Currently, “race” is defined by many people as “a group of individuals who share a common culture or history”. But as we make more and more scientific and societal advances, particularly in the areas of genetics and the origins of our species as a whole, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this seemingly straightforward definition of “race” is not so clear-cut after all, and becomes even murkier when people begin debating between “race” and “ethnicity”, and whether such things truly exist or truly matter.
To help ease some of the confusion regarding that last point between the concepts of race and ethnicity, race is typically used when referring to a person’s physical characteristics, which they have inherited from their ancestors: certain bone structures, skin colors, hair colors, eye colors and so on are more prevalent in certain races and so these physical qualities are used as markers of those races. Comparatively, ethnicity is typically used to refer to the non-physical qualities, like a person’s culture, heritage, and language. Of course, race and ethnicity are often used interchangeable terms these days, leading to the distinction between them growing less and less clear as time goes on.
More importantly, however, let’s discuss whether there is, in fact, any true genetic basis for what we consider race; are Japanese people different on a genetic level from Irish people? Do Mexican people have differently coded DNA when compared to Canadians? Are there really any fundamental differences between us deep-down, or is the idea of race as a barrier between our different peoples simply a social construct we’ve set for ourselves?
These very questions have been a matter for heated debate among scientists and researchers for the last century, and experts in both the medical and genomic fields are to this day still doing further research and debate to resolve the hot-button issue.
One of the primary concerns among medical professionals is the way that medical diagnoses and treatments are often influenced by a patient’s race and the assumptions that can accompany their care as a result. Many medical researchers have done studies and come to the realization that, in the end, there is very little proof to be found in genetics for concrete differences between what we currently classify as different races.
Additionally, genetics are not the same between all people of a single race. This factor, in particular, is very relevant in the medical world; some doctors will judge a patient’s likeliness for certain illnesses based on their so-called race, when in truth such an assessment is unfair to the patient since being a certain race is not proven to influence the odds of particular illnesses one way or the other. This goes the same for medical treatments.
Furthermore, recent genetic studies have determined that while we initially classified “race” as being something that could be applied to people who come from certain countries or continents, the concept itself is very nebulous and vague; each country and region in the world has a great deal of genetic diversity (Africa, for example, has more genetic diversity within its border than the rest of the world combined, which seems to directly contradict many people’s opinion that certain genetics originate specifically from certain continents), while at the same time we are still similar in terms of our overall genetic structure.
In general, the study of genetics has long struggled with the concept of race and all the various societal meanings and implications it carries with it. Ultimately, genetic research is helping us to move on from our limited view on the idea of race and move forward to greater understanding our ourselves, not just as our individual races but as one singular race: the human one. One thing, however, is certain: we still have much to learn.
Voices of Fire