Race Consciousness in Biomedicine, Law, and Social Policy

An RWJF investigator in health policy research explores the topic

    • August 26, 2013

Dates of Project: 2008 to 2013

Field of Work: Examining race consciousness in biomedicine, law, and social policy.

“In order to conclude that the cause of health disparities is genetic, scientists must first rule out more logical social explanations”—factors such as intense poverty and the unavailability of healthy foods in many black neighborhoods.”—Dorothy Roberts

Issue: In light of recent advances in genomic studies and technologies, it is important to clarify how race-based biomedicine reflects and shapes current political contests over color-blind and race-conscious approaches to racial equality.

Synopsis of the Work: Roberts used empirical and conceptual methods, as well as legal analysis, to examine how race-based biomedicine both reflects and shapes current political contests over color-blind and race-conscious approaches to racial equality.

Key Conclusions:

  • Scientists increasingly are resuscitating a false biological concept of race by treating the social grouping as a biological variable in cutting-edge genomic studies and technologies.
  • The emerging racial science promotes a new biopolitics that makes race seem significant at the molecular level [even] as it appears less significant in a supposedly “post racial” society, obscuring persistent social inequities.
  • Race is not a biological category that causes health disparities because of genetic differences; race is a sociopolitical category that has staggering biological consequences because of the impact of social inequality on health.

Evidence from several studies show that racism itself—“lifelong accumulated experiences of racial discrimination”—is an independent risk factor for such negative health consequences as hypertension and very low birthweight.

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Roberts' theme in Fatal Invention: Science, politics, big business are resuscitating false concept of race.