In this week’s readings, there are two main themes that stuck out to me: the ambiguity attached to whether “race” exists in a biological sense and how “race” relates to health.
The debate regarding whether race is purely a social construct or whether it can be genetically supported now that the human genome has been successfully mapped, has led to many conflicting points of view. One example of such a conflict is the “The Slavery Hypothesis”, which relates sodium retention to the survival of African individuals who were a part of the slave trade, and attempts to use this hypothesis as an explanation for the high number of African American individuals with hypertension (Kaufman, 2006). It was commonly believed, when this theory came out, that if an individual retained a higher level of sodium, they would have a better chance of surviving the journey across the ocean where they would not be able to properly replace the water they were losing (Kaufman, 2006). However, this hypothesis was proven not to be true, although it is still accepted by some, because the retention of sodium would cause the exact opposite of what this hypothesis was predicting (Kaufman, 2006).
Some argue that race is genetically supported due to differences that can be seen in the human genome that was successfully mapped in the early 2000s (Leroi, 2006). For this reason, some see race as being related to the susceptibility of certain groups of individuals to specific diseases while others are not as susceptible; an example of this would be that African American males are three times more likely than European-American males to have hypertension (Leroi, 2006). However, there are many other factors that could influence, and have been shown to have an impact on whether someone does or does not have a disease or a longer versus shorter life expectancy. One of these factors is socioeconomic standing. As stated in Nancy Kreiger’s article: it was “found that marked socioeconomic disparities in premature mortality within each racial/ethnic-gender group, such that persons living in the most impoverished census tracts (in which 20% or more of the population lived below the US poverty line, thereby constituting a federal poverty area) compared to the least impoverished census tracts (in which less than 5% of the population lived below the poverty line) were anywhere from 1.8 to 4.3 times more likely to die prematurely” (Kreiger, 2006).