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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Within this context [of the failed policy of Eugenics], it becomes clear that the issues involved in Loving extended beyond its current popular understanding as a tribute to romance.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-06-14 17:58Z by Steven

Within this context [of the failed policy of eugenics], it becomes clear that the issues involved in Loving extended beyond its current popular understanding as a tribute to romance. Indeed, for a case heralded for being about the boundless nature of love, there is surprisingly little discussion about this in the Loving decision apart from the appellants’ surname and rather dry assertions that marriage is a civil right.

Osagie K. Obasogie, “Was Loving v. Virginia Really About Love?,” The Atlantic, June 12, 2017.

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Was Loving v. Virginia Really About Love?

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2017-06-13 15:13Z by Steven

Was Loving v. Virginia Really About Love?

The Atlantic

Osagie K. Obasogie, Haas Distinguished Chair and Professor of Bioethics
University of California, Berkeley

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws banning interracial marriage, but the issues involved in the case extended beyond its current popular understanding as a tribute to romance.

Interracial marriage is at a historic high. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, couples with different racial backgrounds made up one in six new marriages in 2015—a stark change from previous eras when even looking at someone across the color line with a hint of romance could be a matter of life or death. This radical shift is largely attributed to the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia, which marks its 50th anniversary on June 12. In Loving, the Court struck down state laws banning interracial marriage, holding that such restrictions are unconstitutional.

Loving is widely praised as a case about law ceding to the power of love in the face of astonishing harassment and bigotry endured by interracial couples. The redemptive trope coming out of the Loving decision that love conquers all has also influenced other social movements, such as those leading to Obergefell v. Hodges—the 2015 Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage.

The 1967 Loving decision therefore is often celebrated as an affirmation of love that made America a better and more progressive society. There’s just one problem.

Love is not what the case was really about…

Read the entire article here.

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When you say you ‘don’t see race’, you’re ignoring racism, not helping to solve it

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2015-02-07 19:28Z by Steven

When you say you ‘don’t see race’, you’re ignoring racism, not helping to solve it

The Guardian

Zach Stafford

Race is such an ingrained social construct that even blind people can ‘see’ it. To pretend it doesn’t exist to you erases the experiences of black people

People love to tell me that they often forget that I’m black. They say this with a sort of “a-ha!” look on their faces, as if their dawning ability to see my blackness was a gift to us both.

When I point out that their eyesight had never left them, that my skin has never changed colors, and that they probably did not really forget that I am black, they inevitably get defensive. First, they try to argue that it was a compliment; the smart ones quickly realize that complimenting someone on not being black is actually pretty racist, so they switch gears…

…But that ideology does present a very interesting question: If you were truly unable to see people’s skin color, could you still be racist?

Dr Osagie Obasogie, a professor at the University of California’s Hasting College of Law and the author of Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind, wondered the same thing after seeing the biopic “Ray,” about legendary blind musician Ray Charles. While watching the film, he found that Ray Charles seemed acutely aware of race, despite not having sight. He left the theater thinking about blindness and racism, and then spent the next eight years exploring it in his research.

What he found is that even people who have never had sight still use visual representations of people – including a person’s perceived racial or ethnic identity – as a major marker for how they interact with them…

Read the entire article here.

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Colloquium: Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind

Posted in Anthropology, Law, Live Events, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2013-12-10 18:54Z by Steven

Colloquium: Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind

University of Pennsylvania
103 McNeil Building
3718 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-6299
Wednesday, 2014-01-29, 12:00-13:00 EST (Local Time)

Osagie K. Obasogie, Professor of Law
University of California, Hastings College of the Law

Professor Obasogie’s research attempts to bridge the conceptual and methodological gaps between empirical and doctrinal scholarship on race. This effort can be seen in his recent work that asks: how do blind people understand race? By engaging in qualitative research with individuals who have been totally blind since birth, this project provides an empirical basis from which to rethink core assumptions embedded in social and legal understandings of race. His first article from this project won the Law & Society Association’s John Hope Franklin Prize in addition to being named runner-up for the Distinguished Article Award by the Sociology of Law Section of the American Sociological Association.  This research provides the basis for Professor Obasogie’s first book, Blinded By Sight, which is forthcoming with Stanford University Press.

His scholarship also looks at the past and present roles of science in both constructing racial meanings and explaining racial disparities. This is tied to his interest in bioethics, particularly the social, ethical, and legal implications of reproductive and genetic technologies. Obasogie’s second book, Beyond Bioethics: Towards a New Biopolitics (with Marcy Darnovsky) is currently under contract with the University of California Press…

For more information, click here.

