbɛʒi]), of the colour of the manila (called in Brazil papel pardo).

In popular use, Brazilians also use a category of moreno m. [moˈɾenu], morena f. [moˈɾenɐ], lit. 'swarthy', from mouro, Portuguese for 'Moor', which were perceived as people with darker phenotypes than Indigenous Europeans, so a moreno or morena is a person with a "Moorish" phenotype), which is extremely ambiguous, as it can mean "dark-haired people", but is also used as a euphemism for pardo, and even "Black". In a 1995 survey, 32% of the population self-identified as moreno, with a further 6% self-identifying as moreno claro ("light moreno"). 7% self-identified as "pardo".[11]

Note that despite moreno being commonly used by some persons as a racial classification (mainly in Brazil), moreno is, in fact, the Portuguese equivalent to the English word "brunet(te)". It is used to describe a brown, dark brown or black-haired person as opposed to a blond (loiro/loira/louro/loura) one. In Portugal, it is also used to refer to skin colour; it is used usually referring to a heavily tanned white person. It is often preceded by the adjectives more or less, and is used to compare one person's colour to another.

Pardo is not intended to classify neither only multiracial people nor all persons of mixed origins. Most of self-described White and Black Brazilians, according to genetic research, have considerable degree of ancestry of all three main groups present in Brazil. Although historically both Colonial and Imperial Brazil had institutionalized discrimination against citizens which were deemed as people of colour, contrary to the common sense in its population, it never had a casta classification like that of Spanish America or British America. White Brazilian people in the social status could have less than 80% of European (overwhelmingly Portuguese, and much rarely other European ethnicities) ancestry. Aside some Amerindian and Black African descent which is knowly widespread among White populations in Brazil among all social classes in its five geographic regions since historically early times (c. 16th to 17th centuries).

It does not mean that social prestige of "fully non-whites", pardos, etc. in short, multiracial Brazilians, with Caucasian features i.e. Black Africans, Amerindians, their direct descendants and "westernized" Brazilians with wholly or almost fully non-Caucasian phenotypes, which also would be >70% European in their ancestry, since genes that form racial phenotypes are distributed random among the descendants of intermixing couples) and people with knowable non-European ancestry was equal, comparable or even acceptable among Brazilians elites, but that in Portuguese America, people were less concerned with ancestry than in Spanish America or British America.

A comprehensive study presented by the Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research found that on average, 'white' Brazilians have >70% European genomic ancestry, whereas 'black' Brazilians have 37.1% European genomic ancestry. It concluded that "The high ancestral variability observed in Whites and Blacks suggests that each Brazilian has a singular and quite individual proportion of European, African and Amerindian ancestry in his/her mosaic genomes. Thus, the only possible basis to deal with genetic variation in Brazilians is not by considering them as members of colour groups, but on a person-by-person basis, as 190 million human beings,with singular genome and life histories".[17]

Hispanics in the United States[edit]

Main article: Hispanic Americans

In the United States, some Hispanic Americans, mainly mestizos, are referred to by some as "brown people", even though the traditional term for mestizos have used for themselves, dating from the 1920s, is the bronze race. There is a strong division over this, however. At opposite ends of the spectrum are those that take pride in calling themselves "brown", and those who assert that there is no such scientific classification and totally reject the idea. In the middle are those that assert that the combination of Amerindian and European heritage has led to a group of people who are, informally, "brown".[citation needed]

Judith Ortiz Cofer notes that appellation varies according to geographical location, observing that in Puerto Rico she is considered to be a white person, but in the United States she is considered to be a "brown person."[18]

The 1960s in the United States saw the creation of "brown pride" movements such as the Chicano Movement and La Raza. However, currently most Hispanic Americans do not refer to themselves as "brown people"[citation needed], but as hyphenated Americans of a certain national origin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jane Desmond (2001). Staging Tourism: Bodies on Display from Waikiki to Sea World. University of Chicago Press. p. 54. ISBN 0-226-14376-7. 
  2. ^ John G. Jackson (1938). Ethiopia and the Origin of Civilization: A Critical Review of the Evidence of Archaeology,... New York, N.Y.: The Blyden Society. 
  3. ^ Bernasconi, Robert. Race Blackwell Publishing: Boston, 2001. ISBN 0-631-20783-X
  4. ^ Joseph-Anténor Firmin and Antenor Firmin (2002). The Equality of the Human Races. Asselin Charles (translator) and Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban (contributor). University of Illinois Press. p. 17. ISBN 0-252-07102-6. 
  5. ^ Mackenzie, Donald A. Myths of Babylonia and Assyria Montana:Kessinger Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-4179-7643-8
  6. ^ A. H. Keane, A. Hingston Quiggin, A. C. Haddon (2011). Man: Past and Present. Cambridge University Press. p. 478. ISBN 0521234107. 
  7. ^ Cameron, Noel; Barry Bogin (2012-06-08). Human Growth and Development. Academic Press. ISBN 9780123838827. 
  8. ^ Robert Needham Cust (1878). A Sketch of the Modern Languages of the East Indies. Trübner & co. p. 13. 
  9. ^ Edward Balfour (1976). The Encyclopaedia Asiatica, Comprising Indian Subcontinent, Eastern and Southern Asia. Cosmo Publications. p. 315. 
  10. ^ a b Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples
  11. ^ a b Edward Eric Telles (2004). "Racial Classification". Race in Another America: the significance of skin colour in Brazil. Princeton University Press. pp. 81–84. ISBN 0-691-11866-3. 
  12. ^ a b Mohamed Adhikari (2005). Not White Enough, Not Black Enough: Racial Identity in the South African Coloured Community. Ohio University Press. pp. 26,163–169. ISBN 0-89680-244-2. 
  13. ^ Gerald L. Stone (2002). "The lexicon and sociolinguistic codes of the working-class Afrikaans-speaking Cape Peninsula coloured community". In Rajend Mesthrie. Language in South Africa. Cambridge University Press. p. 394. ISBN 0-521-53383-X. 
  14. ^ David Houze (2006). Twilight People: From Mississippi to South Africa and Back. University of California Press. p. 134. ISBN 0-520-24398-6. 
  15. ^ Birgit Brander Rasmussen (2001). The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness. Duke University Press. p. 133. ISBN 0-8223-2740-6. 
  16. ^ a b Penelope Oakes (1996). "The Categorization Process: Cognition and the Group in the Social Psychology of Stereotyping". In W. P. (William Peter) Robinson and Henri Tajfel. Social Groups and Identities: developing the legacy of Henri Tajfe. Routledge. ISBN 0-7506-3083-3. 
  17. ^ "Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research - DNA tests probe the genomic ancestry of Brazilians". Retrieved 2014-04-18. 
  18. ^ Pauline T. Newton (2005). "An Interview with Judith Ortiz Cofer". Transcultural Women Of Late-Twentieth-Century U.S. American Literature. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. p. 161. ISBN 0-7546-5212-2. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Alexander Winchell (1890). "XX. Genealogy of the Brown Races". Preadamites: Or, A Demonstration of the Existence of Men Before Adam. S. C. Griggs and company. xvii et seq.