SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • race;
  • genetics;
  • human biological variation;
  • health;
  • racism

Abstract

The current debate over racial inequalities in health is arguably the most important venue for advancing both scientific and public understanding of race, racism, and human biological variation. In the United States and elsewhere, there are well-defined inequalities between racially defined groups for a range of biological outcomes—cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, low birth weight, preterm delivery, and others. Among biomedical researchers, these patterns are often taken as evidence of fundamental genetic differences between alleged races. However, a growing body of evidence establishes the primacy of social inequalities in the origin and persistence of racial health disparities. Here, I summarize this evidence and argue that the debate over racial inequalities in health presents an opportunity to refine the critique of race in three ways: 1) to reiterate why the race concept is inconsistent with patterns of global human genetic diversity; 2) to refocus attention on the complex, environmental influences on human biology at multiple levels of analysis and across the lifecourse; and 3) to revise the claim that race is a cultural construct and expand research on the sociocultural reality of race and racism. Drawing on recent developments in neighboring disciplines, I present a model for explaining how racial inequality becomes embodied—literally—in the biological well-being of racialized groups and individuals. This model requires a shift in the way we articulate the critique of race as bad biology. Am J Phys Anthropol 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.