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Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Law, Media Archive, Monographs, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2013-12-10 17:26Z by Steven

Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind

Stanford University Press
November 2013
288 pages
Cloth ISBN: 9780804772785
Paper ISBN: 9780804772792

Osagie K. Obasogie, Professor of Law
University of California, Hastings College of the Law
Also University of California, San Francisco, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Colorblindness has become an integral part of the national conversation on race in America. Given the assumptions behind this influential metaphor—that being blind to race will lead to racial equality—it’s curious that, until now, we have not considered if or how the blind “see” race. Most sighted people assume that the answer is obvious: they don’t, and are therefore incapable of racial bias—an example that the sighted community should presumably follow. In Blinded by Sight, Osagie K. Obasogie shares a startling observation made during discussions with people from all walks of life who have been blind since birth: even the blind aren’t colorblind—blind people understand race visually, just like everyone else. Ask a blind person what race is, and they will more than likely refer to visual cues such as skin color. Obasogie finds that, because blind people think about race visually, they orient their lives around these understandings in terms of who they are friends with, who they date, and much more.

In Blinded by Sight, Obasogie argues that rather than being visually obvious, both blind and sighted people are socialized to see race in particular ways, even to a point where blind people “see” race. So what does this mean for how we live and the laws that govern our society? Obasogie delves into these questions and uncovers how color blindness in law, public policy, and culture will not lead us to any imagined racial utopia.

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The End of Race History? Not Yet

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2013-01-15 01:29Z by Steven

The End of Race History? Not Yet

Center for Genetics and Society

Osagie K. Obasogie, Associate Professor of Law
University of California, Hastings

Have we gone beyond race? Many argue society has now overcome centuries of strife to become “post-racial”—a moment that law professor Sumi Cho of DePaul University in Chicago refers to as “the end of race history”.

Two seemingly disparate developments have been used to lend support to this claim. In politics, Barack Obama’s 2008 election as the first racial minority-member to become US president has been lauded as a racially transcendent moment. In science, the completion of the Human Genome Project’s first draft in June 2000 offered seemingly definitive evidence that race is not real. As geneticist Craig Venter noted at the HGP announcement, “the concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis”…

…Two recent books by legal scholars address these issues. Jonathan Kahn’s Race in a Bottle provides a stunning case study of BiDil, the first drug to receive approval by the US Food and Drug Administration as a race-specific therapy. It was designed to treat African-Americans suffering from heart failure—based mainly on a mistaken belief that there are meaningful disparities in heart failure outcomes between blacks and whites caused by biological differences. Although BiDil was initially created as a race-neutral drug, Kahn offers a compelling account of the many influences that turned what is in essence a combination therapy of two widely available generic treatments into a pill “for black people only”…

Dorothy Roberts’s Fatal Invention, now out in paperback, extends this insight to examine how the re-emergence of biological race is having a broader impact—not only on innovations such as genetic ancestry-testing and racialised aspects of DNA forensics, but also on how we think about basic notions of racial difference. Advocates of biological race argue that today’s use of race in biomedicine is different from past usages within science that supported racism, eugenics and questionable research practices…

Read the entire article here.

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Race Under the Microscope: Biological Misunderstandings of Race

Posted in Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, Videos on 2012-11-10 23:00Z by Steven

Race Under the Microscope: Biological Misunderstandings of Race

Center for Genetics and Society

Despite the fact that advances in genetics undermine the notion that discrete and distinct racial groups exist at the biological level, the science of genetics is inadvertently reinforcing the myth that race is a biological, rather than a social, category. In this video, produced by the Center for Genetics and Society, a group of experts discusses the history and consequences of the misuse of racial categories in medicine and science. The video is a great resource for students and educators.

Race Under the Microscope features commentary on the misuse of race from esteemed professors Jonathan Kahn (Professor of Law, Hamline University), Dorothy Roberts (Professor of Law, Northwestern University), Osagie K. Obasogie (Professor of Law, University of California Hastings Law School), and Joseph Graves (Associate Dean for Research, Joint School for Nanosciences & Nanoengineering, Greensboro, NC). The excerpts used in the video were filmed during the 2011 Tarrytown Meeting.

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Playing the Gene Card? A Report on Race and Human Biotechnology

Posted in Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Reports, United States on 2012-10-06 01:44Z by Steven

Playing the Gene Card? A Report on Race and Human Biotechnology

Center for Genetics and Society
95 pages

Osagie K. Obasogie, Associate Professor of Law
University of California, San Francisco
Also: Senior Fellow
Center for Genetics and Society

Preface by:

Dorothy Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology; Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights
University of Pennsylvania

Executive Summary

Race has become a prominent focus for human biotechnology. Despite often good intentions, genetic technologies are being applied in a manner that may provide new justification for thinking about racial difference and racial disparities in biological terms—as if social categories of race reflect natural or inherent group differences.

