Race is a tricky subject. Despite its continual persistence in the United States today, many people do not understand what it is or its impact. In beginning to understand the concept, one must first understand that race is a cultural construct and not biologically real. People “see” races by looking at others’ skin color and physical features, but that doesn’t make it real. Individuals are most commonly forced to think about race when they fill out forms that require the categorization of oneself into a specific race. While most would think there is an official list of all the races, the reality is the population could be split into so many subcategories that each individual person in and of themselves could be their own race. A good way to think about the nonexistence of individual races is thinking that if someone walked from the southern tip of Africa all the way to China, there would be a gradual change in skin color and physical features. There are not set locations with different races, but a gradual continuum with an endless variety of individuals. Thus, with this example, it can be proven that there is no genetic basis for race. Race is a modern idea that has evolved and continues to do so over time.
The biggest problem with race is when it turns into racism. Because individuals who look phenotypically similar are grouped into one race, a hierarchy was formed which placed light skinned people at the top and darker skinned people at the bottom. As a result, some received more benefits in society than others, which has a variety of consequences. One example is the presence of white privilege. Because whites are an “unmarked category” and seen as the norm in society, they receive a number of benefits they do not necessarily see or understand. Peggy McIntosh lists many of the daily privileges she has every day because of her whiteness. Some examples include, “I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed” and “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented” (McIntosh 3). Another consequence of racism is that some people have access to more and better resources than others. In context of the medical field, having access to proper healthcare, medication, doctors, and other such necessary means could eventually be the difference between life and death. There is a concept called the weathering affect, which explains that experiencing racism over the course of one’s lifetime negatively affects one’s health. There are studies that show blacks in America have higher cases of certain illnesses, higher infant mortality, and a plethora of other health issues other races don’t necessarily have. Through different research studies, it has been determined that it these are caused by living in the United States with dark skin, not genetics related. And so, through the extensive amounts of studies that have been conducted on the topic of race in relation to medicine, it can be proven that the different perceived races will have different health outcomes due to the socially constructed category they have been placed in.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies (1988): 3.