May 19, 2008

You'll notice that when we talk about how tissue types affect bone marrow compatibility, we always use the word "ethnicity" rather than "race." The reason is simple: race is a social construct, and has little to do with science. The concept of race is purely intended to classify people; for example, terms like mulatto, quadroon and octoroon were meant to describe varying mixtures of blacks and whites, though the one-drop rule was a more absolute method of determining if someone wasn't white.

This idea of race has led to some interesting discussions in the last few months, as some friends and acquaintance have said, in a nutshell, "I wish I could help you, but since you're black and I'm white, we won't match." Even ignoring the fallacy of the conclusion (there's always a possibility of matching, as we recently mentioned) the statement itself is built around the concept of race as a rigid category that can be determined solely by appearances.

I could give a number of personal examples as to why this notion is inaccurate; instead, I'll point to this article from the Daily Mail, in which a Brit who anyone would consider white was determined to be directly descended from Maharajah Duleep Singh, the last king of the Sikhs. How was this discovered? Through a blood sample—one of the two ways in which compatibility is determined for bone marrow donations.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: "race," what we determine from the outside, doesn't matter here. When it comes to science, it's all a matter of genetics, what's on the inside.

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posted by Emru Townsend at


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