Jeff Delaney ’05, ace blogger at Postgraduate Musings (although I am not sure which brother he is), writes:

Royce W. Smith ’01 was featured last Friday as a guest blogger at one
my favorite blogs, The Barbershop Notebooks.

Smith’s posts are here. I am a fan of anyone who likes “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening.” Both my daughters can recite the whole thing by heart. Smith’s thoughts on BiDil are worth reading.

A small Massachusetts company recently reported sales of 2.3 dollars in the first quarter of 2006 for BiDil, a new FDA-approved heart failure medication that promises to potentially benefit more than 750,000 Americans currently suffering from heart disease. Yet, the air is tense, the media fans the flame of controversy, and patients are paralyzed, not by the condition from which they suffer, but rather by skepticism and fear.

Why? Because the 750,000 people are black Americans. BiDil is FDA approved “for the treatment of heart failure as an adjunct to standard therapy in self-identified black patients to improve survival, to prolong time to hospitalization for heart failure, and to improve patient-reported functional status.” It is the first drug ever approved by FDA to treat heart disease exclusively in black Americans. So, there Kanye, at least one part of George W. Bush’s executive branch appears to care about black people!

America has made significant strides in understanding race and ethnicity as social constructs. In 1896, when the Supreme Court legalized segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson, a central question was whether a man who was “seven-eighths” white and “one-eighth” black had the right to sit in the “whites only” section of a train. In 1954, when the high court outlawed segregation in public schools in Brown v. Board of Education, the court chose sociological, rather than biological, understandings of race to support its conclusions. These two landmark decisions demonstrate how significant this debate has been in American history and how it has shaped public policy. Now the advent of race-based medicine may spark a shift backwards towards the accreditation of the biological definition of race.

In the process, the free market will run…well…free. Dr. King’s image may be used to communicate the message that We (Big Pharma and black folks) Have Over Come! Snoop Dogg and LeBron James may ink endorsement deals, and Tiger Woods would probably market the Centrum of ethnic medicines, complete for all your ethnicities (but he’ll stay silent when it comes to womens’ health).

Some racial minorities may benefit from the advent of race-driven medicine. But at the end of the day where will this development lead America in its discourse on race? Are we well-educated and mature enough to find a balance between biological and sociological constructs of race? Or is there no fair and peaceful balance to be struck?

Good questions.

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