Genetic Race? DNA Ancestry Tests, Racial Identity, and the Law

Genetic Race? DNA Ancestry Tests, Racial Identity, and the Law

Columbia Law Review
Volume 120, Number 7 (December 2020)
pages 1929-2014

Trina Jones, Jerome M. Culp Professor of Law
Duke University School of Law

Jessica L. Roberts, Leonard H. Childs Professor of Law and Director of the Health Law & Policy Institute, University of Houston Law Center; Professor of Medicine, University of Houston College of Medicine

Can genetic tests determine race? Americans are fascinated with DNA ancestry testing services like 23andMe and AncestryDNA. Indeed, in recent years, some people have changed their racial identity based upon DNA ancestry tests and have sought to use test results in lawsuits and for other strategic purposes. Courts may be similarly tempted to use genetic ancestry in determining race. In this Essay, we examine the ways in which DNA ancestry tests may affect contemporary understandings of racial identity. We argue that these tests are poor proxies for race because they fail to reflect the social, cultural, relational, and experiential norms that shape identity. We consider three separate legal contexts in which these issues arise: (1) employment discrimination, (2) race-conscious initiatives, and (3) immigration. Based on this analysis, we strongly caution against defining race in predominantly genetic terms.

Read the entire essay here.

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