Dr. Sandra Soo-Jin Lee: Toward a More Precise Genetics

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Interviews, Media Archive on 2017-03-25 20:30Z by Steven

Dr. Sandra Soo-Jin Lee: Toward a More Precise Genetics

Guernica / a magazine of global arts & politics
2017-02-27

Lynette Chiu
Brooklyn, New York

The medical anthropologist on the imperative to move beyond race in genetic research and the explanatory power of life experience and inequality.

For decades, the idea that excavating the genetic origins of disease could transform treatment of the body has lived in the sea of public imagination, buoyant but as yet unrealized. The Human Genome Project, a landmark initiative undertaken between 1990 and 2003, identified and analyzed all the genes found in humans, and sowed the potential for new understanding of major illnesses. It engendered hope of a future in which genetic makeup could be the primary factor in determining a person’s care. Researchers could make endless shapes out of a sandbox of data that was blind to race—that problematic and omnipresent variable in the biomedical sphere.

But it is not a simple thing to scrub race from human tissue samples or from the minds of the experts seeking answers, and it remains stubbornly inextricable from genetic research. Investigating the history, intricacies, and implications of this is Dr. Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, a medical anthropologist and senior research scholar at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, who has been studying the role of race in genomic science since the late 1990s. One of her principal interests is biobanks—the various repositories of samples that scientists turn to to test their hypotheses. She identifies them as chronicles of society’s evolving efforts to distinguish between groups; the sorting and labeling of their contents are a collision of the biological and the sociopolitical. The result is the physical matter of thousands upon thousands of individuals demarcated by an inconsistent jumble of terms such as “nationality,” “ethnicity,” and “skin color.”.

In her 2015 paper “The Biobank as Political Artifact: The Struggle Over Race in Categorizing Genetic Difference,” published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Dr. Lee is forthright about the dangers of genetic studies built around samples identified by race. “The unqualified racial labeling of DNA that strips genes of the social context and experience of those who have donated these materials,” she writes, “allows for a pendulum shift in scientific discourse that racializes genes.” Race can end up standing in for factors, such as diet and environment, that go unaccounted for in gene-focused studies. The subsequent findings can then trickle down to affect how we explain differences in disease burden, create health policy, and progress toward eliminating health disparities between populations. With the term “precision medicine” on the rise, referring to a care model that translates insights around genetic variation into clinical practice, the need to inspect and augment how those insights come about has grown more urgent…

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Degrees of Mixture, Degrees of Freedom: Genomics, Multiculturalism, and Race in Latin America

Posted in Anthropology, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Forthcoming Media, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Mexico, Monographs, Social Science on 2017-03-19 22:53Z by Steven

Degrees of Mixture, Degrees of Freedom: Genomics, Multiculturalism, and Race in Latin America

Duke University Press
2017-05-05
328 pages
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6358-3
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8223-6373-6
12 illustrations

Peter Wade, Professor of Social Anthropology
University of Manchester

Race mixture, or mestizaje, has played a critical role in the history, culture, and politics of Latin America. In Degrees of Mixture, Degrees of Freedom, Peter Wade draws on a multidisciplinary research study in Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia. He shows how Latin American elites and outside observers have emphasized mixture’s democratizing potential, depicting it as a useful resource for addressing problems of racism (claiming that race mixture undoes racial difference and hierarchy), while Latin American scientists participate in this narrative with claims that genetic studies of mestizos can help isolate genetic contributors to diabetes and obesity and improve health for all. Wade argues that, in the process, genomics produces biologized versions of racialized difference within the nation and the region, but a comparative approach nuances the simple idea that highly racialized societies give rise to highly racialized genomics. Wade examines the tensions between mixture and purity, and between equality and hierarchy in liberal political orders, exploring how ideas and scientific data about genetic mixture are produced and circulate through complex networks.

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Beyond black and white: Color and mortality in post-reconstruction era North Carolina

Posted in Articles, Census/Demographics, Economics, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2017-03-19 21:35Z by Steven

Beyond black and white: Color and mortality in post-reconstruction era North Carolina

Explorations in Economic History
Volume 50, Issue 1, January 2013
pages 148–159
DOI: 10.1016/j.eeh.2012.06.002

Tiffany L. Green, Assistant Professor
Department of Healthcare Policy and Research
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia

Tod G. Hamilton, Assistant Professor of Sociology
Department of Sociology and Office of Population Research
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

A growing empirical literature in economics and sociology documents the existence of more favorable social and economic outcomes among mixed-race blacks compared to non-mixed race blacks. However, few researchers consider whether the advantages associated with mixed-race status extend to mortality. To address this gap in the literature, we employ unique data from the 1880 North Carolina Mortality Census records in conjunction with data from 1880 U.S. Census of Population for North Carolina to examine whether mulatto (mixed-race) blacks experienced mortality advantages over to their colored (non-mixed race) counterparts from June 1879 to May 1880. For men between the ages of 20 and 44, estimates demonstrate that all black males, both mulatto and colored, were more likely than whites to die during the survey period. Although our results indicate that there is no statistically significant difference in mortality between mulatto and colored black men, we find a substantial mortality advantage associated with mixed-race status among women.