The Human Genome Project (HGP) and subsequent research showed that there is less than 1% genetic variation among all humans. Patterns of mating and geographic isolation over thousands of years have conferred genetic signatures to certain populations. Yet scientists have found little evidence to support lay understandings that social categories of race reflect discrete groups of human difference. While HGP findings initially led many to conclude that race (as it is commonly conceived and used) is not genetically significant, the hope that science would promote racial healing has largely not materialized.

In fact, trends in life science research have shifted the other way. There are increasing efforts to demonstrate the genetic relevance of race by mapping this less than 1% of variation onto social categories of race to find genetic explanations for racial disparities and differences.

From page 21
Figure 2: The essentialist and population concepts of race contrasted with the actual patterns of genetic variation (simplified to three geographic categories). Based on the work of Dr. Jeffrey Long at the University of Michigan and depictions created by the Race—Are We So Different? project of the American Anthropological Association.
A Essentialist concepts of race that were popular throughout the 19th and early 20th century held that the human species was divided into several mutually exclusive yet tangentially overlapping groups based largely upon physical features such as skin color and facial features.
B Population approaches treat race as clusters of local populations that differ genetically from one another, whereby each group is considered a race. As depicted, this concept suggests an outer periphery of unshared distinctiveness as well as substantial genetic similarity that is highlighted by the overlapping regions.
C Contemporary data on human diversity supports a “nested subset” approach to race. This reflects the fact that “people have lived in Africa far longer than anywhere else, which has allowed the population in Africa to accumulate more of the small mutations that make up [human] genetic variation. Because only a part of the African population migrated out of Africa, only part of Africa’s genetic variation moved with them. For this reason, most genetic variation found in people living outside Africa is a subset of that found among Africans.”

Many celebrate these developments as an opportunity to learn more about who we are and why certain groups are sicker than others. Yet some are struck by the extent to which these new conversations aimed at benefiting minority communities communities echo past discussions in which the science of biological difference was used to justify racial hierarchies.

Although this new research is rapidly evolving and is fraught with controversy, it is being used to develop several commercial and forensic applications that may give new credence to biological understandings of racial difference—often with more certainty than is supported by the available evidence. This unrestrained rush to market race-specific applications and to use DNA technologies in law enforcement can have significant implications for racial minorities:

  • Race-based medicines have been promoted as a way to reduce inequities in healthcare and health outcomes. Yet the methodological assumptions behind them raise as many issues as the questionable market incentives leading to their development.
  • Genetic ancestry tests rely on incomplete scientific methods that may lead to overstated claims. The companies that sell them often suggest that biotechnology can authoritatively tell us who we are and where we come from.
  • DNA forensics have been used to exonerate those who have been wrongly convicted and can provide important tools for law enforcement. However, some forensic applications of genetic technologies might undermine civil rights—especially in minority communities.

While each of these applications has been examined individually, this report looks at them together to highlight a fundamental concern: that commercial incentives and other pressures may distort or oversimplify the complex and discordant relationship between race, population, and genes. Applications based on such distortions or oversimplifications may give undue legitimacy to the idea that social categories of race reflect discrete biological differences.

The concerns raised in this report should not be read as impugning all genetic research that implicates social categories of race. There is evidence that socially constructed notions of race may loosely reflect patterns of genetic variation created by evolutionary forces, and that knowledge about them may ultimately serve important social or medical goals. Yet, given our unfortunate history of linking biological understandings of racial difference to notions of racial superiority and inferiority, it would be unwise to ignore the possibility that 21st century technologies may be used to revive long discredited 19th century theories of race.

Advances in human biotechnology hold great promise. But if they are to benefit all of us, closer attention should be paid to the social risks they entail and their particular impacts on minority communities.


