Epigenetics and the Embodiment of Race: Developmental Origins of US Racial Disparities in Cardiovascular Health,” by Christopher Kuzawa and Elizabeth Sweet, is an article that focuses on how the social construct of race can affect the living conditions (including nutrition) and stressors placed on mothers and developing infants, children, and adolescents, leading to epigenetic responses that cause cardiovascular disease (CVD) later in life. The research question here is primarily focused on proving the link between the social construct of race and how it is causing disparities between incidents of CVD in black and white people. They argued to prove that it is not a genetic difference, but rather one born of socioeconomic differences.

The data used to support this was compiled and interpreted from numerous other sources with the intention to shine new light on the affect of social environments pertaining to race (and, therefore the social consequences of race) and health. The conclusions drawn was that there are enduring health consequences faced by African Americans as a result of stress brought on by racial social environments, and that these consequences (particularly CVDs) can be trans-generational. However, these aren’t permanent, and can be altered by addressing social inequality and providing access to better care for pregnant mothers.

I do not believe that bio-medicine is a new form of racial classification in and of itself, though I do believe that it can be used in such a manner. In order to provide the most pertinent care to any patient (which sometimes includes preventative care), researchers and doctors must first know the underlying causes to disease, especially if certain risks are only present in certain areas. In the article written by Kuzawa and Sweet, there was care and thought given to wording and the presentation of words like “race” with the intention of addressing the issue (a health disparity between white Americans and African Americans) without providing another metric that could be used to define “race” as distinct categories in which to place people.

However, the very fact that such care was needed (to the point that they did include a disclaimer stating why they chose to use the word “race” and that they were using it as a socially constructed category and not a means to classify humans based on perceived genetic differences) points to inherent dangers in race-based medicine. There is the potential for circular reasoning to occur, where media misinterprets scientific research or data and helps to form incorrect public opinion on the matter, thus strengthening the causes that lead to the race-based medicine in the first place. As Kuzawa and Sweet pointed out via their own choice to include the term “race,” the very fact that there is disagreement on terminology leads to consistent use of the term “race” in place of less risky terminology.

In that sense, yes, this trend in race-based medicine can be used to racially classify and discriminate. Not only does it potentially encourage the belief (through misunderstanding or misinformation from poor interpretation of articles such as Kuzawa’s and Sweet’s) that there are substantiated differences between races, but it can also lead to perpetuating beliefs that one race is less than another. In this case, it could provide more ammunition that “black” people are inferior to “white” people based on the fact that they are less healthy than white people, or are more inclined to face certain health problems. Even without considering the potential misuse of information by the public at large, defining the problem has the unintentional side-effect of perpetuating race-based language and encourages continued cataloging of differences between races – even if a disclaimer is added to try to stem any misunderstandings.


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