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Could Genetic Technologies Set Back Efforts Toward Racial Justice?

For Immediate Release                                                Contact: Antonette Badami, 340.776.1179 or


Could Genetic Technologies Set Back Efforts Toward Racial Justice?

Public Interest Group Issues Report on Race and Human Biotechnology


New and emerging genetic technologies may be hindering efforts towards racial justice, according to a new report, PLAYING THE GENE CARD? A Report on Race and Human Biotechnology.  


African American and other communities of color are on the front lines of these new biotechnology products and applications, taking risks but not necessarily getting benefits. Yet these effects have been largely overlooked. While recognizing the rewards of biotechnology, Playing the Gene Card? looks carefully at their downsides, and recommends ways to minimize them.


These human biotechnology products depend on questionable biological definitions of race, and on emphasizing biological rather than social difference. We must not use 21st century technologies to revive discredited 19th century theories of race.  Experts have raised questions about the way these products rely on incomplete or flawed science, and about problems in how they’re promoted, used and understood. It’s time to move that discussion out of academic journals and into public awareness.


The report’s author, Osagie Obasogie,  is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Genetics and Society and Associate Professor at the University of California’s Hastings Law School.  is available for interviews on April 1, 6—10, 13, 17, 20 and 21st and will discuss how we’re now well into what some have called the “Biotech Century,” and increasing numbers of DNA-based products are being promoted and sold. While many have important benefits, Playing the Gene Card? focuses on three applications that may have particular risks for African American and other minority communities:


    • Race-specific drugs may be more about marketing than medicine. The FDA has already approved one race-specific drug despite expert criticism, and more are in the pipeline. They may distract us from addressing the social and economic causes of illness. 


    • Genetic ancestry tests are heavily promoted to African Americans, promising to reveal family histories lost in the slave trade. The pitch is compelling, but the science is limited and the marketing is misleading.


    • Police and courts are increasingly relying on DNA forensics and DNA databases, which in practice are less definitive than many people believe.  Federal and state policies taking effect this year mean that more genetic profiles of innocent people – disproportionately from minority communities – will be collected and retained in vast DNA databases.


The preface for Playing the Gene Card? is by Dorothy Roberts, noted legal scholar and author of the influential Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty.  The report can be found at 

About Osagie Obasogie, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Genetics and Society and Associate Professor at the University of California’s Hastings Law School, has written about the social implications of genetic, reproductive and biomedical technologies for popular audiences in publications including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and New Scientist.


The Center for Genetics and Society,, is a non-profit public affairs and policy advocacy organization working to encourage responsible uses and regulation of genetic, reproductive and biomedical technologies. 


Please call Antonette Badami, Caplan Communications, 340.776.1179 or



Playing the Gene Card? A Report on Race and Human Biotechnology


Suggested Questions for Osagie Obasogie


1.    Why are you worried about race and human biotechnology?


2.    We need better drugs and better health care. We long to reconnect with our roots. We want criminals arrested and convicted. Aren’t these products good for us, including for communities of color?


3.    If the medicine for heart failure works, who cares how it’s marketed?


4.    Oprah and Skip Gates are promoting ancestry tests. Why aren’t you?


5.    DNA evidence looks good on CSI. What’s wrong with it?


6.    Why is it a problem to emphasize biological rather than social differences between racial groups? Obviously there are genetic differences among Blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Whites.


7.    Is it too soon to be commercializing these applications?


8.    What are you saying with the title Playing the Gene Card?


9.    Are you saying something is wrong with the science behind these products? The marketing of them? The effects they’re having? Or all of these?


10.  What should we do to prevent or minimize these problems?


11.  What is the Center for Genetics and Society? What do you do?


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