  • Executive Summary
  • About the Author
  • Acknowledgments
  • Preface by Dorothy Roberts, Kirkland & Ellis Professor of Law, Northwestern Law School
  • Race Cards and Gene Cards: A Note About the Report’s Title
  • Introduction | Are 21st Century Technologies Reviving 19th Century
    • Theories of Race?
    • How Have New Genetic Theories of Racial Difference Developed?
    • Context: After the Human Genome Project
    • Key Concern: Will Commercial and Forensic Applications Revive Biological Theories of Race?
    • In This Report
    • Sidebar: What Does It Mean to Say that Race Is Not Biologically Significant or that It Is a Social Construction?
  • Chapter 1 | Race-Based Medicine: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?
    • Pharmacogenomics: The Concept Behind Race-Based Medicine
    • First on the Scene: BiDil
    • Concerns about BiDil
    • Addressing Disparities in Health Through Race-Specific Pharmaceuticals
    • Conclusion: Evaluating Race-Based Medicine
    • Recommendations
    • Sidebars: Major Projects on Human Genetic Variation
      • Why Genetic Variations Matter
      • Top-Down Marketing to the Black Community
      • Historical Theories of Race
      • Are More Race-Based Medicines Around the Corner?
      • The Slavery Hypothesis
  • Chapter 2 | Ancestry Tests: Back to the Future?
    • African American Ancestry
    • Context: Population Genetics
    • From Groups and Populations to Individuals
    • Techniques Used by Ancestry Tests
    • Concerns about the Genetic Ancestry Industry
    • Conclusion: Resisting Racial Typologies
    • Recommendations 30
    • Sidebars: Native Americans and Ancestry Tests
      • Race, Intelligence, and James Watson
      • Bioprospecting and Biopiracy
      • From Race to Population and Back
      • The Business of DNA Ancestry Testing
      • Special Types of DNA
      • Human Genetic Variation—A Work in Progress
  • Chapter 3 | Race and DNA Forensics in the Criminal Justice System
    • How Does It Work?
    • How Reliable Are DNA Forensic Technologies?
    • DNA Databases
    • Cold Hits and Partial Matches
    • Whose DNA Is in These Databases?
    • Sifting DNA Databases to Catch Family Members
    • Predicting Criminality
    • Using DNA to Build Racial Profiles
    • Conclusion: Effects on Minority Communities
    • Recommendations
    • Sidebars: DNA Entrapment?
      • The Scandal in Houston
      • The Innocence Project
      • “The Informer in Your Blood”
      • Juking Stats
      • “The Birthday Problem” and the Limits of Forensic Database Matches
      • Minority Communities and the War on Drugs
      • Civil Liberties and DNA Databases
      • Phrenology, a Classic Pseudo-Science
  • Conclusion
    • Racial Categories in Human Biotechnology Research
    • Race Impact Assessments
    • Responsible Regulation
  • Endnotes
  • About the Center for Genetics and Society

Read the entire report here.

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Race-Based Medicine: Déjà Vu All Over Again?

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, United States on 2012-10-05 03:54Z by Steven

Race-Based Medicine: Déjà Vu All Over Again?

Biopolitical Times: The weblog of the Center for Genetics and Society

Osagie K. Obasogie, Associate Professor of Law
University of California, San Francisco
Also: Senior Fellow
Center for Genetics and Society

Race-based medicine has been one of the more contentious issues in pharmaceutical research and development over the past few years. Some argue that drugs specifically labeled to treat particular racial groups offer an invaluable way to fight racial disparities in health by targeting at-risk populations. Others claim that race-based medicine inappropriately treats race as a biological cause of racial disparities when broader social and environmental factors may offer better explanations.

Much of this debate involves the FDA’s 2005 approval of BiDil, which became the first drug to be labeled for a specific racial group – African Americans with heart failure. The heat generated from this debate has largely faded due to BiDIl’s market failure.  But, it seems like a new drug may reignite a few flames.

Tradjenta was developed by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals and Eli Lilly to treat Type 2 diabetes. But results from a Phase III clinical trial recently showed that Tradjenta was particularly beneficial for controlling African Americans’ blood sugar levels…

…Is another BiDil on the horizon? It’s important to acknowledge that Tradjenta had already received FDA approval to treat type 2 diabetes in the general population prior to the announcement of these race-specific results. This is different from BiDil, where investigators sought a race-specific indication from the FDA because they could not otherwise win regulatory approval as a race-neutral drug. Despite these differences, treating racial disparities in diabetes as a naturally observed group difference that can be at least partially resolved with a pill shares some similarities with the BiDil saga. In both cases, there is a tendency to naturalize racial disparities as a function of group difference rather than having a deeper engagement with the social determinants of health.

This leads to an important question: if Tradjenta already received approval for use in the general population, why would it not be effective in African Americans? Put differently, why go through the time and expense of conducting a clinical trial to demonstrate efficacy in a particular racial group when the drug has already been approved for everyone regardless of race?

It’s unclear how these recent clinical trial results might be used. Perhaps this is another example of using a clinical trial as a marketing device in the hopes of capturing a larger share of the market…

Read the entire article here.

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