What Scientists Mean When They Say ‘Race’ Is Not Genetic

For my article I chose a theme which gives reasons for why race should continue being studied as a “social construct to better understand the concept of racism and health” rather than as human genetic diversity. It finds race categorization problematic because it is based on guesses because “genetic methods do not support the classification of humans into discrete races.” The article goes on to explain what is race and how biologists have used it as a methodological tool in the past. Later, a Russian scientists, Theodosius Dobzhansky, stated that the race concept had “floundered in confusion and misunderstanding.” This paper is “arguing that race is not a useful tool to study human genetic diversity and that there is potential harm in doing so. We acknowledge in the paper that using race as a political or social category to study racism and its biological effects, although fraught with challenges, remains necessary.”

The article continues along the lines of our second lecture saying that structural inequities are what cause health disparities between groups. In conclusion, this article finds that “race is the most controversial tool for making sense of human diversity that scientists have at their disposal.”

I picked this article because it basically sums up all arguments discussed this week. It sees race as a social construct which has been used for biological categorization when it shouldn’t be used that way. It also taps into how certain illnesses and diseases are more predisposed in certain communities not because they belong to the same race but rather because of environmental factors to which humans have to adapt. We see this in the sickle cell disease amongst African Americans. Sickle cell disease is not an African American disease but is more common in areas where there was once a high presence of malaria. The sickle cell, an evolutionary adaptation, “is believed to be protective against malaria.”  Therefore, diseases and illnesses are not genetic. They are adaptive in accordance to their environment.


One thought on “What Scientists Mean When They Say ‘Race’ Is Not Genetic

  1. This is a pretty good summation of why it’s still important to study race in health, not because it’s a useful genetic shortcut, but because it’s a useful social/environmental shortcut. If someone is a member of a discriminated group, they’re very likely to be experiencing the stress and lack of healthy options that are the well-documented result of discrimination.

    However, there are plenty of diseases with a genetic component, that’s why doctors will ask you about your family’s history of things like cancer or schizophrenia. There are environmental factors in those things, like if you’ve ever been exposed to radiation, but someone whose parents and grandparents all had cancer, then your doctor can safely assume that if you’re displaying cancer-like symptoms then they should screen you for that first. If you’re black, but no one in your family has any signs of sickle cell anemia, then the doctor should look for more common problems that can cause similar symptoms.

    The thing is that these aren’t cut neatly along racial lines because genes don’t work that way. If races passed on genes in such a way as to maintain a standard race, they’d have to be passed on in huge contiguous chunks, not splattered at random, with a bit here and a bit there.

Leave a Reply