Questions for Joseph L. Graves, Jr.

Learn more about my research In January, 2007, Joseph L. Graves, Jr. answered visitors questions about evolutionary biology.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Since race is socially constructed, does that mean that it can never end?

posted on Sat, 01/27/2007 - 4:31pm
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

To address this question we must think about why humans construct races? The answer that we do it due to some deeply engrained cognitive processes specifically related to identifying racial categories is incorrect. To understand why no such mechanism could have ever evolved in humans remember that our species evolved in Eastern Africa sometime between 250,000 to 160,000 years ago.

Anatomically modern humans did not leave the region before 70,000 years ago, thus there could not have been any physical variation amongst those humans equivalent to what we observed during recorded history. Thus, we can infer that any mechanisms that might have existed in our brains to naturally group persons into racial categories would have had no variation to act on.

Evidence for the fact that racial categories are not naturally decided upon by the brain comes from studies of young children, who do not group other children by their physical features, but by other traits that are more relevant to children (such as whether the person is nice, or good at kickball.) Some studies have shown that children tend to prefer faces that are similar to their own. This might be taken for a natural categorization mechanism, except for the simplest explanation for this is that a child’s parents and close relatives would have faces most similar to their own (mechanism to recognize close kin, as opposed to categorization per se) and that human physical variation is continuous, which disallows such categorization anyway.

If human racial categories aren’t derived from physical variation, how can we account for our ongoing tendency to produce them? I answer in The Race Myth that this results from social interactions, particularly social subordination of others, and social allegiance with those you consider similar. Thus when we examine socially constructed races throughout our history, they have always appeared in societies with manifest inequalities, for which membership in a socially constructed racial group is the factor which predicts ones access to resources and social mobility. The ability to judge social coalitions is something that could have evolved under the early conditions of human existence, and the significance of this ability would have meant that natural selection would have reinforced such cognitive mechanisms throughout our species existence, in all locales and at all times.

Now arises the catch-22, if socially constructed races exist because of social hierarchy and its concomitant injustices, how will we ever eliminate socially constructed races? The answer seems simple; eliminate social injustice, especially those that are tied to our past racialized history. The problem of course, is that without addressing our misconceptions concerning socialized race, we won’t be able to eliminate social injustice, a catch-22.

Consider the statement made by Democratic Senator Joseph Biden last week concerning Democratic Senator Barack Obama. Biden described Obama as “the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and is a nice-looking guy.” Why isn’t Senator Obama a “European American”? His mother is of European descent; however our social convention automatically makes him African American, even though his father was Kenyan. Senator Obama undoubtedly faced racism during his life, but his heritage is very different from someone like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, or Oprah Winfrey whose ancestors suffered under chattel slavery in the United States (both are people I would consider, articulate, bright, and clean.)

My take home message is if you want to eliminate socially constructed races, eliminate injustice. Even if I am wrong, you would have a hard time arguing against a program of eliminating racism and fighting for social justice.

posted on Mon, 02/05/2007 - 3:02pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

what is the difference between race and ethnicity?

posted on Sat, 01/27/2007 - 6:23pm
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

The standard sociological definition of ethnicity is a group set apart from others by its national origin or distinctive cultural patterns. The term biological race refers to distinctive physical traits, gene frequencies, or evolutionary lineage. I have argued that modern humans do not have biological races; instead they have socially constructed races. Socially constructed races can be defined on the basis of any combination of physical traits, ancestry, genes, or culture. Therefore socially constructed races are much more akin to the standard sociological definition of ethnicity.

posted on Mon, 02/05/2007 - 3:11pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Was there a ever a time in the past when there were separate races of humans?

posted on Tue, 01/30/2007 - 10:30am
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

We have no evidence that separate races of anatomically modern humans ever existed, in fact, what we know about ancient humans migrations suggests that we never reached enough genetic differentiation to label these human populations are races in the biological sense. However, we do know that there were other species of intelligent hominids which co-existed with modern humans. These included Homo neanderthalensis, Homo heidelbergenesis, and Homo floresiensis (a newly described draft species from Java.) There is evidence that modern humans overlapped with H. neanderthalensis in Europe. Whether and how these species interacted is yet to be determined. What is most interesting to think about in the latter case, is that the modern humans who entered into Europe when the Neanderthals still existed, had body proportions similar to modern Africans (and one could surmise similar skin color.) Generally our popular culture doesn’t portray this meeting in these terms.

