In spring 2011, my Everyday Antiracism class from Harvard's GSE went over to the Boston Science Museum to see the Race exhibit put on by the American Anthropological Association (to which I belong).
I spent half my time learning details about the history of the U.S. Census and the rest of my time at the section on health and race, because I've always found that discussions of disease stymie discussions about how race categories are biologically bogus (but structurally/historically, very real). What about sickle cell? people say. Tay-Sachs?
A good quote: "There is no genetic basis for race. The vast genetic diversity within each so-called race makes race unsuitable as a marker for genetics. A better substitute for genetics is ancestry or family history."
Stated otherwise: race categories aren't useful as containers for our genetic, biological diversity. They are too blobby, too big, and, too human-made.
"Ancestry" (where in the world your ancestors lived) is a much more precise, and valid, way of talking about your background and genetic propensity for diseases.
A good quote: "should race be used in medical research?" "Certain diseases are more common among people with a particular ancestry than among the general population. But racial categories are just too big and imprecise to indicate anything medically meaningful about a person's ancestry. In order to be truly pertinent, the data gathered in medical studies must track ancestry at the level of specific country or region."
E.g.s from the cards I read, of how race categories are too "big and imprecise" and country/region of origin works better to think about disease:
*Sickle cell is more prevalent in West Africa and Southern Europe, and the Middle East and South Asia, but not Southern Africa or Northern Europe.
*Northern Europeans are more at risk for cystic fibrosis than Southern Europeans, even while both are considered "white" on the US Census.
*Eastern Europeans are more at risk for Tay-Sachs than Western Europeans.
*"Asian" lumping overlooks more precise facts: e.g., Filipinos, Koreans, and Southeast Asians have higher risks of lung cancer than do other "Asians."
But, here's an example of lived structural inequality that plays out along "race" group lines: which groups are more likely to work for a type of employer who offers no health insurance. (e.g., Latinos).