James Doucet-BattleApr 23, 2021
Sweetness in the Blood
Race, Risk, and Type 2 Diabetes
Decades of data cannot be ignored: African American adults are far more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than white adults. But has science gone so far in racializing diabetes as to undermine the search for solutions? In a rousing indictment of the idea that notions of biological race should drive scientific inquiry, Sweetness in the Blood: Race, Risk, and Type 2 Diabetes (University of Minnesota Press, 2021) provides an ethnographic picture of biotechnology’s framings of Type 2 diabetes risk and race and, importantly, offers a critical examination of the assumptions behind the recruitment of African American and African-descent populations for Type 2 diabetes research.
James Doucet-Battle begins with a historical overview of how diabetes has been researched and framed racially over the past century, chronicling one company’s efforts to recruit African Americans to test their new diabetes risk-score algorithm with the aim of increasing the clinical and market value of the firm’s technology. He considers African American reticence about participation in biomedical research and examines race and health disparities in light of advances in genomic sequencing technology. Doucet-Battle concludes by emphasizing that genomic research into sub-Saharan ancestry in fact underlines the importance of analyzing gender before attempting to understand the notion of race. No disease reveals this more than Type 2 diabetes.
Sweetness in the Blood challenges the notion that the best approach to understanding, managing, and curing Type 2 diabetes is through the lens of race. It also transforms how we think about sugar, filling a neglected gap between the sugar- and molasses-sweetened past of the enslaved African laborer and the high-fructose corn syrup- and corporate-fed body of the contemporary consumer-laborer.
Rachel Pagones is chair of the doctoral program in acupuncture and Chinese medicine at Pacific College of Health and Science in San Diego and a licensed acupuncturist. Her book about acupuncture as a tool of medical, social, and political revolution in the United States is under contract with University of Michigan Press.