Race as a Risk Factor in Public Health


Image by UC Hastings College of Law.
Prof. Osagie Obasogie

On Friday, March 18th, the Faculty of Law had the pleasure of welcoming Prof. Osagie Obasogie (UCFS) to give a talk titled "Race as a Risk Factor in Public Health". Catalyzed by Prof. Adele Blackett's Critical Race Theory Seminar, this was a joint event co-sponsored by the Institute for Comparative Law, the Institute for Health and Social Policy, and the Law Teaching Network. 

Osagie K. Obasogie is Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law with a joint appointment at UCSF Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for Genetics and Society. Named one of 12 Emerging Scholars in Academia under 40 by Diverse Issues in Higher Education, his research and writing spans Constitutional law, bioethics, sociology of law, and reproductive and genetic technologies. He has written for Slate, the Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, and New Scientist, and is the author of the award-winning Blinded by Sight: Seeing Race Through the Eyes of the Blind (Stanford University Press, 2013).

An abstract of the talk can be found below:

Race as a Risk Factor in Public Health 

Risk factors have been a popular tool within public health research since the 1960s as a way to have a more nuanced understanding of the set of conditions — social, environmental, biological, behavioral, etc. — that might lead to certain diseases or ailments. In recent years, race has become increasingly used as a risk factor variable that is often thought to increase the likelihood of experiencing certain health events. This framing of race as a “real,” tangible entity is in tension with its common understanding among scholars as a social construction where race is thought to reflect certain social, historical, and political choices rather than any meaningful differences in human bodies that can lead to health disparities.  Thus, the emergence of using race as a risk factor creates important questions about how race is being conceptualized when used this way. This talk presents both an empirical and critical review of the race as a risk factor literature, drawing attention to how the attempt at etiological nuance through this approach often leads back to reductionist thinking on race and racial disparities in health that can be quite troublesome. This suggests that there is an important role for stronger regulatory oversight of government funded research that may prematurely assert biological framings of race and health risks that can be harmful to minority communities. 


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