Can the race of the fetus be determined prenatally?

The thread title is pretty self-explanatory. Can ultrasound, blood work, or even amniocentesis tell the race of a baby? Or would specialized genetic testing have to be arranged?

No. There is too much overlap in genetic characteristics to make it possible to unequivocally identify the common “racial” categories (e.g. black, white, Asian, etc.) or even most populations. There are some genetic characteristics that are more common in some populations, and which if found in combination increase the probability that an individual belongs to that population; but this is far from definitive.

Beyond this is the question of what sense “race” can be considered to exist at all, which I am not going to get into here.

Here’s an article that claims it’s possible to determine a person’s race from their DNA:

So I imagine you could get a DNA sample from the foetus, run it through one of these tests, and see what results you get.

I sort of doubt it. Racial groups are a spectrum. Some people are more (whatever) than others. Being (whatever) is a constellation of different traits, hair, ear wax (really!) skin color and whatnot. While a DNA test could do a gross approximation of racial classification, I suppose some people who look like one racial group would be classified in another.

Well, IF you ran a paternity test on a sample from amniocentesis, you might reveal the race as a side effect. Obviously you would have the mother on hand so you know her race.

Of course, for this to be practical, she’d have to have had sex with only a couple of men during the relevant period, know how to contact all of them, and the men would have to be willing to give DNA samples for comparison.

If all those conditions can be met, then once you ID the father you would nail down the infant’s racial heritage.

Which still wouldn’t tell you what the kid would look like for sure, especially if the parents are of different racial backgrounds.
Seems easier to wait for the birth and take a gander. :slight_smile:

To expand on my previous post, there are certain differences in the frequency of particular genetic markers among populations that may permit the assignment of an individual to a particular population with a certain degree of probability. However, not all individuals can be properly assigned.

This is further complicated by the fact that in the US the conventional “black” and “white” racial categories are largely social constructs that are defined on the basis of appearance rather than genetic makeup. Because “black” is socially defined as “showing any physical evidence of sub-Saharan ancestry,” there are many blacks who are of more than 50% European (and/or American Indian) ancestry. There are also some people classified as “white” who have more sub-Saharan ancestry than some that are classified as “black.” Genetic tests on such individuals will not correctly classify them according to their social “race.”

Basically the same thing could be said if somebody asked “Can you tell somebody’s race just by looking at them?” But most people would agree that the answer to this question is “Usually, yes.”

Just walking down the street in a multicultural American city, you can uncontroversially tell the race of most people you see.

Try this:
I scored, like, in the negative numbers.

Right. Human. It’s the only race.

Then I guess the original question in this thread is pretty easily answered.

Right. Ignorance is strength.

I got 70%, and would have scored higher had they not (almost) all been mixed “race”, I’m sure. Mixed race (that is, parents of very disparate origins, not “my great-grandmother was 1/4 Cherokee”) folks tend to regress to the mean, feature-wise, which makes them both gorgeous and difficult to identify. Still, I’ve enough friends of various ancestry that I’m starting to recognize themes. Nothing I’d wager large sums of money on, but 70% isn’t bad.

ETA: Whatever unscientific rubric my mind uses to determine “race”, therefore, seems to be in line with the continent, if not the country, of origin of the person’s parents.

Just don’t link to the “Asian” quiz! I suck at that one!

This is only true from an extremely limited and parochial US perspective. The majority of people in the US are drawn from three widely separated populations, that is, those of Europe, West Africa, and eastern Asia. Because the ancestral populations are so widely separated, and because interbreeding has been relatively limited, it is possible to distinguish the majority of individuals. However, if you selected individuals at random from throughout the world, it would be impossible to identify many as belonging clearly to a particular “racial” category either by appearance or genetically. Likewise, in areas where there has been very extensive mixing, such as Panama or Brazil, a large majority of people may not be clearly identifiable.

That’s possible, but if that’s how you feel, you probably should have said the following in response to the original question:

“No, you can’t tell the race of a foetus any more than you can tell the race of a person you see walking down the street.”

Wow, it seems that there’s quite a bit more involved in this question than I anticipated. I appreciate all the info so far, and hope the discussion continues because I’m finding it rather fascinating. Thanks all.

Not at all. As I said, race in the US is most commonly defined socially, on the basis of phenotype (that is, physical appearance). Since one cannot really identify the adult phenotype of a fetus merely from its genetics, one is considerably less able to identify its social “race” than would be true for an adult.

So the test described in the article I linked is bogus?

You could get as much from DNA as you could get by looking at the mother, who you have right there.

Certainly, in many cases DNA can ID “race”, but in others (such as in mixed parentage) it can’t.

Note that the test also shows if the individual is “a mix of those.” So, if you run the test and the answer comes back: 25% sub-Sahara African, 50% Native American and 25% European, what race is the person?

Mixed race.