Race is a social construction rather than a biological or genetic fact. The study of human genetics has advanced rapidly, but no new information has provided validation of race as a genetic structure. In fact, studies of differences and variation between human genetics are based on geographic location of historic ancestry, and genetic drift due to movements of human populations (Jorde & Wooding, S28). Francis Collins was the head of the National Human Genome Research Institute when she publicly stated that the concept of race was one that was weak and flawed when viewed from the perspective of genetics and gene research (Howard, np).
While geographic location of ancestors contributes to the racial profile that an individual might present socially, the genetic markers are overlapping and imprecise in relation to the other genetic information of an individual. It is the combination of previous ancestry which may determine s person’s skin color, how they appear and the social determination of their race. Another example of this is provided by the importance of ancestry, but not race, to genetic related disease markers.
Persons who share a genetic disease marker may have similar ancestry, but their race is not a factor- only the genetic ancestry which provided the marker. Individuals can be connected on the basis of their genetic information, but this does not connect race, and families of related individuals may have multiple racial profiles in terms of how society views them (Jorde & Wooding, S28). Races has no boundaries or markers with regard to genetics, and to the extent that it is used at times to make determination about medical or disease risks these are based on ancestral factors, rather than the race which is determined by society (Howard, np). Further, while the expression of race has an ancestral component, it is one where some ancestry in one area is considered paramount to other ancestry. If a person has an equal amount of Jewish ancestry and African ancestry, for example, and they live in the United States, they will be considered Black or African American rather than Jewish because of their skin color. This is despite the fact that their genetic information would show genetic variation from both populations.
Sickle cell anemia is an example of a disease which has often been described as one which is prevalent in the Black community, however the genetic marker and the disease itself is prevalent in all communities with significant ancestry from locations where malaria is present as it represents an adaptation that occurred over time due to the exposure of those populations (Howard, np). The presence of sickle cell disease does not indicate that someone is of African descent, as it occurs in Mediterranean, East Indian and Arabian populations where there is a clustering of shared ancestry that includes ancestors who were exposed to malaria (Howard, np). Persons with any of these ancestries may carry genes that relate to sickle cell, while not apparently representing any of the races that might be associated with those geographical regions, because genetics is composed of all of a person’s ancestry, rather than just those “races” that are identified as such.
The social construction of race, on the other hand, does have physiological implications, but these stem from social reasons rather than biological fact (Howard, np). Race was a determinant of what laws people lived under, their living conditions and their treatment by others, and this manifests in health and social outcomes including differences in statistical averages of educational levels, income and illness, but it is not rooted in a person’s genetic information (Howard, np). To that end it is racism, and not race, that is the major determinant (Howard, np).