Being a part of the world of genetics, an interesting thought came to mind while reading an article "Western Cape varsity in quota battle", where they mention proposed quotas of "35% brown, 20% black, 40% white, 5% Indian"
In my very short time (so far) in science, race has pretty much never come up in a lecture or discussion with professors. It is largely unimportant when we're looking for causes and cures of diseases and abnormalities. One place we consider race is with medicines; logically it follows that not only your race is inherited through your family tree, but also your predisposition, say, for an allergy to aspirin. Also, because you're more closely related, genetically, to people of the same race as you, than those of a different one, sometimes an entire race, for example Hispanics, will be far more susceptible to such an allergy, than another race, let's say Chinese. From this, if a Hispanic patient comes in, we'd probably not bother risking the allergy to aspirin, and give him an aspirin-free painkiller.
To science, race is the same as height – it is quantitative in nature, meaning people don't fit into exact, perfectly defined categories, but rather you can be 1.7m tall, or you can be 1.8m tall, and you can also be absolutely any height between the two, with increased resolution for measuring that is.
Scientists can look at an individual's genome at the highest resolution possible, and find someone who looks Hispanic, but shares variation in some of their genes that is common in the Chinese population, hinting at the individual being a mix of the two races, even if he looks 100% Hispanic.
So mine is more of a question, how does the law, and bureaucracy define race? What happens in future where a geneticist somewhere takes a student who looks black, but finds that 20% of his genes are in-fact from white origin? Say this person was applying for a position against someone with 95% typical black variation in their genes, do you give it then to the “blacker” candidate?
As another silly example, I have very curly hair naturally, and if I spend a December in Durban's scorching sun, I come back looking pretty darn brown. How would the Western Cape university in question know whether to accept me to the proposed 40% white quota, or the 35% brown one if I declined to offer this information?
I think the bureaucrats in the days-gone-by must have been pretty spoiled, only having to compare credentials or matric marks to find the best candidate, and not needing to decipher races.
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