Journalists’ use of race by color continues to create confusion

April 30, 2013 at 12:01 am | Posted in African American, Alzheimer's disease, blacks, Daniel Chang, DNA, equality, Ethnicity in America, European American, Human Genome, Media and Race, minority, Race in America, skin color, The New York Times, University of Miami, whites | 2 Comments
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Two articles reporting on “Alzheimer’s disease in blacks” arrived at different conclusions about the study’s affect on African Americans. The first article discussed here in the last blog was written by Daniel Chang in the Miami Herald (4/11/13) entitled “Researchers identify possible new gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease in blacks.” The earlier article in The New York Times (4/9/13) written by Gina Kolata is entitled “In Blacks, Alzheimer’s Study Finds Same Variant Genes as in Whites.” We find some interesting similarities as well as differences in comparing these two articles that focused on the same topic: Alzheimer’s disease in blacks.
Actually, the similarities are few; first, they include a reference to “Alzheimer’s disease in blacks” in their headlines. Next, they both discuss the gene ABCA7. Other similarities might exist, but these two are the major ones. The Chang article suggested that the important concern is that this ABCA7 gene is found in blacks and is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Of course, we had problems with the use of the word blacks. The only reference to blacks by Kolata appears in the headline. Obviously, someone else could have written the headline for Kolata’s article without fully reading or appreciating the text.
The differences between the Chang article and Kolata’s are many, but the major ones verify the comments made in the last blog by Chang regarding the use of blacks as an identity. Nowhere in Kolata’s article does the reference to blacks appear. Because of this deliberate act, the readers are spared any confusion about the study or who it involves “African-Americans have a slightly higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease than people of largely European ancestry, but there is no major genetic difference that could account for the slight excess risk, new research shows.” In effect, no major concerns for African Americans acquiring Alzheimer’s disease were detected as a result of this study. This statement is contrary to the Chang statement:”University of Miami medical school researchers working with geneticist and physicians from other institutions have identified a new gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease in blacks, a finding that doctors say could help them prescribe more effective drugs for patients affected by the disease.”
The Kolata article does not place emphasis on blacks as does the Chang article, but on the disease; it says that “The results are from one of the only large studies ever done on Alzheimer’s in African-Americans. Researchers identified the same gene variant in older African-Americans that they had found in older people of European ancestry.” Chang’s article never mentions people of European ancestry. Kolata’s article continued, noting that the study “…found that African-Americans with Alzheimer’s disease were slightly more likely to have one gene, ABCA7 that is thought to confer risk for the disease.” In addition, the Kolata article noted that “Another gene, AP0E4, long known to increase Alzheimer’s risk in older white people, was present in about the same proportion of African-Americans with Alzheimer’s as it is in people of European ancestry.”This quote mentions the word “white” for the first and only time in the article.
So, what is the point being made here? The point is when ethnic identity is used and clearly defined, such as in African American and European ancestry or European Americans little confusion occurs. When color is used as ethnic identity, no one knows for certain who is being identified. The fact that the Chang article used blacks only suggested that some biological difference appeared in African Americans that did not exist in European Americans. The use of color, be it black or white, always suggest race and different races at that. Using the terms African American and people of European ancestry in her article, Kolata avoids the confusion associated with the color words.
We can compliment Kolata on her avoidance of suggesting a so-called racial difference in the Alzheimer’s study when she commented that “The researchers calculated that ABCA7 increased Alzheimer’s risk by about 80 percent in African- Americans, compared with about 10 percent to 20 percent in people of European ancestry. “ She added that “Those are considered modest increases; a gene that carries a significant risk would increase the chances of getting a disease by well over 200 percent.” She continued by noting that “…ABCA7 was not very common, still leaving most Alzheimer’s risk unexplained. About 9 of every 100 African-American with Alzheimer’s had the gene, compared with 6 out of 100 who did not have the disease.”
All the attention to blacks paid by Chang was totally unnecessary. One Alzheimer’s researcher, Dr. John Hardy, commented on the study by applauding the participants for their focus on minorities then “cautioned that the difference in risk between African-Americans and those of European ancestry who had ABCA7 was unlikely to be meaningful.” Actually, the Chang article seemed to promote race and racial differences as the focus of his article when the information did not support it. The Kolata article presented the study information in a clear and unbiased way. Her article is a good example of how ethnic identities rather than race can be used positively and effectively. Other journalists would do well to follow her example

