NEWS 2012

Redefining Race

NCLB speakers
Dorothy Roberts signs a copy of her book, Fatal
Invention, following the lecture 

We live in an age where decoding the human genome has confirmed that human beings are not biologically divided into races. Yet in this supposedly “post-racial” era, race has taken on a new—and disturbing­—guise, driven by profits, politics, and scientific probing, according to IPR law professor Dorothy Roberts.

Roberts tackled this issue in her most recent book, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century (New Press, 2011), which she discussed at a February 29 lecture sponsored by IPR and the YWCA Evanston/North Shore.

IPR Director Fay Lomax Cook noted the importance of the two organizations partnering on the event. “It brought together IPR, a research organization that has studied issues of race for more than four decades, with the YWCA—an organization with a long history of working to eliminate racism in our local and national communities,” she said.

In her lecture, Roberts underscored why race is an invention. “Race is not a biological category that naturally produces health disparities because of genetic differences,” she said. “Race is a political category that has staggering biological consequences because of the impact of social inequality on people’s health.”

She then highlighted key points from her research, including how race is being used in reproductive science, DNA-based criminal databases, and drug marketing.

Fatal Invention

Fatal Invention: How
Science, Politics, and
Big Business Re-create
Race in the Twenty-first

“The pharmaceutical and biotech industries are poised to exploit race as a convenient but unscientific proxy for genetic difference to market new drugs,” Roberts continued.

In particular, she points to BiDil®, which was originally developed and patented as a drug to treat heart failure in patients regardless of race. Yet due to this expiring patent, it was “restyled”—and approved by the FDA—as a race-based prescription drug that specifically targeted African Americans with heart failure.

This new racial science not only misrepresents the meaning of race and humanity, but also helps to perpetuate deepening social inequities in the United States, Roberts concluded.

“Dorothy Roberts’ contributions in helping us understand and challenge racism are unparalleled, shedding light on hard and critical questions we must confront if we are to end racial inequity in our communities and our nation,” said Karen Singer, President and CEO of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore. The lecture was offered as part of the YWCA's Racial Justice initiative.