How Not To Talk About Race And Genetics

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Letters, Media Archive on 2018-03-31 02:37Z by Steven

How Not To Talk About Race And Genetics


Micah Baldwin / Via Flickr: micahb37

Race has long been a potent way of defining differences between human beings. But science and the categories it constructs do not operate in a political vacuum.

This open letter was produced by a group of 68 scientists and researchers. The full list of signatories can be found below.

In his newly published book Who We Are and How We Got Here, geneticist David Reich engages with the complex and often fraught intersections of genetics with our understandings of human differences — most prominently, race.

He admirably challenges misrepresentations about race and genetics made by the likes of former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade and Nobel Laureate James Watson. As an eminent scientist, Reich clearly has experience with the genetics side of this relationship. But his skillfulness with ancient and contemporary DNA should not be confused with a mastery of the cultural, political, and biological meanings of human groups.

As a group of 68 scholars from disciplines ranging across the natural sciences, medical and population health sciences, social sciences, law, and humanities, we would like to make it clear that Reich’s understanding of “race” — most recently in a Times column warning that “it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races’” — is seriously flawed…

Read the entire letter here.

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I Can’t Breathe

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Social Justice on 2016-03-23 20:53Z by Steven

I Can’t Breathe

Boston Review

Anne Fausto-Sterling, Nancy Duke Lewis Professor Emerita of Biology and Gender Studies
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

Race in Medical School Curricula

In the fall of 2015, U.S. college students ignited in protest about campus and national racism. Chanting “I Can’t Breathe” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”—recalling the final cries and acts of unarmed African Americans who died at the hands of police—the scholar-activists joined the Black Lives Matter movement that has burgeoned since the shootings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and many others. At my home base, Brown University, school officials responded by drafting a detailed action plan and inviting community comment, a process that is ongoing. While the plan pays attention to student demands for more diversity in the faculty and the student body, as well as improvements in campus climate, it fails to address the need to reevaluate and revise the curriculum in both undergraduate and professional schools—particularly with regard to what we do and do not teach about race, to how both silence and subtly coded messages continue to transmit racial bias.

Integrating studies of race, ethnicity, class, and gender into the curriculum is not easy. And it does not suffice to develop specialized elective courses, such as the one I offered more than twenty-five years ago—Women and Minorities in Science. Such courses exemplify what we, in the early days of women’s studies, used to refer to derisively as “just add women and stir.” The “stir” approach addresses problems of representation but does not challenge underlying theories of disciplinary knowledge.

Biology courses should not be able to get by, for example, with only mentioning a few famous scientists of color and then returning to business as usual. To properly address race, courses need to present the still-disputed science behind concepts of race and genetics, or examine how Darwin’s racial views led him to develop the idea of sexual selection, or teach about the genetics of skin pigmentation and convergent evolution of human phenotypes. Change that matters can only come from altering the content and pedagogy of mainstream courses for generations to come…

Read the entire article here.

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Bodies with Histories: The New Search for the Biology of Race

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Politics/Public Policy on 2012-06-15 02:02Z by Steven

Bodies with Histories: The New Search for the Biology of Race

Boston Review
May/June 2012

Anne Fausto-Sterling
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Biochemistry, Program in Women’s Studies, and Chair of the Faculty Committee on Science and Technology Studies
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

Richard C. Francis, Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance. W. W. Norton, $25.95 (cloth)

Ann Morning, The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference. University of California Press, $26.95 (paper)

Dorothy Roberts, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century. New Press, $29.95 (cloth)

Have you heard this one? A sociologist, a lawyer, and a biologist walk into a bar, scoot their stools up to the counter, order drinks, and begin to chat. Suddenly, a booming voice (God, the bartender?) envelops them. “What is the meaning of race?” the voice asks.

While the question may seem straightforward on its face, it quickly spawns further questions, often vexing. Is race purely a political construct, or is it biologically encoded? Certainly there are aspects of human biology—skin color, hair color, the presence or absence of epicanthic folds, etc.—that are commonly associated with racial differences, but is race just the sum of these physical features, with all of the overlaps, exceptions, and ambiguities they involve? How do genes factor into the story? And what connection—if any—is there between biological markers of race and the social experiences of racial groups?

Each of the three drinking buddies has a lot to say to God or Sam Malone, and, by the way, their responses don’t end in laugh lines. The biologist, Richard Francis, engages other issues, though his concerns directly affect how we answer the loud voice. But the sociologist, Ann Morning, and the lawyer, Dorothy Roberts, are narrowly focused on the science of race and how medicine mediates racial experience. And with good reason: in the United States people of a darker hue (on average) die sooner than pink-skinned people. They are afflicted with higher rates of particular diseases, such as high blood pressure, strokes, and kidney failure. So the race you’re born with, or, rather, which race you are born into, might mean a healthier, longer life—or not.