Paul R. Lehman, Study of Alzheimer’s disease in blacks creates confusion

April 21, 2013 at 11:57 am | Posted in African American, Alzheimer's disease, American Racism, blacks, Ethnicity in America, European American, Human Genome, identity, mixed-marriage, public education, skin color, U. S. Census, whites | 1 Comment
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The need for our society to divorce itself from the use of color as an identity becomes more apparent every day. For example, an article by Daniel Chang in the Miami Herald (4/11/13) titled “Researchers identify possible new gene linked to Alzheimer’s disease in blacks” creates more questions than it answers. What good is a study that uses unreliable information? We are certainly not against studies that can be beneficial to society and strongly support them, but not studies that seem a waste of time and money such as the one mentioned above.
Chang states that “University of Miami medical school researchers working with geneticist and physicians from other institutions have identified a new gene associated with Alzheimer’s disease in blacks…” Let us stop here and ask the question—how are blacks defined? Did the study select African Americans to participate in the study and refer to them as blacks? We are not told. If the study uses the word black as an identity does it refer to only people with black or dark complexions? If the study used African Americans and referred to them as blacks, how does the study account for the African Americans of light or fair complexions? If the study refers to people with black skin or dark complexions, then it would not be limited to people in America. Since we are not told just who the study subjects are except for the word blacks, we are at a loss to understand the value of the study.
One of the major discoveries of the Human Genome study involving DNA was that all human beings are 99.9% alike. They discovered that since all humans belong to one race that discerning a race from DNA was not possible: “DNA studies do not indicate that separate classifiable subspecies (races) exist within modern humans. While different genes for physical traits such as skin and hair color can be identified between individuals, no consistent patterns of genes across the human genome exist to distinguish one race from another. There also is no genetic basis for divisions of human ethnicity. People who have lived in the same geographic region for many generations may have some alleles in common, but no allele will be found in all members of one population and in no members of any other.” ( For some reason the people working on this study did not get the memo.
The article continued by noting that “While Alzheimer’s occurs as frequently in blacks as other populations, researchers say there are important differences in the molecular mechanisms of the disease among people of different races and ethnicities.”What and who are we to believe? The study on DNA says that race cannot be determined, yet, this Miami study says it can. We need all the helpful information we can get to help in treating and curing Alzheimer’s disease, but we also need reliable information. When confusion regarding the existence of race is in question, the results of any study that does not clearly define its subjects will be suspect. We are told by Chang that “The study that led researchers to identify the gene, called ABCA7, will be published …in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month. Why?
The Miami study seems to directly undermine the findings of the Genome Project when it makes reference to “different races” and when it apparently identifies blacks as a race. One must question the logic of their statement that “Identifying these differences could help researchers develop treatments and drugs that are more likely to be effective because they’re tailor-made for an individual’s genetic make-up.” The individual in reference to the statement belongs to a black race? We thought that the study focused on a group of people—black people with the same gene, but now we are told that drugs will be “tailor-mage for an individual’s genetic make-up.” Are the people in question black complexioned or just called black rather than African American? The confusion continues because the subjects of the study were not clearly defined.
Chang does provide the following information:”The research project that led to the discovery of the new gene is believed to be the largest genome-wide association study conducted on late-onset Alzheimer’s disease in blacks.” Again, we must assume that blacks is a reference to what or who? He continues “It [the study] included 1,968 cases and 3,928 controls collected at multiple sites between 1989 and 2011. We do not know anything about these cases except some were controlled.
The ridicule made regarding this Miami study is not directed to Daniel Chang, he simply reported the story. The complaint falls to the creators of the study for not clearly defining their subject by ethnicity or by referring to people having the same “new” gene ABGA7. Since race is not possible to discern except by color, restricting the treatment to blacks could negatively affect other people, non-blacks with the “new” gene from receiving needed treatment. If the creators of studies involving human beings would focus on the problem rather that the supposed race of the subjects, more people might benefit from the study. Nothing prevents these study creators from using ethnicities or ethnic groups as the focused population to study, but using race and color dooms the study from the start.
So, what are we to make of this important study that focused on blacks? The ethnic make-up of American society is changing so quickly that the old form or system of identifying an individual based on his or her color is no longer effective. Many countries do not consider the skin complexion of their citizens as part of their personal identity. So, when any of these people come to America, they comes using their own unique identity, not one of black or white etc… The sooner we as a society stop using color and the concept of multiple races as valid or factual, the better off we will be, and studies that focus of specific cultural or ethnic groups will provide some benefit.

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