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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 color. In racialist anthropology, the color 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, Middle East, Latin America and South America. In Brazil, brown people is a cognate term for pardo. In North America, both Latinos and South Asians sometimes self-identify or are described as brown people.
In the 18th and 19th century, racialist written works proposed geographically based "scientific" differences among "the races." Many of these racial models assigned colors to the groups described, and some included a "brown race" as in the following:
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."
In the 19th century, the notion of a single "brown people" was sometimes superseded by multiple "brown peoples."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. The 1858 Cyclopaedia of India and of eastern and southern Asia 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.
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 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 coloration, people nonetheless self-identify as "brown" and identify other groups of people as "brown", using characteristics that include skin color, hair strength, language, and culture, in order to classify them. Forbes remarks upon a process of "lumping", whereby characteristics other than skin color, such as hair color or curliness, act as "triggers" for color categories "even when it may not be appropriate."
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".
The South African pencil test was one example of a characteristic other than skin color 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 color factor at all. The pencil test could "trump skin colour".
Penelope Oakes 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".
In Brazil, the "brown people" are the pardos, one of the skin color 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), etc. in short, multiracial Brazilians and assimilated, westernized Amerindians.
Pardo is a color which can be translated from Portuguese as brown (properly called marrom [maˈʁõw]), grayish brown, beige (properly called bege [ˈbɛʒi]), of the color of the manila (called in Brazil papel pardo). In Hispanic America, pardo is a racial casta for people with European, Amerindian and Black African ancestries, possibly added with any others, which can not be called mestizos, blancos, zambos, mulatos or any other category because of their unique multiracial phenotype created by generations of intermarriage among the three main groups.
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".
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 color; 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 color 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 Latin America. Although historically both Colonial and Imperial Brazil had institutionalized discrimination against citizens which were deemed as people of color, contrary to the common sense in its population, it never had a casta classification like that of Hispanic America. White Brazilian people in the social status equivalent to the Hispanic criollo could have less than 80% of European (overwhelmingly Portuguese, seldom Spanish 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" (people of color which are not mulattoes, mestizos, zambos, 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 and Limpeza de Sangue than its Hispanic neighbors.
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 color groups, but on a person-by-person basis, as 190 million human beings,with singular genome and life histories".
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". 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."
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", but as hyphenated Americans of a certain national origin.
The term 'Brown' was also used by British Empire as a derogatory term for natives of the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Australia. Later, the term 'Brown' began to be used as descriptor for British people of South Asian origin.
Some South Asian Americans will identify themselves as brown. Even though many Hispanics may also identify themselves as "Brown", many South Asians may not necessarily consider themselves of the same race as them.