posted on Mon, 02/05/2007 - 3:20pm
bryan kennedy's picture

In the Race exhibit there is attention paid to the fact that sickle cell anemia isn't a racially focused disease. But what about a disease like Tay-Sachs. I've heard that this disease was specifically prevalent in Ashkenazi Jews. Is this true? Do you think its valid to target a disease based on race?

posted on Tue, 01/30/2007 - 11:27am
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

Tay Sachs results from a deficiency of the enzyme hexosaminidase A. It is found in all human populations at a carrier frequency of 1/250. This means that of 250 people, one person has the genotype +/ts, where + stands for a functional gene, and ts stands for the Tay Sachs allele. There are a variety of different mutations (changes in the genetic code) that can cause a functional HexA allele to become a Tay Sachs allele. These mutations differ around the world. The disease is in high frequency in a number of Mediterranean populations, including Arabs, as well as in non-Jewish French Canadians living near the St. Lawrence River and in the Cajun community of Louisiana.

Due to genetic counseling, Tay-Sachs has been almost completely eradicated. For example, in 2003, ten babies were born in North America with Tay-Sachs, but not a single one was Jewish. The carrier frequency for Jews in the United States is 1/27. The frequency for Jews of Sephardic origin is about one in 250, which is equivalent to that of the general world population.

The high frequency of Tay Sachs disease among Arab populations can be traced to the cultural practice of first cousin marriages. Persons who are related are more likely to share genes that are identical by descent (inherited from a common ancestor.) In such populations there is a higher frequency of all recessive deleterious genes, thus a higher frequency of a variety of genetically based diseases. The high frequency of Tay Sachs that was experienced in the Ashkenazim most likely results from the history of persecution of Jews in Europe. When a population is reduced by disaster (in this case, brought on my human prejudice), the frequency of genes in the survivors is random. These acts (programs against Jews throughout Western history, the last was the Jewish Holocaust of World War II) have left this community with 10 times greater frequency of a variety of genetic diseases (including early onset breast cancer), not just Tay Sachs.

These examples illustrate how the social construction of race has biological impacts. Persons of the Jewish religion are not a biological race, but throughout European and Middle Eastern history they were treated as if they were, leading to an aberration in genetic disease frequencies.

posted on Sun, 02/11/2007 - 2:50pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

If there are no races, why do we still see differences--why is it still pretty clear that this person is of Asian descent and that person is of African descent?

posted on Tue, 01/30/2007 - 11:39am
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

What people think they see as race results from ascertainment bias and social conditioning. Human physical variation is continuous, not discrete. For example, skin color varies continuously from the tropics to the northern latitudes. You can tell that Nigerians have darker skin than Scandinavians. However, difference in skin color alone isn’t enough to assign Nigerians and Scandinavians to different “races.” Also physical features don’t differ consistently. For example, Eskimos are closer to French and Swedish people in physical features than they are to North American Indians. North American Indians are closer in physical features to French and Swedish people than they are to South American people. Sub-Saharan Africans are closer to Australian Aborigines in physical features than they are to Europeans. Thus, if we used physical features to describe human races, it would make sense to lump together (Eskimos, French, and Swedes), (North American Indians), (Japanese, Chinese, and South American Indians), and (Sub-Saharan Africans and Australoids.) The former group would be farthest away from the latter group. However, with using their genetic ancestries, human populations are more related in the following way: (Australoids), (North & South American Indians), (Japanese and Chinese), (French and Swedes), and (Sub-Saharan Africans). In the genetic relatedness, the former group (Australoids) is farthest away from the latter group (Sub-Saharan Africans.)

American ideas about who belongs to which race are based upon the social history of this country. The first European colonists to the Western Hemisphere found Amerindians here when they arrived. The Indians were both different in physical appearance as well as in cultural features. A century earlier, when Marco Polo walked to China, he passed through the continuum of populations that connected Western Europe to East Asia. Columbus, skipped that continuum arriving in the Caribbean some 30 – 40 days after he left Spain. The European colonies were founded by subjugating the Indians and importing slaves from the Western coasts of Africa. The groups that would later form the fabric of the United States were brought together in a system of obvious social hierarchy. Cultural conventions and eventually laws were established to determine one’s racial identity. The laws differed by colony or state.

