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Laveist Gives an Argument Against Continuing to Conduct Research on Race and Health. Why Does the Author and Researchers Call an End to Research on Race

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The US population has experienced tremendous growth in the last century, with much of the growth contributed by what are considered minority populations

The US Census has projected that, by the year 2050, one of every two persons in the United States will belong to one of the following racial and ethnic groups: American Indian, Asian and Pacific Islander, Black, or Hispanic.

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The “color line” is not fixed but ripples through time, finding expression at distinct stages of our development as a nation. As the meaning of race has changed over time, its burdens and privileges have shifted among population groups. At one time in our history, for instance, the Irish and Italians were considered “non-White,” along with other immigrants who were not descendants of the early Anglo-Saxon Protestant settlers. In this issue of the Journal, Gerald Oppenheimer traces the color line through the course of American history. He demonstrates how the original language of White racial differences began with the anxious response of early Americans to waves of immigration, beginning in the 1840s when the Irish (or Celts) entered US ports, followed by nationals from Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe

Over time, the descendants of these “White ethnic groups” became the monolithic Caucasian race, the majority population, superior in all respects to the Black people of African descent. According to the IOM, human biodiversity cannot be adequately summarized according to the broad, presumably discrete categories assumed by a racial taxonomy. Furthermore, “racial” groups, as defined by the Office of Management and Budget (American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian or Pacific Islander, Black or African American, or White, and 1 of 2 ethnic groups, Hispanic or non-Hispanic) are not discernible on the basis of genetic information.

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Racial differences in health date back to some of our earliest health records in the United States with blacks (or African Americans) having poorer health than whites across a broad range of health status indicators. This paper highlights some of the important contributions of sociologists to understanding racial inequities in health. It begins with a brief description of the findings of a seminal study conducted by the African American sociologist W. E. B. Du Bois in the late 19th century. It shows how later sociologists have built on this work by elaborating on the ways in which socioeconomic status (SES), racism and migration affect racial differences in health

The implications of this sociological research for policies to reduce disparities in health are also considered. For example, consumption (tuberculosis) was the leading cause of death for blacks in Philadelphia and Du Bois (1899) indicated that the causative factors were primarily environmental. He stated that “bad ventilation, lack of outdoor life for women and children, poor protection against dampness and cold are undoubtedly the chief causes of the excessive death rate.” Du Bois (1899) also noted that the health of blacks varied within Philadelphia by neighborhood of residence. Death rates were higher in the Fifth Ward, “the worst Negro slum in the city and the worst part of the city in respect to sanitation,” than in the Thirtieth Ward which had “good houses and clean streets.”

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Generally speaking, solutions might include positioning study sites in areas with diverse residents, employing recruitment staff with whom participants can communicate in their own language, providing travel support for participants who lack access to transit, and creating culturally sensitive informational materials about how data will be collected and used. From a policy perspective, says Oh, the NIH could use as a model for enforcement a recent mandate to require sex and gender inclusion plans in preclinical research. “By studying diverse populations, you do better science,” he says. “It’s a worthwhile investment scientifically.”

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Du Bois William E. B. The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study. Schocken Books; New York: 1967. 1899.

Link BG, Phelan J. Social conditions as fundamental causes of disease. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 1995;35:80–94.

Malone N, Baluja KF, Costanzo JM, Davis CJ. Census 2000 Brief. U.S. Census Bureau; 2003. The foreign-born population: 2000

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