Fatal Interpretation Part II: The New Racial Science
In Chapter 3, of Fatal Invention “Redefining Race in Genetic Terms,” author Dorothy Roberts begins with a contentious, secret meeting in Maryland regarding the Human Genome. She almost makes the case for “some” researchers seeing race as a statistical grouping based on genetic similarity, which is basically what the census bureau has done. Then she heads toward ancestry. She agrees that people are born with ancestry that comes from their parents but are assigned a race. I agree with that too; however, she seems to do an about-face and writes, “If there are no pure races, we should not conceive of people with mixed ancestry as being a combination of two or more pure races.”
Wait one minute. Now she is delving into the “pure” and “mixed” revelation that some of us warned about 20 years ago. I think Roberts gives much too much credence to racial purity. She is really all over the place. Is race a construct of some kind? Does race exist? Is purity the way to judge multiracial people? Whatever she is trying to get across, she certainly takes many detours along the way.
Roberts gives credence to her ilk by stating “It appears to be a common belief that genomic and biomedical researchers should be left alone to investigate race objectively at the molecular level, while sociologists and their ilk should stick to understanding how race functions in society.” I don’t think this is a common belief at all, and I understand what she’s saying, but considering she is not a biomedical researcher, what’s her basis for this book?
Then she’s back to geography, writing that “geographic ancestry does not solve the problem of race.” So, what solves it? Your guess is as good as mine at this point. In one paragraph she states, “Race must be a political category.” Really? More back and forth. This author is starting to bug me. We should believe this just because she says it?
I don’t blame multiracial people—or monoracial people—for wanting to believe no biological differences exist between races. I want to believe it! But it’s still just a premise, a possibility. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but for Roberts to get the multiracial community to buy into such a premise, seems like something we want her to confirm instead of something we truly think about, research on our own, and don’t blindly believe people promoting this or any one book. Please, people, think for yourselves, do your own research and stay open about this issue.
Chapter 4 is titled “Medical Stereotyping.” This is where Dorothy Roberts and I part company. She goes all the way back to Tuskegee, which was a totally unfortunate tragedy. Roberts then jumps to Jewish people and Tay-Sachs disease, then Chinese and Mexican immigrants. She calls some diseases “concocted.”
On the way to I’m not sure where, Roberts places blame on doctors and medical schools for even suggesting that there may be the tiniest difference in diagnosing anything if you take race into account. I have talked to hundreds of physicians and they aren’t sure what to think, but they know that something makes patients react differently to things like prescription drugs and anesthesia.
Aha, there it is on page 98! She barely introduces us to Cardiologist Jay Cohn, who invented BiDil, touted as the first race-based drug. Then just as quick, Roberts stops that story and oddly goes into cystic fibrosis and how ONE black child had the disease that overwhelmingly afflicts white people and therefore there is no cause for race-based medicine. Not so fast Ms. Roberts.
Chapter 5 is titled “The Allure of Race in Biomedical Research” and deals mostly with clinical research. She goes into OMB Directive 15 for federal reporting of race and ethnicity, which everyone in this field should certainly know about by now. It feels like filler material to me.
Roberts tries to debunk high allergic asthma prevalence in Puerto Rican and African American children, sickle cell disease in blacks, and other health disparities. Then she makes the statement that “Black poor people experience a more intense poverty than white poor people.” Does that mean race exists on some level? Does she not see the intense poverty that people of all races suffer?
Chapter 6, “Embodying Race,” is pretty unimpressive until a one-liner stopped me, “Racism doesn’t affect just those who experience it—it also affects their children while still in the womb.” Wow, minority women have stress in childbearing that results in stress on their unborn children. I can tell you as a white woman, we all have stress in childbearing! Then she jumps on Directive 15 again. Nothing is really accomplished there, so we jump into policy. Now Roberts and I are getting a bit closer, but Roberts gives it a short two and a half pages and it’s done.
Has Roberts really shown us the new racial science in this section? No, but just wait for part III!