Osagie K. Obasogie is the new chair of the Haas Institute's Diversity and Health Disparities research cluster. Obasogie, Professor of Bioethics in the Joint Medical Program and School of Public Health, spoke with us about his research on racial disparities in health, the myth of "colorblindness," and how blind people "see" race.
Let’s start with a little bit about you. Did you always see yourself entering academia? How did you become interested in the ways in which racial thinking is central to law, medicine, science, and other areas?
In a way, yes. Both of my parents are retired educators. My mother taught high school, and my father was a college professor. And I have other family members who taught at various levels. So, education is, in some sense, a big part of my family.
I became interested in race and science when I was a graduate student here at Berkeley. I was interested in race in general, but the health sciences weren't on my radar. That changed in 2005 when I read an article about the FDA approving a drug called BiDil, which became the first drug to receive a race specific indication—in this case, for Blacks suffering from heart failure. Put differently, the side of the bottle essentially says that the drug is for Black people only. At the time, this boggled my mind. How can there be race specific medicine when we all know race is a social construction? I dug a little deeper into the debates and realized that the idea of race reflecting "nature" or inherent biological differences did not go away after World War II as the standard narrative regarding the arc of racial thought in America would tell us. Instead, there is a long line of distinguished researchers who continue to promote the idea, and it is having a damaging effect on how we understand human difference and health disparities. So, that's when I decided that I wanted my scholarship to be a part of this conversation.
Continue reading the interview at Haas Institute, UC Berkeley...
Image via Center for Genetics and Society
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