Race may be hard to define

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7069.1405c (Published 30 November 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1405
  1. Carol Orchard
  1. Senior researcher National Casemix Office, Winchester SO22 5DH

    EDITOR,—One can classify pretty well anything as long as one has a clear idea of the purpose and axes of the classification: books, plants, racehorses, diseases—even humans.1 If educational planners were classifying humans they might choose first language as the axis; health planners might choose socioeconomic class; housing authorities might choose immigrant status.

    Who would need to classify humans by race, though, and how would they do it, given our propensity to travel the globe and breed where we rest? One of England's greatest journalists summed up the difficulty of defining his own race 300 years ago2:

    The Romans first with Julius Caesar came, Including all the Nations of that Name, Gauls, Greeks, and Lombards; and by Computation, Auxiliaries or Slaves of ev'ry Nation.

    With Hengist, Saxons; Danes with Sueno came, In search of Plunder, not in search of Fame. Scots, Picts, and Irish from th'Hibernian Shore: And Conqu'ring William brought the Normans o're.

    All these their Barb'rous Offspring left behind, The Dregs of Armies, they of all Mankind; Blended with Britains who before were here, Of whom the Welsh ha' blest the Character. From this Amphibious Ill-born Mob began That vain ill-nature'd thing, an Englishman.


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