‘Race’ and other group discrimination in the genomic era

Authors: Fatos Selita, Marc Willers, Yulia Kovas Published date: 26-01-2020 Status: Published

SUMMARY. Genetic science has provided new knowledge that has the potential to reduce ‘race’ discrimination. This includes findings that around 95% of human genetic variability is present within any population; and that most human traits are influenced by a complex combination of many genetic and environmental factors. Despite this knowledge, racially discriminatory practices persist internationally, including segregation; unfair sentencing; state surveillance of children; and involuntary sterilisation. Moreover, there is an emerging risk that DNA may be used to propel harmful discriminatory practices. For example, new ‘DNA-based’ groups may emerge in the context of polygenic prediction – aggregating multiple genetic risks into individuals’ combined risk indexes. Such DNA-based groups could be viewed as ‘new races’ - adding yet another category to the already heterogenous definition of ‘race’. This paper reviews the genetic advances directly relevant to, and their impact on, ‘race’ and other group discrimination; and assesses current UK and international discrimination practices and effectiveness of the laws in place prior to and in the genomic era. The paper concludes that current laws provide insufficient protection from ‘race’ and other group discrimination and still reflect people’s beliefs in entrenched differences between ‘races’. The paper asserts that the very use of the term ‘race’ in equality legislation is problematic due to inconsistencies in definition across key legislations; and history of its association with domination. Justice systems must update laws to reflect current genetic knowledge and to address existing and emerging risks of discrimination.

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Corresponding author

Corresponding author. Fatos Selita: fatos.selita@gold.ac.uk

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COPYRIGHT: © The UK Law and Society Association, 2020