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Inheriting Racist Disparities in Health: Epigenetics and the Transgenerational Effects of White Racism

Shannon Sullivan
Critical Philosophy of Race
Vol. 1, No. 2 (2013), pp. 190-218
DOI: 10.5325/critphilrace.1.2.0190
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/critphilrace.1.2.0190
Page Count: 29
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Inheriting Racist Disparities in Health
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Abstract

This article examines how people of color can biologically inherit the deleterious effects of white racism. Drawing primarily on the field of epigenetics, I demonstrate how transgenerational racial disparities are in fact racist disparities that can be manifest physiologically, helping constitute the chemicals, hormones, cells, and fibers of the human body. Epigenetics can be used to demonstrate how white racism can have durable effects on the biological constitution of human beings that are not limited to the specific person who is the target of white racism, but instead extend to that person's offspring. In this way, the field of epigenetics can help philosophers and others understand the transgenerational biological impact of social forces such as white racism. It reveals that the damage done by white racism is more extensive than critical philosophers of race might have realized, and also that interventions against white racism must address not just the economic, geographical, social, and psychological, but also the biological aspects of human existence. In particular, the article examines racist disparities in preterm birth rates and argues that the scope and significance of prenatal care for African American women must be expanded intergenerationally and include wide-scale forms of racial justice.

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