It’s time to lose racial categories.

Some years ago I listened to an program on NPR in which they attempted to show that racial categories had little validity in medicine.  For the most part the program made sense, though it did leave one hanging about a heart disease treatment that might have worked but was ignored.  After discussing health they dealt with the connection between race and athletic ability.  Their conclusion was the athletic ability was a byproduct of the lack of options in other areas and not in genetic skills related to racial categories.

We all know that in the real world medicine uses categories.  Nobody tests Norwegians for Sickle Cell Disease.   Sickle cell disease affects Africans, Arabs, some Mediterraneans and some from the Indian sub-continent.  When you plot the distribution of the disease on a map, it becomes obvious that geography has as much to do with this as race.   There are other diseases such as Tay-sachs that affect religious groups.  What has been called a race can be replaced by ethnic and geographic categories.

In the US we still categorize people by race.  In the NY Times there was an article about civil rights groups were condemning the desire of ‘white’ families to take their children out of the testing pool.

It is impossible to tell ourselves that racial categories have no meaning for some purposes and at the same time classify others by race.  Our current racial categories are almost meaningless since we lump Cubans with Mexicans or Indians with Vietnamese.  If we need to create special categories on the US Census Bureau to track  Native Americans or the descendants of slaves, let us do so, but lets stop with racial categories for any other purpose.

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