Week 6 Reflection Post-Lucy Grogan

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).

2 thoughts on “Week 6 Reflection Post-Lucy Grogan

  1. Hello. I found your post to clearly illustrate the differing points of view on race and the possible biological correlation, also how genetics plays a role in that ongoing argument. The “Slavery Hypothesis” really struck a nerve with me. As you pointed out, it clearly contradicted itself in its very nature. When I was reading the article on the “Slavery Hypothesis”, I found myself literally thinking how did they even come up with proposing this. I found myself thinking that the total lack of sound medical evidence pointing to a biological reason for the increased occurrence of hypertension in African Americans has lead you on a fishing expedition. It actually seemed ironic to me that they were taking a social situation – slaves being brought across the ocean in horrible conditions – and trying to manipulate it in to some kind of scientific reasoning for why currently living people are hypertensive. When the shear trauma of being a slave and having to survive those living conditions could cause hypertension and perhaps the path of the currently living people with the hypertension have had less than optimal lives as well. I still find it stunning that there are those that still accept this as a possible reason for the current hypertension rates.
    Thank you again for your post, it was a good one.

  2. I think you’ve provided a very concise summary of this week’s articles and how they relate to the idea of race in a biological sense. I like that you used the word “ambiguous” to describe whether race exists in a biological sense and how that relates to health, because I think that’s a very accurate word. It is true that we’ve found some date correlating certain “racial” factors to susceptibility to certain diseases, but I think most of the diseases that have a true correlation to individuals of a certain race (like sickle cell anemia) are largely based on region and have been the result of human adaptation over long periods of time. The idea that African Americans suffer higher rates of hypertension, certain cancers, and a whole plethora of other diseases is largely based on socioeconomic status. If we were to compare African Americans of a high socioeconomic status to those of a lower one, I think we would find some differences as far as health goes. I’m not sure if a study of that nature has been conducted, but I would be interested to see the results from that.

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