Anti-Wokeism in Medicine

Doctor crossing his arms

I recently became aware of the surprisingly high number of mainstream scientists who are publishing articles that focus on genetic explanations of racial health inequalities. This is something that flies in the face of what has been known for some time — that there is no scientific basis for race.

Embracing “Genetic Diversity”

To give an example, a paper published this year by The New England Journal of Medicine is entitled “Embracing Genetic Diversity to Improve Black Health.” The article starts with the authors emphasizing that all five of them self-identify as Black men and know what it is to experience racism. The implied subtext is that they have no reason to promote research which could potentially harm Black populations.

The authors also make reference to an ongoing medical debate regarding the use of race-based algorithms in the medical treatment of Black patients, as well as the wider public discussion about racism in America in the wake of Covid19 and the murder of George Floyd.

Race Medicine Will Improve Black Health

They then go on to assert that genetic differences between races are significant and may contribute to clinically significant health differences. They argue that it is therefore important not to hastily remove race-specific treatment for patients, and go so far as to argue for an additional race-based algorithm to be added to the dozen or so that already exist. The writers make this argument at a time when it is well known that race-based algorithms in medicine actually harm Black patients. For example, the race-based algorithm in kidney medicine is known to delay access to kidney transplants among Black patients.

Furthermore, the article’s authors rather disingenuously imply that ending race-based medicine will result in “a form of naive ‘color blindness’” that is likely to worsen inequities. I consider this to be a disingenuous statement because critics of race-based medicine very clearly assert that they are not asking for race to be ignored in medicine, rather they are calling for racism (not race) to be acknowledged as a major cause of racial health inequalities. Moreover, the authors try to make their race-as-biology argument appear palatable by milking their respective identities as Black scientists as much as possible, and by arguing that their work will advance health equity.

Ultimately, looking for genetic explanations of racial health inequalities is just classic scientific racism dressed up in a modern politically correct package. I find it troubling that in this day and age, knowing what we know about the insignificance of biological race, that problematic and potentially harmful work such as this is still commonplace in mainstream science.

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Clare Xanthos, PhD

Clare Xanthos, PhD

WRITER. SCHOLAR. RESEARCHER. Interests: Racial Equity, Racial Justice, Colorblind Racism. Co-Editor: Social Determinants of Health among African-American Men.