The Concept of Race and Health


Race is the social construct that divides human populations into groups based on a combination of physical appearance, cultural factors and history. It is the basis for the classification of individuals by a variety of social institutions, including governments, schools and the criminal justice system. This historical concept of races has come under considerable challenge, with some thinkers denying either the logical coherence of the idea or even the existence of discrete, essentialist categories. However, many others maintain that racial divisions do exist and argue that such divisions are socially constructed rather than biologically defined.

The concept of race is a complex topic that involves the social construction of identity, bias and power. It has been the foundation for systems of discrimination, privilege and oppression, often leading to disparities in education, health, economics and criminal justice that affect all members of society. These disparities are reflected in higher rates of poverty for people of color, lower quality of education, lack of access to healthcare and increased likelihood of encountering police officers who may unfairly stop or arrest them.

There is a large number of social and political issues associated with the concept of race, but perhaps the most pervasive impact has been on health. Research suggests that health outcomes such as infant mortality, life expectancy and educational attainment vary substantially across racial groups. This is largely due to structural racism, a set of systematic and long-lasting patterns that confer an advantage upon whites in society resulting in disadvantages for people of color.

While there is no clear-cut definition of what constitutes a racial group, there are some basic principles that have emerged from academic and scientific studies. One school of thought is called racial population naturalism, which suggests that it is possible that there are genetically significant phenotypic traits that could be used to define distinct racial populations. However, the proponents of this theory acknowledge that these differences are not as dramatic as those envisioned by racial naturalism and that there is no naturally occurring boundary that would distinguish between one such group and another.

A different school of thought is known as racial constructivism. This idea holds that while the skeptics of biological race are correct in asserting that it is not a scientifically valid categorization, races do exist as social constructs. Individuals are ascribed to a particular race by the society in which they live, so that an individual ascribed as black in America may not be considered black in Brazil, where there is a different history of socially constructing races. This approach also notes that climatic changes are unlikely to change the phenotypes of individuals who have been genetically clustered into certain racial categories over time. This approach is sometimes referred to as social constructivism or institutional constructivism.