On Thursday, Nov. 10, noted scholar and author Dr. Dorothy Roberts of Northwestern University Law School graced UM-Dearborn’s campus with her new book, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-First Century.

In 2000, the Human Genome Project made a groundbreaking discovery—that race cannot be determined at the genetic level. Decades prior, scientists had always believed race to be a biological construct, a way of categorizing people to govern and identify them properly.

Now, as scientists dive ever deeper into their understanding of the human genetic structure, it’s becoming more apparent that race is a sociopolitical construct instead, and serves as a shaky foundation for governing society.  Even more so, this research reinforces the idea that race is still being used as a tool to stratify and misappropriate wealth and resources.

“We are witnessing a new racial politics in America,” Roberts said. “Why is race so central to these scientific research projects and bio-technologies despite newfound evidence that it cannot be found in our genes?” Roberts asked.

Could this scientific research be used to mislead and exploit American consumers? The professor says yes.

In 2005, the FDA approved BiDil, the first drug engineered for a specific ethnic group. BiDil is designed to combat heart failure, and proved effective.

“This drug was developed without any regard to race, by a cardiologist at the University of Minnesota, who discovered that when you put together two generic drugs, they help to open up blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely and relieve pressure on your heart,” said Roberts.

“Of course, he wanted to patent this drug and make some money off of it,” Roberts said with a laugh. “And that’s what he got. The patent said nothing about race. But the FDA wouldn’t approve it because he hadn’t conducted any new clinical trials.”

Roberts went on to tell her audience that the gentleman got a new patent, but this time, added that the drug was for African-Americans. Using the same formula, he conducted a successful clinical study, lowering heart failure in his patients by 43%. Because the study was done with African Americans, the FDA approved it for African-Americans only.

“For decades, drugs have been tested on white people and have been marketed to everyone. For Bidil to be marketed to one racial group implies that [blacks] are unlike other human beings and should be treated differently,” Roberts said.

This type of trend seems to imply that there exists a “superior race,” and in America, those of white descent seem to bear the closest resemblance genetically. What happens when this ideology is applied elsewhere?

“There’s a commercial incentive by developing drugs by race,” said Roberts.
It’s hard to make a profit from individualized medicine, but when one drug can be manufactured on a grand scale, money can easily be made.

“Drug companies don’t market to YOU,” said Roberts. “They market to large groups of people.”

Despite the findings of this ongoing genetic revolution, the idea of America embracing this new ideology and becoming a post-racial society is far from reality. Advertisements, drugs, consumer products—even laws—are still being tailored to race. In spite of this manipulation, Roberts is torn between the decision to keep race as a part of society, or do away with it altogether.

“Working on this book gave me such a greater sense of common humanity,” she said. “How race shouldn’t even matter at all…but I just don’t see how we can get to that point.”

“If we pretend it doesn’t exist, how do we grapple with the ways race makes people think about each other? It’s embedded everywhere!” said Roberts. “I don’t know…there has to be a better way of thinking about human beings,” she said.

Interested readers can find Dr. Robert’s Fatal Invention on