When non-Whiteness becomes a condition

Elsevier,   Blood, Volume 137, Issue 1, 2021, Pages 13-15
Lauren E. Merz and Maureen Achebe

The term “benign ethnic neutropenia” describes the phenotype of having an absolute neutrophil count (ANC) <1500 cells/μL with no increased risk of infection. It is most commonly seen in those of African ancestry. In addition, ANC reference ranges from countries in Africa emphasize that ANC levels <1500 cells/μL are common and harmless. The lower ANC levels are driven by the Duffy null [Fy(a-b-)] phenotype, which is protective against malaria and seen in 80% to 100% of those of sub-Saharan African ancestry and <1% of those of European descent. Benign ethnic neutropenia is clinically insignificant, but the average ANC values differ from what are typically seen in those of European descent. Thus, the predominantly White American medical system has described this as a condition. This labeling implicitly indicates that common phenotypes in non-White populations are abnormal or wrong. We believe that it is important to examine and rectify practices in hematology that contribute to systemic racism.