• Arkansas defined anyone with a drop of African blood in them as Negro, in Florida, if less than 1/8th African blood, you ceased to be a Negro, and in Oklahoma, anyone that was not of Negro blood, was classified as “white”.
• Even today, under Louisiana law, anyone less than 1/32nd African descent is considered “white”.
• Consider, the famous case recently where a reputed white woman had to sue to have her racial status reversed (she was found to be 1/32nd African American and classified as black, in Omi 1994, Racial Formation in the United States: from 1960 to 1990’s).
• This is five generations back – 32 ancestors, if one is African-American – than you are classified as Black.
• Even in 1963 Mississippi banned “white” - Mongolian marriages, but North Carolina allowed them.

Indeed, the social conventions of the United States teach us to look at people and attempt to place them in discrete racial categories. Many of the laws described above are still on the books. The problem of course, is that human physical and genetic variation is not discrete. Also, as social conventions changed, more Americans are resulting from marriages between socially-defined racial groups, making the categories even more meaningless.

posted on Sun, 02/11/2007 - 3:21pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I heard a scientist say that "everyone is African," but how can that be? All of my grandparents came from Europe...

posted on Tue, 01/30/2007 - 1:38pm
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

Our species Homo sapiens sapiens originated in Eastern Africa between 250,000 – 160,000 ybp. This species began migrating around the world and by 16,000 years ago had replaced all other archaic human species (including Homo neanderthalensis, Homo heidelbergenesis, in Europe and Homo floresiensis in Java.) This means that all living humans can trace their ancestry back to the original human lineage that began in East Africa around 160,000 ybp.

The modern humans that arrived in Europe around 55,000 years ago, would have begun their migration in Eastern Africa around 70,000 ybp. If we assume that human generations would have been around 30 years that would have given them about 500 generations to adapt to the conditions outside of Africa. Archaeological evidence confirmed that the first humans in Europe still have tropical skeletal proportions. If we assumed reasonable natural selection values on skin pigmentation, the darker skin alleles would still have been at about 60% of the alleles in the original human inhabitants of Europe. In other words, the original human migrants to Europe would not have looked like your grandparents, or any of the Europeans of recorded history which begins around 5,000 years ago (or about 1800 generations later.) Thus the original populations gradually changed to take on the physical features of today’s Europeans, but all of us are descended from the original human species, without regard to where our recent ancestors originated.

posted on Sun, 02/11/2007 - 3:44pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

What did you study to get to the position you have now?

posted on Sat, 02/03/2007 - 3:58pm
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

I was a biology major in high school, receiving my diploma in 1973 from Westfield High School, in New Jersey. I received my baccalaureate degree from Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio with a concentration in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 1977. My graduate work included stints at the University of Lowell, in the Masters Program in the Department of Biological Sciences and The Center for Tropical Disease, my Ph.D. credits were earned at the University of Michigan, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and I was awarded my doctorate by Wayne State University in 1988.

My doctoral research was on the evolutionary theory of aging and its physiological consequences. The similarity between the population and quantitative genetics of aging, prepared me to understand the logical fallacies that have been applied to biological concepts of race.

I am the first person of African American ancestry to have earned a Ph.D in Evolutionary Biology. This also means I was the first such person to have a tenure-track faculty appointment at a research-one university, the first to achieve tenure, and the first to be promoted full-professor in June 2000.

Deans are administrators who are in charge of university colleges or divisions. One never trains to be a dean, it is something that comes along after you have achieved satisfactory progress in your academic career.

posted on Sun, 02/11/2007 - 3:55pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How old is the human race?

posted on Fri, 02/09/2007 - 1:30pm
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

The most recent estimates suggest 160,000 years. These estimates are based both on genetic analyses and on the location of fossils that undisputedly anatomically modern humans.

posted on Sun, 02/11/2007 - 3:56pm
Chelsea Rae's picture
Chelsea Rae says:

What role do you believe biologists must play in policy recommendation or decision in the 'race to the future?' or the discussion on the sociopolitical construction of race?

posted on Sat, 02/10/2007 - 5:21pm
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

Scientist have an obligation to explain clearly what the biological concept means. This would include describing its strengths and its limitations, and contrasting it to social conceptions of race. They must become more active in teaching that the existence of apparent physical differences displayed within our species, is not proof positive that those physical differences justify the classification of humans into racial groups.

