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Lay Understandings of Race: Cultural and Genetic Definitions

Dubriwny T.N.a · Bates B.R.b · Bevan J.L.c
aUniversity of Georgia, Athens, Ga., bOhio University, Athens, Ohio, and cUniversity of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nev., USA Community Genet 2004;7:185–195 (DOI:10.1159/000082261)


Objective: To examine lay understandings of race. Method: Fifteen focus groups were held in the southeastern United States from July to October of 2001. Results: The lay understanding of race is multifactorial, conceptualizing race as defined in part by genetics and in part by culture. Conclusions: The multifactorial understanding of race used by lay people is important to geneticists for two reasons. First, within the multifactorial definition of race, genetic variation is interpreted as phenotypic differences among individuals. Second, racial differences are apparent in understandings of race. African-American participants held a more fluid understanding of race that included ideas of self-definition and culture, while European-Americans were more likely to rely on physical characteristics to understand race.


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