What is the meaning of race? Anne Fausto-Sterling imagines the lively discussion this would spark between three prominent scholars in her insightful Boston Review article, “Bodies with Histories: The New Search for the Biology of Race.” She compares recent books by sociologist Ann Morning (The Nature of Race: How Scientists Think and Teach about Human Difference), legal scholar (and CGS Advisory Board member) Dorothy Roberts (Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century), and biologist Richard C. Francis (Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance), imagining the conversation the authors might have over some beers.
The three scholars have different approaches to the question. Morning has researched the pervasive nature of essentialist categories of race in our society; the assumption that one’s genes bear all answers has unfortunately renewed scientific fervor over biological differences. Roberts sees bodies not as static, but constantly in process, embodying history and interacting with the environment, which has profound impacts on biological health due to gross social inequalities. Francis’ work on epigenetics shows the ability of environmental conditions to modify one’s genes. Putting these scholars in conversation with each other provides an interesting framework through which to contemplate the meaning of race in health disparities.
Together, they provide ample evidence that reducing health to one’s genetic make-up is the wrong kind of investigation. Fausto-Sterling – like Morning, Roberts and Francis – makes the compelling argument that the meaningful questions for society and for science are not about minute differences in genetic code, but about how social inequality leads to radical health disparities.
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
Posted in Biotech & Pharma, Civil Society, Jessica Cussins's Blog Posts, Public Opinion, Race
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