The Biopolitics of Race and the Post-Genomic Turn to Caste
Bertholf, Garry J.
MetadataShow full item record
At the turn of the twenty-ﬁrst century, the Human Genome Project seemed to have dispelled ﬁnally the biological notion of race. This situation has changed over the last decade or so with the emergence of race-based pharmacogenomics. In 2005, for example. the FDA approved the ﬁrst race-speciﬁc drug, BiDil, to treat heart failure in black patients. At the same time that the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries conspire to secure race~speciﬁc product patents and prescription drugs—~patents and drugs which necessarily incorporate assumptions of racial difference at the genetic level--they threaten to reinforce existing medical stereotypes and racial pathologies associated with African Americans. This study posits health as an ongoing political project and calls our attention to the perils of contemporary racial pseudoscience. The time is now ripe to ask how the FDA's approval of race—based biotechnology in the United States might have provided a most dangerous precedent for public health policies, regulatory agencies. pharmacogenomics, and healthcare practices in India, where the phenotypical differences between “Ancestral North lndians"(ANl) and “Ancestral South lndians'(ASI)--a distinction recently made by scientists at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad»is an especially telling example of how the language of epidemiology in India is becoming “racialized". Indeed, Kumarasamy Thangaraj and Lalii Singh, for example, have gone so far as to posit the biological determination of caste (as if caste, like race, is some kind of “natural” division of human beings; and here we would do well to pay heed to the recent work of, say, Ruha Benjamin and Projit Bihari Mukharii). (It has even been rumored- -and I am here also as an ethnographer, hoping to ﬁnd out whether or not--BiDil is now being repurposed in India as a caste-based biotechnology.) I argue that healthcare inequality is disproportionately affecting those who are disproportionately poor, irregardless of race and/or heredity, and that what might be taken up instead of geneticizing health disparities (or pathologizing the so-called "darker" races, "lower" castes, and “ancestral south”) is responsible intellectual work and protracted political action. This seminar will posit race- and caste-based biotechnologies as iterations of the same postegenomic, biopolitical strategy-~a global strategy attempting to shift our political center of gravity rightward, toward pseudoscientific explanations of health disparities as a matter of genetic and hereditary predisposition rather than economic inequality.