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The Mixed Race Athlete’s ECG: Not So Black And White

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, United Kingdom, United States on 2017-03-19 21:11Z by Steven

The Mixed Race Athlete’s ECG: Not So Black And White

Journal of the American College of Cardiology
Volume 69, Issue 11, Supplement
2017-03-21
pages 1416
DOI: 10.1016/S0735-1097(17)34805-2

Aneil Malhotra, Prashant Rao, Harshil Dhutia, Sabiha Gati, Tee Joo Yeo, Rajit Khosla, Vivek Prasad, Michael Papadakis, Sanjay Sharma
St. George’s University of London, London, United Kingdom

Non Invasive Imaging (Echocardiography, Nuclear, PET, MR and CT)

  • Background: The past 2 decades has seen a huge rise in the number of mixed race athletes with one white and one black parent. In fact this is the largest growing ethnic group in both the USA and UK. Little is known on the mixed race athlete’s EKG. This is the first study to analyse the EKGs of mixed race athletes (MAs) and compare them to white (WAs) and black (BAs) athletes.
  • Methods: The EKGs of 300 MAs professional soccer players were compared to 1,000 BA and 1,000 WA soccer players all of whom underwent mandatory preparticipation screening with EKG. All MAs had one white and one black parent. EKG characteristics were analysed independently by 2 cardiologists.
  • Results: The mean age of all athletes was 16.7 years. 95% were male. MAs had a higher prevalence of bradycardia (67%) vs. both WAs (44%) and BAs (46%; table 1). MAs had more left ventricular hypertrophy (30%) vs. BAs (17%). MAs revealed more atrial enlargement and left axis deviation than WAs, but not BAs. T wave inversion (TWI) was 4 times more common in MAs (8%) than WAs (2.3%) though less common than BAs (10.9%).
  • Conclusions: MAs demonstrate EKG changes similar to black athletes in terms of atrial enlargement and axis deviation which are borderline variants according to the refined criteria for EKG interpretation in athletes. MAs demonstrated a higher prevalence of TWI in all territories vs. WAs, though less than BAs. Mixed race athletes do indeed exhibit a “mixed” pattern of EKG characteristics though these tend to be more similar to black athletes’ EKG than white athletes.

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Race and Ethnicity: Constancy in Change (First Edition)

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Asian Diaspora, Books, Economics, Forthcoming Media, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Latino Studies, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, Social Science, United States on 2017-03-07 01:48Z by Steven

Race and Ethnicity: Constancy in Change (First Edition)

Cognella Academic Publishing
2017
372 pages
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-63487-489-2

Edited by:

Milton Vickerman, Associate Professor of Sociology
University of Virginia

Hephzibah V. Strmic-Pawl, Assistant Professor of Sociology
Manhattanville College, Purchase, New York

Race and Ethnicity: Constancy in Change uses both classic readings and new research on contemporary racial inequality to create a logical progression through the primary issues of race and ethnicity.

The nine sections discuss the history of race and racism, define major concepts, and analyze how and why inequality persists. In addition to the readings, the anthology features introductions that frame each section’s readings, key terms with which students should be familiar, learning objectives for each section, and Reflect and Consider inquiries designed for each reading. Each section ends with a Highlight that showcases a contemporary racial trend in the news. The sections are also supplemented by Read, Listen, Watch, Interact! features, which supply easily accessible links to complementary readings, audio stories, videos, and interactive websites. The book concludes with Investigate Further, a list of readings for those who wish to delve deeper into a particular topic.

Race and Ethnicity enables students to grasp the fundamentals of race and racism and encourages them to engage in conversations about them. Ideal for sociology programs, the anthology is well-suited to courses on race and ethnicity.

