Sunday, February 17, 2013

(First Reader) A Cultural Construction

Let's face it. Genetics is an incredibly complicated subject, and in a species as diverse as our own, it is even more so. While I'm always interested to hear about new findings regarding genetics, I tend to approach them with a bit of skepticism. With something as complex as DNA and genetics, how can we possibly come to any definitive conclusions? We can't account for the ridiculous number of variables that make up our genetic code, at least not without an equally ridiculous amount of testing.

It was from this mindset that I approached the racial-genetic model. I understand that many things are heritable, and that certain characteristics can be passed down throughout a particular lineage, but these are not necessarily 'racial'. My understanding is that race itself has very little grounding in our genetic code. Race is cultural, and culture is constructed. We assign race to people based on appearances and cultural practices, but associating these with genetics is very dangerous. Society is often quick to designate race as a biological category, a tendency which leans dangerously towards essentialist thought.

However, it is important to note that there have been studies looking at genetic similarities among people of common geographical ancestry. If we think about how race and ethnicity are constructed, this actually makes sense. Race, while based on appearance and culture, has some roots in nationality (as well as xenophobia). In my opinion, the racial-genetic model is trying to say more or less the same things that a socioeconomic model would, but coming at it from an essentialist biological angle. If we could shift the focus from race to geographical ancestry, we might be able to better understand the discrepancies between various groups of people. If race is to be included as a variable in future studies, that is fine by me, but only if it is understood in terms of its socioeconomic implications, not simply as a category.

On a more positive (and less ranty) note, I found the psychosocial stress model to be extremely promising. I had honestly never thought about the experiences of racism from the standpoint of chronic stress, but I feel that this is a productive angle to approach the issue from. However, we cannot forget the very real effects socioeconomic factors which enter into the health equation for different races, especially with regards to access to health care and education.

1 comment:

  1. This is my Respondent post.

    Andrew, I completely agree with you. There are way to many variables and factors when dealing with genetics. That being said however, I do believe that different races have different prominent phenotypes, I don't believe that this is because of race but rather due to the geographic location that race has been in for the majority of history. For example, with sickle-cell anemia and Africans. Three-quarters of sickle-cell anemia cases are found in Africa, however this is likely because in Africa malaria is a huge problem and sickle-cell anemia provides protection against malaria. Because sickle-cell anemia improves the overall fitness of an individual in this respect, the trait is very prominent in the population. In cases like this, race mistakenly has a factor in health. In my opinion, it is much more the geography of a population that shapes the genome than race.