PAPER 2 - John Xu The Social Construction of Race Black...

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John Xu 11/25/07 The Social Construction of Race Black, white, what do these colors mean when one speaks about race? Does it imply a biological difference between human beings rooted at the very basis of melanin production altered by millions of years of evolution? Does it suggest superiority, that perhaps one human being is better than another because of the pigment of his or her skin? Or worse, does it hint at segregation on a far greater level, that people of a particular race are of a completely different species, a species that, apparently based upon history, is not worthy of ethical medical practices, or deserving of social equality? The problem with using the term race is that people are much too difficult to categorize. Skin color does not simply vary as black or white, but rather, there are far more shades in between these two extremes. And who is to say where along the spectrum of skin colors the line is between a perfectly civilized Homo sapien and a barbaric animal? Despite being fairly visually noticeable, can one even say that skin color is the universal determinant of the socially constructed concept of race? What about hair texture, eye color, height? We use race to make broad generalizations about groups of people, to distinguish ourselves from others, to stereotype and segregate. Indeed, for our purposes, race is used as too simple a term to be governed by such complex biological traits. Thus, despite the attempts to look at differences in red blood cells or skull size, race remains a scientific myth and a social construct. Arguments for the existence of race based on biological factors have been a topic of constant debate. Some of the more convincing arguments come from the field of medicine, specifically looking at examples of differences in the ways diseases affect blacks and whites. In 1917 Victor Emmel created a blood test for the detection of sickle-cell anemia based upon surrounding a drop of blood with petroleum jelly sandwiched between two microscope slides.
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Emmel’s test confirmed the popular belief regarding the prevalence of sickle-cell anemia in the African American population at the time (Wailoo 141). Problems arose however, when the sickling of the red blood cells occurred in white patients as well. This dilemma was taken care of by attributing the disease to “Negro blood” somewhere in the family. In a similar manner, the testing of the BiDil medicine was “conveniently” done completely on African American patients in an attempt to patent a drug for financial gain. The drug could have been just as effective when treating white patients, but the patent could not have been filed without basing its effects on race. According to Sankar and Kahn, race “became relevant only when it offered a means to revive the
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PAPER 2 - John Xu The Social Construction of Race Black...

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