Get 20M+ Full-Text Papers For Less Than $1.50/day. Start a 14-Day Trial for You or Your Team.

Learn More →

Skin Color Is Not the Same Thing as Race

Skin Color Is Not the Same Thing as Race In his reply to an editorial by Williams,1 Dr Carter2 argues for the legitimacy of usingracial identification in dermatology. In support of this argument, he cites the lower incidence of basal cell carcinomas and the higher incidence of postinflammatoryhyperpigmentation among blacks. The question remains, however, whether these differences are due specifically to race or simply to the degree of skin pigmentation. The reason that "blacks" have fewer basal cell epitheliomas than "whites" in the United States is most likely related simply to their level of skinpigmentation per se. In other words, race is a spurious factor. I believe that the same rarity of basal cell epitheliomas would be found in a populationof equally dark-skinned individuals of non-African descent, such as inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent. I expect that the same would be true of postinflammatoryhyperpigmentation. One must not fall into the trap of equating race with skin color. Skin color is such a variable feature within any given race that it is actuallyone of the least important factors in distinguishing between races. Physical anthropologists regard other physical characteristics such as hairshaft morphologiccharacteristics and craniofacial measurements as much more significant indicators of racial membership. However, more to the point, most anthropologists nowbelieve that the entire concept of race is so unproductive and inexact, so apt to perpetuate confusion and engender discord, that it should be droppedaltogether. When most people use the word race, they are referring only to physical appearance, not genetic constitution. But as worldwideracial mixing accelerates, any definitive identification of race based on physical appearance is going to become more problematic and less relevant.Even though the concept of race is largely discredited, here in the UnitedStates the subject continues to be almost a national fetish. There remainsa confused and irrational relationship between race, skin color, ethnicity, and social prejudice. The use of the terms black and white perpetuates this confusion. In addition, this dichotomy contains many implications, among which are the ideas of polarity, opposition, and sharp delineation. These connotationsare not only socially divisive but biologically preposterous. Thus, in a medical specialty devoted to skin, the use of the terms black and white to refer to patients of African and European origin,respectively, represents a step backward and has led to unnecessary obfuscation. I would suggest, then, that in those medical situations where it is appropriateto refer to the racial phenotype of an individual that the 2 terms Negroid and Caucasoid be reinstated. They are generally well understood and are devoid of erroneous allusions. Skincolor is included in these terms by implication, but may be more specifically designated, if desired, by adding the term light-skinned or dark-skinned. One must not forget thatskin color, while generally correlated with race, is, in fact, an entirely separate subject, and we should not use language that blurs the distinction.While in ordinary daily conversation the terms white and black may, of course, be used, I think they are ridiculously out of place in scientific discourse. As scientists, we should gently disregardthe pressure to use a dysfunctional vocabulary foisted on us by social fashion. The author has no relevant financial interest in this letter. References 1. Williams HC Have you ever seen an Asian/Pacific Islander [editorial]? Arch Dermatol. 2002;138673- 674PubMedGoogle Scholar 2. Carter EL Race vs ethnicity in dermatology [letter] Arch Dermatol. 2002;139539- 540Google ScholarCrossref http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Archives of Dermatology American Medical Association

Skin Color Is Not the Same Thing as Race

Archives of Dermatology , Volume 140 (3) – Mar 1, 2004

Skin Color Is Not the Same Thing as Race

Abstract

In his reply to an editorial by Williams,1 Dr Carter2 argues for the legitimacy of usingracial identification in dermatology. In support of this argument, he cites the lower incidence of basal cell carcinomas and the higher incidence of postinflammatoryhyperpigmentation among blacks. The question remains, however, whether these differences are due specifically to race or simply to the degree of skin pigmentation. The reason that "blacks" have fewer basal cell epitheliomas than...
Loading next page...
 
/lp/american-medical-association/skin-color-is-not-the-same-thing-as-race-gIEE0ChIyP
Publisher
American Medical Association
Copyright
Copyright © 2004 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved.
ISSN
0003-987X
eISSN
1538-3652
DOI
10.1001/archderm.140.3.361-a
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

In his reply to an editorial by Williams,1 Dr Carter2 argues for the legitimacy of usingracial identification in dermatology. In support of this argument, he cites the lower incidence of basal cell carcinomas and the higher incidence of postinflammatoryhyperpigmentation among blacks. The question remains, however, whether these differences are due specifically to race or simply to the degree of skin pigmentation. The reason that "blacks" have fewer basal cell epitheliomas than "whites" in the United States is most likely related simply to their level of skinpigmentation per se. In other words, race is a spurious factor. I believe that the same rarity of basal cell epitheliomas would be found in a populationof equally dark-skinned individuals of non-African descent, such as inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent. I expect that the same would be true of postinflammatoryhyperpigmentation. One must not fall into the trap of equating race with skin color. Skin color is such a variable feature within any given race that it is actuallyone of the least important factors in distinguishing between races. Physical anthropologists regard other physical characteristics such as hairshaft morphologiccharacteristics and craniofacial measurements as much more significant indicators of racial membership. However, more to the point, most anthropologists nowbelieve that the entire concept of race is so unproductive and inexact, so apt to perpetuate confusion and engender discord, that it should be droppedaltogether. When most people use the word race, they are referring only to physical appearance, not genetic constitution. But as worldwideracial mixing accelerates, any definitive identification of race based on physical appearance is going to become more problematic and less relevant.Even though the concept of race is largely discredited, here in the UnitedStates the subject continues to be almost a national fetish. There remainsa confused and irrational relationship between race, skin color, ethnicity, and social prejudice. The use of the terms black and white perpetuates this confusion. In addition, this dichotomy contains many implications, among which are the ideas of polarity, opposition, and sharp delineation. These connotationsare not only socially divisive but biologically preposterous. Thus, in a medical specialty devoted to skin, the use of the terms black and white to refer to patients of African and European origin,respectively, represents a step backward and has led to unnecessary obfuscation. I would suggest, then, that in those medical situations where it is appropriateto refer to the racial phenotype of an individual that the 2 terms Negroid and Caucasoid be reinstated. They are generally well understood and are devoid of erroneous allusions. Skincolor is included in these terms by implication, but may be more specifically designated, if desired, by adding the term light-skinned or dark-skinned. One must not forget thatskin color, while generally correlated with race, is, in fact, an entirely separate subject, and we should not use language that blurs the distinction.While in ordinary daily conversation the terms white and black may, of course, be used, I think they are ridiculously out of place in scientific discourse. As scientists, we should gently disregardthe pressure to use a dysfunctional vocabulary foisted on us by social fashion. The author has no relevant financial interest in this letter. References 1. Williams HC Have you ever seen an Asian/Pacific Islander [editorial]? Arch Dermatol. 2002;138673- 674PubMedGoogle Scholar 2. Carter EL Race vs ethnicity in dermatology [letter] Arch Dermatol. 2002;139539- 540Google ScholarCrossref

Journal

Archives of DermatologyAmerican Medical Association

Published: Mar 1, 2004

Keywords: color,racial group,skin

References