JONATHAN JANSEN: Race essentialism has no place in research
Misplaced study on coloured women a gobsmacking display of arrogance and ignorance
All hell broke loose last week when Twitter posted a study by five white SA women on “cognitive functioning in Coloured South African women”.
Before I even read the research report I knew this was racist nonsense not only because of the unsubtle subtitle of the journal, “Normal and Dysfunctional Development”. Time and time again I have come across SA research that links a medical or psychological malady to the race of a group of people defined by apartheid as coloured or Indian or African or white.
In front of me as I write this column is a study on the dietary quality of an Indian community and “their high prevalence of non-communicable diseases”. Also on my desk is a report on tuberculosis susceptibility in “the admixed South African Coloured population”. Young Afrikaners, says another study at hand, were investigated for high levels of cholesterol in their blood. And the most amusing research (let me be generous with the term) I once read distinguishes the dreams of psychiatric patients who are Mosotho from those once classified as coloureds. Let’s first take a step back and ask what should be an obvious question: why is it such a natural thing for biomedical researchers in SA to draw a straight line between the presumed race or ethnicity of a group of people and a particular affliction? It’s quite simple, actually: it’s in the blood, if I may mix my metaphors. More than a century of racist indoctrination has created in the minds and hearts of ordinary South Africans someth...