Racial Valuation of Diseases

41 Pages Posted: 10 May 2021

See all articles by Matiangai V. S. Sirleaf

Matiangai V. S. Sirleaf

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law; University of Maryland School of Medicine

Date Written: May 5, 2021


Scholars have paid inadequate attention to how racial valuation influences what actors prioritize or deem worthwhile. Today, racial valuation of diseases informs the stark global health inequities seen worldwide. As a concept, racial valuation refers to how racialized societies assign differing values to an individual or group based on their racial designation and the position within the social hierarchy that their racial categorization implies. It helps to explain how laws, institutions, and society—informed by ideas about race—distribute material conditions in health, which perpetuate and reinforce existing hierarchies.

This Article develops a theoretical framework for racial valuation and examines how the historical and scientific construction of race influenced the emergence of racial valuation norms. The framework of racial valuation postulates that explicit and implicit pseudoscientific distinctions that devalue the worth of Black, Indigenous, and other people of color have persisted, diffused, and morphed over time. Racial valuation is woefully undertheorized, and its applicability has been underexplored in the literature. This Article fills this gap by developing a theoretical framework for racial valuation and applying it to the racialization of the novel coronavirus. This framework captures how racial valuation reflects racialized beliefs from slavery, colonialism, and neocolonialism, which persist today and have influenced the racial valuation of diseases. Significant legal and institutional reform is necessary to shift how people, society, and laws respond to diseases depending upon the racial populations most impacted.

Keywords: critical race theory, international law, third world approaches to international law, public health, global public health, race and the law, COVID-19, racial empathy gap, institutional racism,

Suggested Citation

Sirleaf, Matiangai V. S., Racial Valuation of Diseases (May 5, 2021). 67 UCLA Law Review 1820 (2021), U of Maryland Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2021-07, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3840461

Matiangai V. S. Sirleaf (Contact Author)

University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law ( email )

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University of Maryland School of Medicine ( email )

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