These days large numbers of medical research dollars are devoted to finding genetic differences between races that might explain health disparities. But many students of biology and race, and at least some of our bar mates, think that is a bad idea. They are not against medical research per se but against bad research. Instead of looking for genes that cause race and attending health outcomes (the standard approach) they point to evidence strongly suggesting that everyday events alter our bodies, making them sicker or more resistant to disease—events that the political economy ensures are more or less common depending on which racial categories one is assigned to. Indeed, it may be that biology doesn’t create race but that racial marking creates new biological states via processes that all three of these thinkers discuss in new books

Read the entire review here.

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Racial Categories in Medical Practice: How Useful Are They?

Posted in Articles, Brazil, Census/Demographics, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2010-02-08 19:50Z by Steven

Racial Categories in Medical Practice: How Useful Are They?

PLoS Medicine
Volume 4, Number 9 (September 2007)
pages 1423-1428
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0040271

Lundy Braun
Departments of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Africana Studies
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

Duana Fullwiley, Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies and of Medical Anthropology
Harvard University

Anne Fausto-Sterling
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and Biochemistry, Program in Women’s Studies, and Chair of the Faculty Committee on Science and Technology Studies
Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

Evelynn M. Hammonds, Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity
History of Science and of African and African American Studies programs
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Alondra Nelson
Departments of Sociology and African American Studies
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut

William Quivers
Department of Physics
Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts

Susan M. Reverby
Women’s Studies Department,
Wellesley College, Wellesley, Massachusetts

Alexandra Shields
Harvard/MGH Cente on Genomics, Vulnerable Populations and Health Disparities,
Massachusetts General Hospital
Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts

The Trouble with Race

Is it good medical practice for physicians to “eyeball” a patient’s race when assessing their medical status or even to ask them to identify their race? This question was captured in a 2005 episode of “House M.D.,”  Fox television’s medical drama. In the episode, a black patient with heart disease refuses a hospital physician’s prescription for what is clearly supposed to be BiDil, the drug approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration only for “self-identified” African-Americans. Dr. House, on seeing the patient for followup, insists on the same prescription.  The patient again refuses, telling House, “I’m not buying into no racist drug, OK?” House, a white physician asks, “It’s racist because it helps black people more than white people? Well, on behalf of my peeps, let me say, thanks for dying on principle for us.” The patient replies, “Look. My heart’s red, your heart’s red.  And it don’t make no sense to give us different drugs.”  Who is right here, House or his patient? And what does this episode tell us about the way race plays itself out in the physician-patient clinical encounter? What of clinical importance can be learned by making a quick racial assessment?  That an ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitor may not be effective? That screening for sickle cell anemia is a waste of time? Sorting patients by race may seem useful during a time constrained interview, but we argue that acting on rapid racial assessment can lead to missed diagnoses and inappropriate treatments…

Racial Categories Are Historical, Not Natural

…Racial definitions are historically and nationally specific. In her comparison of the history of racial categories in the US and Brazilian census from the late 18th century to the present, political scientist Melissa Nobles demonstrated that categories emerge and are  deployed in different ways over time. For example, during the mid-19th to the early 20th centuries, at the height of US anxiety about “miscegenation,” categories such as “mulatto” were vehicles for expressing and containing cultural anxiety about racial purity.  Bolstered by scientific ideas about race, data collected on the numbers of “mulattoes” were shaped by the desire to prove that “hybrids” would die out

…A dark-skinned, curly-headed person who identifies as African American may, indeed, have much in his or her history and upbringing to justify that identification. But he or she may also have a white grandparent and several Cherokee ancestors. Thus, returning to the example of glaucoma, it is more important to know a patient’s family history than to assess his or her race.  And collecting family history ought to mean not only compiling a list of which diseases family members have, but making some attempt to assess common (familial) habits such as diet and life experiences (e.g., first- versus second-generation immigrants, living conditions, or same versus widely varied work experience and geographical locations). Similarly, when the history of passing for white is ignored, those who identify themselves as “white” are assumed to have no ancestral “black blood.”  Finally, immigration patterns constantly change. A “black” person walking into a Boston, Massachusetts clinic could easily be the child of a recent immigrant from Ethiopia or Brazil who has a genetic makeup as well as cultural and environmental exposures that differ significantly from the descendents of 19th century US slaves from the western coast of Africa…

Read the entire article here.

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