Monday, January 30, 2012

Biological and Social Explanations of Race

As stated in The Starting Gate, up to 77% of race differences in premature births could be explained by socioeconomic status (34). However, blacks still face more than twice the risk of whites of low birth weight. Despite varying levels of the effects of class shown through several studies, the question remains: How can we explain race differences as they relate to health? When attempting to answer this question, the issue of approaching race in genetic or societal terms appears. Can race be defined as a biological entity, or should it be viewed as social construct with possible biological connections?

A work that relates to this idea is Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s Racial Formation in the United States. Omi and Winant believe that race is not concrete, but it is also not simply ideological. They define race as "…a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies" (Omi and Winant 55). They believe that racial divisions have no biological basis and that the categories used to signify different races are arbitrary and inaccurate (55). Omi and Winant define racial formation as "the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed" (55). This theory about the social construction of race is mentioned in The Starting Gate, as many scholars have come to the conclusion that categorically defining races has become genetically meaningless in today’s society due to the vast amount of diversity (47).

Conley states, "Given the complicated social context in which research on race and health is carried out, in addition to the trouble legacy of research on race and genetics, considering race and biology can be problematic" (47). I agree with Troy Duster’s statement that, "…when such social-genetic categories influence public health policy, eugenic tendencies develop" (47). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, scientific racial hegemonies often used their research to provide what they believed was evidence of biologically based racial inferiority. No matter how well intentioned such studies may be, I believe that it is difficult for the research to remain impartial, due to the history of racial relations in American society. I believe that to explain the connection between race and health, we must take into account the influence of both society and biology.

1 comment:

  1. You bring up a very good point in reference to Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s Racial Formation in the United States. It is true that when looking at “race”, especially in a country as diverse as the United States, everything is not so black and white, excuse the bad pun. However, I do not think that it is beneficial to only look at races as a socially constructed identity determined by social, economic, and political components, when it comes to research. There is an undeniable biological aspect to race and ethnicity, and it is necessary to take in considerations the genetic variations of individuals, determined by race and ethnicity. But it is important to also consider the socioeconomics of individuals that is often screwed in one direction for certain races and ethnicities. We can best help any group of people by taking in account both their genetics and their socioeconomic statuses. There are great benefits in recognizing the differences in people, because certain groups of people are at high risk for certain illnesses and diseases. I understand that there is often skepticism about research pertaining to specific races and ethnics, particularly when considering some of the historical tragedies such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, where dozens of black men were purposely not treated for syphilis in order to studies the latent stages of syphilis. The optimist in me wants to believe that people really do care about other people no matter race, ethnicity, or economic statues, because it this belief that leaves the greatest possibility to help people.