Research Article/Race Reconciled: How Biological Anthropologists View Human Variation
How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality
Article first published online: 18 FEB 2009
Copyright © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Special Issue: Race Reconciled: How Biological Anthropologists View Human Variation
Volume 139, Issue 1, pages 47–57, May 2009
How to Cite
Gravlee, C. C. (2009), How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality. Am. J. Phys. Anthropol., 139: 47–57. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.20983
- Issue published online: 1 APR 2009
- Article first published online: 18 FEB 2009
- Manuscript Accepted: 27 OCT 2008
- Manuscript Received: 16 MAY 2008
- human biological variation;
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.