The Misuse of Race in Medical Diagnosis

The Misuse of Race in Medical Diagnosis
The Chronicle of Higher Education

…I am Mexican from California, and my wife is black from Los Angeles. Our daughter is blonde with green eyes and pale skin. I have no known white ancestors, and that kind of heritage — even if it is just a legend — would not be left out of my family’s stories. In my wife’s case, her mother is now tracing their family’s roots back through American history; as of 1843, she has not found a single white ancestor. But my wife’s relatives generally have fair skin, and I suspect that my mother-in-law will eventually find a slave owner or overseer or some other white man who is responsible for that, and for my daughter’s appearance.

What concerns me is that many years from now, when she is old enough to see a doctor with neither me nor my wife present, the doctor will use what he assumes is her race to misdiagnose her: “A 19-year-old white female presents with irritability.”

Here is the crux of the problem: My daughter’s race can never be known. Her genetic risk for this or that disease is necessarily imprecise because she is a person, not a race.

You’ve got to question Garcia’s assertion that he and his “black” wife from a “light-skinned” family have “no white ancestors” but produced a blond, “white” daughter.

This is part of the myth of race: Your ancestors are effectively taken away from you. Garcia’s wife and her family obviously have plenty of “white ancestors” of they wouldn’t be “light-skinned.” But because there are no “pure” whites in the immediate ancestry, the genetic reality is denied in favor of the myth of the “light-skinned black.” Also, unless Garcia is pure “Indio,” I’m sure he has white (Spanish) ancestry too.


  1. I would not assume that “…unless Garcia is pure ‘Indio,’ I’m sure he has white (Spanish) ancestry too.”
    I am Irish-Mexican. As far as I know there is no Spanish on my Mexican side. There is however, French. El Cinco De Mayo (not our independence day) was a battle against the French.

    Mexico, also has, historically had, a rather large immigration of Germans, Lebanese and Greeks, among others.

    8/21/2004 4:15:06 AM

  2. Maybe Garcia did not actually mean that his wife was not of the “black” ‘race’ (mono-racial) — so much as she is perhaps of the “African-American” ‘ethnicity” (multi-racial).
    With this in mind, perhaps Garcia’s young daughter has the appearance of a “Multi-racial white” because both of her parents are of a “Multi-racial” heritage and have an obvious “white” lineage mixed therein.

    9/23/2004 9:10:04 PM

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