Black and White Medicine

Black and White Medicine

PsycCRITIQUES
Volume 58, Number 32 (August 2013)
5 pages

Alejandra Suarez, Professor of Psychology
Antioch University, Seattle

A review of Race in a Bottle: The Story of BiDil and Racialized Medicine in a Post-Genomic Age by Jonathan Kahn New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2013. 311 pp. ISBN 978-0-231-16298-2 (hardcover); ISBN 978-0-231-53127-6 (e-book), hardcover.

What is your race? (a) Mestizo, (b) Greek, (c) Creole, (d) Peninsular, (e) Mulatto, (f) Quadroon, (g) Octoroon, (h) Indian, (i) Chinese, (j) Japanese, (k) Moor, (l) Syrian, or (m) Nubian? In another time and place, these may have been the available choices. Obviously these categories are not anthropologically or scientifically based.

Currently the United States uses the definition of racial categories as published by the Office of Management and Budget (1997) in its Revised Directive 15. Directive 15 stems from the civil rights movement; it aims to provide consistent data and a uniform language in order to increase fairness in society. All federally funded research with human participants is required to address issues of race, although the OMB explicitly states that its categories are not anthropologically or scientifically based.

The current racial choices in the United States are (a) American Indian or Alaska Native, (b) Asian, (c) Black or African American, (d) Native Hawaiian or other PacificIslander, and (e) White. There are two categories for data on ethnicity: (a) Hispanic or Latino and (b) not Hispanic or Latino (Office of Management and Budget, 1997). Many people objected that it is difficult to fit into these categories, so in the 2000 census, one could also self-select multiple categories of race/ethnicity. Selecting oneā€™s race is complicated: It is about identities; it is not about genetic differences.

The human genome project, completed in June 2000, concluded that all human beings, regardless of race, have pretty much the same genes. In fact, the American Anthropological Association has asserted that race is ā€œa worldview, a body of prejudgments that distorts our ideas about human differences and group behaviorā€ and that ā€œracial beliefs constitute myths about the diversity in the human species and about the abilities and behavior of people homogenized into ā€˜racialā€™ categoriesā€ (American Anthropological Association, 1998, para. 8, and cited in book under review, p. 40).

Race is an ideology that changes according to time and place. However, at the same time that the human genome project has unequivocally demonstrated that race is a construct with no biological validity, the idea of race as a genetically based population variant is becoming more and more entrenched in biomedical research and practice. How is it possible?…

Read the entire review here.

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