Genetics and ‘race’

36.41 One of the most interesting outcomes of the Human Genome Project and other current scientific research is that there is no meaningful genetic or biological basis for the concept of ‘race’.[51] As discussed in Chapter 3, any two human beings are 99.9% identical genetically. Within the remaining small band of variation, scientists estimate that there is an average genetic variation of 5% between what are called ‘racial groups’—which means that 95% of human genetic variation occurs within ‘racial groups’.

36.42 It is now well-accepted among medical scientists, anthropologists and other students of humanity that ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are social, cultural and political constructs, rather than matters of scientific ‘fact’. In 1997, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) recommended that the United States government no longer use the term ‘race’ on census forms or other official data collection documents, because the term has ‘no scientific justification in human biology’. The AAA noted that

ultimately, the effective elimination of discrimination will require an end to such categorization, and a transition toward social and cultural categories that will prove more scientifically useful and personally resonant for the public than are categories of ‘race’.[52]

[51] See J Graves, The Emperor’s New Clothes: Biological Theories of Race at the Millennium (2001) Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick. See also A Caplan, ‘Handle With Care: Race, Class and Genetics’ in Timothy Murphy and Marc Lappe (ed), Justice and the Human Genome Project (1994) University of California Press, 30.

[52] American Anthropological Association, American Anthropological Association Response to OMB Directive 15: Race and Ethnic Standards for Federal Statistics and Administrative Reporting, <>, 25 February 2003. Directive 15 designated four races (‘American Indian or Alaskan Native’, ‘Asian or Pacific Islander’, ‘Black’ and ‘White’) and two ethnic backgrounds (‘of Hispanic origin’ and ‘not of Hispanic origin’) for the purposes of government statistical collections.