Furthermore, scientists need to honestly explain the complexity of genetics, particularly when it collides with socially constructed racial notions. Case in point, the developing notion of racialized medicine needs to be debunked. The existence of differences in gene frequencies is not evidence that those genes are responsible for differences in disease prevalence. This is particularly true when we realize that in countries like the United States, certain populations are socially subordinated. This means that in a variety of ways these groups are not experiencing the same physical environment as those who are less subordinated.

You can go to:
To hear a podcast on race-based medicine: RACE-BASED MEDICINE: REALITY OR AN ILLUSION? - GEN's Editor-in-Chief John Sterling talks with Dr. Joseph Graves Jr. from North Carolina A&T State University. (1/11/2007)

posted on Sun, 02/11/2007 - 4:10pm
Joan's picture
Joan says:

Isn't skin color caused by a difference in gene frequency - so wouldn't that refer to a human subspecies?

posted on Tue, 02/13/2007 - 11:00am
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

Dear Joan, Actually, we don’t define subspecies by the differences that occur at one or even a few genetic loci. For example, if we did that we could define human sub-species by any genetic locus that shows differences in frequency between any arbitrarily chosen groups of people. The A, B, O blood group system would produce its own set of human subspecies using that definition. By this system, Norwegians and Icelanders belong to the same O allele subspecies (0.55 – 0.61), and Australian Aborigines, English, and Sicilians would belong to a subspecies (0.43 – 0.48). Choose any genetic locus you wish and you would redefine subspecies.

In humans skin color is determined by about 6 loci (positions on the DNA.) Skin color is related to protection from UV damage and possibly the ability to synthesize vitamin D. For example, if we consider skin cancer incidence around the world, we observe a gradual increase from the tropics toward the higher latitudes. We would be correct in surmising that this has something to do with skin color. Northern European populations, who share specific alleles at melanin-producing loci, but who also have cultural habits that encourage them to seek sunlight, should have similar rates among populations. Yet when examined at multiple genetic loci, these European populations are closer genetically to indigenous Central American Indians than to sub-Saharan Africans. However, the sub-Saharan populations and the Central American Indians, while more genetically distant from each other, have lower skin cancer rates than Northern Europeans, both due to more melanin in their skin, and to cultural habits that discourage sun exposure. Finally, variation in skin color is not necessarily correlated with variation for other physical traits. World skin color shows ~88% of its variation among regions, and only 12% within regions, while 57 craniometric measurements show 15% of their variation among regions and 85% of its variation within regions.

There is more skin color variation on the African continent – on the Basutti skin color scale, 30+ to 1-12; For example, Eurasia only ranges from 1-12 to 15 – 17 and South America from 12 – 14 to 21 – 23. Skin color cannot be used to group persons into “races.”

To use gene frequencies to define sub-species requires more sophisticated statistics that examine multiple genetic systems. Obviously the more systems you have information on, the more confidence you would have identifying subspecies. This process is accomplished by using the population subdivision statistic called Fst. Fst can hold values between 0 (no subdivision) to 1.0 (completely divided.) Fst values have been calculated for a wide variety of large bodied mammals, and the minimum threshold for identifying the existence of subspecies is about 0.250. Humans are one of the least subdivided of large bodied mammals with values generally not exceeding 0.156 for genome wide analysis.

posted on Thu, 02/22/2007 - 10:36am
Nikki's picture
Nikki says:

Where were the first signs of humans located?

posted on Tue, 02/13/2007 - 11:29am
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

Locations of fossil finds of first modern humans

Site Type YBP
Ndutu, Tanzania Archaic 200,000 – 400,000
Elandsfontein, RSA* Archaic 130,000 – 300,000
Kabwe, Zambia Archaic 130,000 – 250,000
Omo Kibish 2, Ethiopia Archaic 130,000
Ngaloba, Laetoli, Tanzania Intermediate 130,000
Omo Kibish 1, Ethiopia Modern 130,000
Klasies River Mouth, RSA Modern 120,000
Border Cave, RSA Modern 50,000 – 85,000
Equus Cave, RSA Modern 60,000 – 75,000
Dar es Soltan Cave, Morrocco Modern 50,000 – 75,000
Israel (first outside Africa)
Qafzeh Modern 100,000
Skhul Modern 90,000

