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“Race” and the Difficulties of Language

Phillips, Debby A. ARNP, CS, PhD; Drevdahl, Denise J. RN, PhD

Critical & Postmodern Perspectives

“Race,” a construct created by scientists, is deeply ingrained in everyday discourses. Using postmodern theories to help us think through the complexities of language in relation to race, we come to understand that truths about race are changing, contingent, and contested products of cultural construction. It is impossible to understand or represent race as an object of study such that it can be known, yet untouched, by language. Health effects are one important consequence of race, particularly related to quality, access, marginalization, and privilege. Analyzing the effects of race bring it visibly into being, and makes evident how language shapes our understandings of the world and its human inhabitants.

From the School of Nursing, Seattle University, Seattle, Washington (Phillips)

The Nursing Program, University of Washington at Tacoma, Tacoma, Washington (Drevdahl).

Corresponding author: Debby A. Phillips, ARNP, CS, PhD, School of Nursing, Seattle University, 900 Broadway, Seattle, WA 98122 (e-mail:

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.