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Grassroots Marketing in a Global Era: More Lessons from BiDil

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2021


Since the first phase of the formal effort to sequence the human genome, geneticists, social scientists and other scholars of race and ethnicity have warned that new genetic technologies and knowledge could have negative social effects, from biologizing racial and ethnic categories to the emergence of dangerous forms of genetic discrimination. Early on in the Human Genome Project (HGP), population geneticists like Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza enthusiastically advocated for the collection of DNA samples from global indigenous populations in order to track the history of human ancestry, migration, and languages, while social scientists like Troy Duster insisted that the new genetics was in danger of ushering in insidious practices of eugenics. The Human Genome Diversity Project's 1991 proposal to archive human genetic variation around the world quickly came under intense scrutiny by indigenous peoples and advocacy groups who worried that such measures could exploit indigenous groups as research populations and even resurrect racist taxonomies from the nineteenth century.

Copyright © American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics 2011

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For a comprehensive overview of the Human Genome Project (HGP), its roots in the development of new technologies, its relationship to an earlier history of genetics, as well as public policy debates, funding history, and major landmarks throughout the 1980s and 1990s, see Cook-Deegan, R., The Gene Wars: Science, Politics, and the Human Genome (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994).Google Scholar
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Few critics have examined the complicated role of black advocacy groups in lobbying for BiDil's approval. Notable exceptions include Yu, J. H., Goering, S., and Fullerton, S., “Race-Based Medicine and Justice as Recognition: Exploring the Phenomenon of BiDil,” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 18, no. 1 (2009): 5767, at 58; Pollock, A., Medicating Race: Heart Disease and Durable Preoccupations with Difference (Ph.D. Diss., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2007); and Roberts, D. E., “Is Race-Based Medicine Good For Us? African American Approaches to Race, Biomedicine, and Equality,” Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 36, no. 3 (2008): 537–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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In this article we focus on racial categories because of the specificities of the BiDil case, but our more general recommendations apply to the use of ethnic categories in biomedical research as well. We must also emphasize that the concept of race signifies differently, or may not even translate, in different national contexts and regions of the world.Google Scholar
Our use of the term “ethnic niche marketing” is not intended to conflate important distinctions between race and ethnicity, but is rather taken from the marketing literature itself. Marketing directed at racial and ethnic communities is alternatively referred to as just “niche marketing” or “targeted marketing.” Marilyn Halter notes that “ethnicity” dominates marketing lingo and is often used to replace the terms “race” and “minority.” On the transformation of race into ethnicity in marketing, see Halter, M., Shopping for Identity (New York: Shocken Books, 2002): At 199–202.Google Scholar
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