RSA* is the Republic of South Africa.
YBP "means years before present"

The genetic evidence gathered by examining the non-coding DNA of living humans and extrapolating backward suggests modern humans begin at around 160,000 ybp. The ancestral sequences are most like Sub-Saharan Africans. The fossil evidence supports this, since the oldest fossils of modern humans are found in Eastern Sub-Saharan Africa. This was the Pleistocene geological period and sea levels and climates were different then they are today. We hypothesize that there was no way out of Eastern Africa until around 100,000 ybp, and this would be consistent with the earliest finds of modern humans in modern day Israel around that same time. Modern humans don’t arrive in Europe until around 50,000 years or so. The first fossils of modern humans in Europe indicate that they still had African like body proportions. The Cro-Magnons are modern humans who date from around 40,000 – 10,000 years ago in Europe.

posted on Fri, 02/23/2007 - 12:17pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is there any scientific proof that Native Americans are less tolerant of alcohol? Is there a difference in how people from different parts of the world metabolize alcohol?

posted on Fri, 02/16/2007 - 3:10pm
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

American Indian alcoholism

There is no evidence that any population or ethnic group as a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. It is possible however, that given families may share genes that predispose them to addiction in general, or alcoholism in particular. Current research has linked specific genes to alcoholism. National Institute of Drug Abuse researchers have identified clusters of genetic variations in 51 chromosomal regions believed to play a role in alcohol addiction. These genes are involved in a variety of cellular and physiological processes including cell-to-cell communication, control of protein synthesis, regulation of development, and cell-to-cell interactions.

However we do know that some socially defined groups may have greater rates of substance abuse than others. This has nothing to do with genetics; rather it has all to do with the structure of society. For example, after the fall of the Soviet Union, former Communist Party bureaucrats showed an extraordinary increase in their rates of alcoholism. This illustrates the role that social forces play in substance abuse because these same individuals were “model” citizens earlier in their lives.

Given the way American Indians have been treated by the United States, no one should be surprised at the rate of substance abuse that occurs amongst them. Personally, I experienced how this works in my own family. My father grew up and lived through Jim Crow. A veteran of WWII he risked his life over and over again for this nation. He returned to a country that treated him like a second class citizen and denied him opportunity to rise socially. I watched this as I worked in the lumber yard beside him. I witnessed his daily humiliations, him never being considered a “man”, and I watched him being passed by for promotion, even through he was the most qualified person in the business. I know that my father self-medicated with alcohol (as did many of the African American males of his generation.)

American Indians don’t have a genetic predisposition for alcoholism…all humans do, any socially defined group that has had their land taken, confined to reservations, and their culture destroyed would be expected to exhibit elevated rates of substance abuse. This situation is even more tragic when you recognize how this culture has been iconized by this country. Imagine how you would feel if the people who massacred your people, a century later displayed your images on their sports teams. I am still appalled that in the 21st century, the National Football League is comfortable supporting a franchise entitled the Washington REDSKINS?? It is contradictions like this that explain disproportionate rates of alcoholism in American Indians.

posted on Fri, 02/23/2007 - 1:08pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Is there any connection between a person's race and their athletic ability?

posted on Sat, 02/17/2007 - 12:46pm
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

Race and athletics

I have been asked this question so many times I addressed an entire chapter to this claim in The Race Myth. To start this discussion off, ask yourself who is the best athlete on this list?

A. Justin Gatlin, African American world recorder holder in the Track and Field 100
meter sprint)
B. Michael Phelps, European American winner of 6 gold medals in swimming at the 2004
Athens games, World Record Holder in the 200 Butterfly.
C. Wilson Kipketer, Kenyan descent running for Denmark, 1:41.11 world record holder in
the track and field 800 meters.
D. Hicham El Guerrouj, Morrocco, 3:26.00 world record holder in track and field, 1500
meters, 3:43.13 mile.
E. Cullen Jones, African American swimmer, posted a 22.17 in the 50 meter freestyle at
the World University games in Turkey.
F. Qu Yunxia, of China holds the women’s world record in the 1500 meters at 3:50.46.
G. Fani Halkia, Greece, winner of 400 Meter Hurdles, 2004 Olympic Games.
H. Xiang Liu, China, World Record Holder in the 110M hurdles, Gold Medal Winner at the
2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece.
I. LeBron James, NBA, Cleveland Cavaliers

