what is race?


The persistence of biological understandings owes something to an unavoidable fact: race and health are inextricably intertwined. But this doesn’t mean biology produces race. It may be that race produces biology. A newer, but still embodied, view of human difference, one in which we conceptualize how social difference and deprivation change the body’s physiology, has yet to make inroads into public discussions of race. This is a concept that Roberts nails. In Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century, Roberts argues passionately and relentlessly—you can picture her making her case to a rapt jury—against the idea of race as a biological trait, which she calls, per her title, a fatal invention. Her evidence against biological causes (but not biological effects), and her insistence that believing in the biological basis of race is fatal to people of color, are compelling. Her case study of racial differences in breast cancer fatalities illustrates the point. In Chicago in 1980, black and white women died of breast cancer at the same rate. Today, despite being slightly more likely to get breast cancer, white female Chicagoans are half as likely to die from it. Could the difference in death rates be due to genetic differences between black and white women? A wealth of evidence suggests otherwise.

more from Anne Fausto-Sterling at Boston Review here.