In our American society, race seems simple to define. Race does not seem as though it is something that is created by our own perception but instead we view it as a series of fixed parameters. In reality there is only one race, the human race. Race is all about ones perspective; different histories have different understandings of race. During the mid 1600’s English considered the Irish people to be a different race. They were the same skin color but somehow the Irish were of lesser value and could be put into a separate race, and thus were sold as slaves around the world. At a point in time race became what we now know it today, changing from the then status of an individual to their skin color. Skin color is a trait just as curling your tongue or having attached earlobes. Skin color, as a trait does not define other traits. If you compare races, there is more genetic diversity within a race than between them. Race is not genetically defined, you cannot tell a persons race by examining their genome. Humans are only one species and only one race. We cannot be divided into sub-species, thus we cannot be divided into separate races. The proper term for what we understand race to be is ethnicity, human groups that have cultural differences between them. Intelligent people go through their whole lives believing that race is a biological construct when in actuality it is a social one.
To say that race does not exist is a genetic actuality, but that is not to say it does not affect health and ultimately the path of your life. Take for example Byron and Max, two individuals whom seem very similar. They may live in the same neighborhood with similar jobs and income but because of their race the lifestyle and comfort level they live is drastically different. Max being white has had many privileges that Bryon was not offered. Being a different race greatly affects ones wellbeing regardless of their education or employment. A person’s health can be affected by race, genetically speaking two races are not different, society can affect a person’s health as a result of their race. For example hypertension, from the activities we looked at from the Understanding Race website, we know that 40% of African American adults have hypertension while only 30% of Caucasian adult have hypertension. If there is no genetic difference between these groups than what explains the 10% difference. Studies have shown that hypertension can be caused by environmental influences such as racism. Darker-skinned individuals endured more negative social influences than light-skinned individuals leading to increased blood pressure. These studies between health and ethnicity are not limited to African-Americans and Caucasians; American Indians are 60% more likely to have a stroke when compared to Caucasians and 2.1 times more likely to have diabetes (Russell, 2010). Race does not predict disease; rather it is likely a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors triggered by the societal constraints of being part of an ethnicity.
Russell, Lesley. 2010. Fact Sheet: Health Disparities by Race and Ethnicity. Center for American Progress.