These examples should illustrate that great athletes are produced from all over the world. The reason Americans believe that some groups are more athletic than others results from ascertainment bias. This means that Americans are not thinking about participation in all sports, just the ones they are more likely to see on American television. For example, in the USA, the major televised sports, football, basketball, and baseball have disproportionate numbers of African Americans. This results from the recent social history of the United States. For example, now basketball is becoming more international, and more Europeans and East Asians are beginning to make it to the top levels. African Americans numbers have declined tremendously in baseball, particularly as participation in US Little League play has become more expensive and has left the inner cities.

If we examine sport physiology we recognize that it is highly unlikely that any one group could dominate athletics. First, we cannot apportion individual humans into biological groups determined by physical features. If we accept the principle that biomechanical features of individual athletes predict their potential for success in a specific sport, we still could find individuals from most portions of the world, that have the physical features to participate in and for some to excel in a given sport. This is because genetic variation determines the amount of physical variation within a specific population group. Since there is more genetic variation within groups than there is between them, we expect that in populations of sufficient size, we should observe virtually all body types within any chosen group, even if the average of the body type features between arbitrarily constructed groups were different.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule that all groups will produce the entire range of human body types. Small populations that lost much of their genetic variation in their history will produce a narrower range of physical types. Pygmies of the Central African Republic, who most people would call black, are not likely to produce people who are very tall. So do not expect them to excel in any sport were height is an advantage, such as basketball or volleyball. Since genetic variation combines with environmental conditions to produce the physical features we see in individuals within populations, we could imagine that some groups exist with all the genes required to produce individuals who would excel in a variety of athletic events, but due to social factors such as poverty and disease can never do so.

posted on Fri, 02/23/2007 - 1:48pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

why do african americas have more of a chance of a stroke than caucastions

posted on Mon, 02/19/2007 - 2:19pm
Joseph L. Graves Jr.'s picture

African Americans and Stroke

African American mortality from resulting from biological diseases was twice that of European Americans over the 20th century. The profile of mortality (risk of death) follows 2.5 – 2.0x for infant mortality, falling to 1.5X during adolescent to twenties, rising again to 2.5X during the ages of 40 – 50 years, and declining gradually to equal risk by the time individuals get to advanced age.

The African American rate of stroke is twice that of European Americans. The officially recognized risk factors for stroke include age, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, sickle cell anemia, stress, and smoking. One that doesn’t hit this list is lead exposure. Exposure to lead is linked to higher blood pressure and African Americans have on average between 22 – 18% higher levels of lead in their blood compared to European Americans. Lead exposure in children often comes from paint, but in adults it is most likely the result of lead additives associated with gasoline. People who live in areas with more automobile traffic get more lead exposure. These sorts of effects can be lumped into the general area of environmental racism. In America, exposure to toxic materials is better predicted by one’s socially constructed race, then by class or income.

African Americans have higher rates of obesity and diabetes than European Americans. Western Africans who are genetically close to African Americans have lower rates of obesity and diabetes and therefore don’t have high rates of stroke. This is strong evidence that although there are some genetic differences between African- and European-Americans, we probably aren’t going to find the key to controlling stroke in genes.

More likely, the areas that can make a difference right away are controlling diet, reducing weight, cleaning up the environment, and reducing stress. Stress has multiple impacts including predisposing people to substance abuse, such as cigarettes, or increasing appetite (many people who overeat are doing so because it relieves their stress.) All people undergo numerous areas of stress in their lives, job, family, unforeseen tragedy. However, the impact of stress is always worse on the socially subordinated. Indeed a number of studies show that racism hurts the health of those who are the victims of it more than it hurts the health of those who perpetuate it. So, if you want to look at a causal factor for the African American stroke differential, look to America’s institutionalized racism. Several studies have shown that helping African Americans develop coping mechanisms for anger generated from their response to racism, reduced their risk of stroke (e.g. Appel, S., Harell D.S., and Deng, S., in Nursing Research Vol. 51(3): 140-7, 2002.)

posted on Fri, 02/23/2007 - 2:48pm