Table of Contents

  • RACE & ETHNICITY: WHY IT MATTERS / MILTON VICKERMAN AND HEPHZIBAH V. STRMIC-PAWL
  • KEY TERMS
  • PART 1 THE FOUNDATIONS OF RACE
    • READING 1.1 Race BY PETER WADE
    • READING 1.2 AAA Statement on Race BY AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION
    • HIGHLIGHT: Eugenics are Alive and Well in the United States BY PAUL CAMPOS, TIME
  • PART 2 THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF RACE
    • READING 2.1 Immigrants and the Changing Categories of Race BY KENNETH PREWITT
    • READING 2.2 The Theory of Racial Formation BY MICHAEL OMI AND HOWARD WINANT
    • HIGHLIGHT: Why Do So Many Americans Think They Have Cherokee Blood: The History of a Myth BY GREGORY D. SMITHERS, SLATE
  • PART 3 STRUCTURING AMERICAN IDENTITY THROUGH IMMIGRATION
    • READING 3.1 The United States: A Nation of Immigrants BY PETER KIVISTO
    • READING 3.2 The Three Phases of US Bound Immigration BY ALEJANDRO PORTES AND RUBEN RUMBAUT
    • READING 3.3 The Ideological Roots of the “Illegal” as Threat and the Boundary as Protector BY JOSEPH NEVINS
    • READING 3.4 Segmented Assimilation Revisited: Types of Acculturation and Socioeconomic Mobility in Young Adulthood BY MARY C. WATERS, VAN C. TRAN, PHILIP KASINITZ, AND JOHN H. MOLLENKOPF
    • READING 3.5 Immigration Patterns, Characteristics, and Identities BY ANNY BAKALIAN & MEHDI BOZORGMEHR
    • READING 3.6 The Reality of Asian American Oppression BY ROSALIND CHOU AND JOE FEAGIN
    • HIGHLIGHT: Future Immigration Will Change the Face of America by 2065 BY D’VERY COHN, PEW RESEARCH CENTER
  • PART 4 RACISM: THEORIES FOR UNDERSTANDING
    • READING 4.1 The Nature of Prejudice BY PETER ROSE
    • READING 4.2 Racism without Racists: “Killing Me Softly” with Color Blindness BY EDUARDO BONILLA-SILVA AND DAVID G. EMBRICK
    • READING 4.3 Colorstruck BY MARGARET HUNTER
    • READING 4.4 The White Supremacy Flower: A Model for Understanding Racism BY HEPHZIBAH V. STRMIC-PAWL
    • READING 4.5 Family Law, Feminist Legal Theory, and the Problem of Racial Hierarchy BY TWILA L. PERRY
    • HIGHLIGHT: Yes, All White People Are Racists— Now Let’s Do Something About It BY TIM DONOVAN, ALTERNET
  • PART 5 STRUCTURED RACIAL INEQUALITY
    • READING 5.1 The American Dream of Meritocracy BY HEATHER BETH JOHNSON
    • READING 5.2 Racial Orders in American Political Development BY DESMOND S. KING AND ROGERS M. SMITH
    • READING 5.3 Migration and Residential Segregation BY JOHN ICELAND
    • READING 5.4 “White, Young, Middle Class”: Aesthetic Labor, Race and Class in the Youth Labor Force BY YASEMIN BESEN-CASSINO
    • READING 5.5 Why Both Social Structure and Culture Matter in a Holistic Analysis of Inner-City Poverty BY WILLIAM JULIUS WILSON
    • HIGHLIGHT: Nine Charts About Wealth Inequality in America BY THE URBAN INSTITUTE
  • PART 6 RACISM IN POPULAR CULTURE
    • READING 6.1 The Revolution Will Not Be Available on iTunes: Racial Perspectives BY DUSTIN KIDD
    • READING 6.2 Racial Exclusion in the Online World BY REBECCA J. WEST AND BHOOMI THAKORE
    • READING 6.3 Fear Of A Black Athlete: Masculinity, Politics and The Body BY BEN CARRINGTON
    • READING 6.4 The Native American Experience: Racism and Mascots in Professional Sports BY KRYSTAL BEAMON
    • HIGHLIGHT: Pop Culture’s Black Lives Matter Moment Couldn’t Come at a Better Time BY STEVEN W. THRASHER, THE GUARDIAN
  • PART 7 CONTEMPORARY SYSTEMS OF OPPRESSION
    • READING 7.1 The State of Our Education BY TERENCE FITZGERALD
    • READING 7.2 The Immigration Industrial Complex BY TANYA GOLASH-BOZA
    • READING 7.3 Evading Responsibility for Green Harm: State Corporate Exploitation of Race, Class, and Gender Inequality BY EMILY GAARDER
    • HIGHLIGHT: 5 Links Between Higher Education and the Prison Industry BY HANNAH K. GOLD, ROLLING STONE
  • PART 8 THE FUTURE OF RACE
    • READING 8.1 Liminality in the Multiracial Experience: Towards a Concept of Identity Matrix BY DAVID L. BRUNSMA, DANIEL J. DELGADO, AND KERRY ANN ROCKQUEMORE
    • READING 8.2 Race and the New Bio-Citizen BY DOROTHY ROBERTS
    • READING 8.3 A Post-Racial Society? BY KATHLEEN FITZGERALD
    • HIGHLIGHT: Choose Your Own Identity BY BONNIE TSUI, THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE
  • PART 9 FIGHTING RACIAL INEQUALITY
    • READING 9.1 The Problem of The Twentieth Century is The Problem of The Color Line BY W.E.B. DU BOIS
    • READING 9.2 The Optimism of Uncertainty BY HOWARD ZINN
    • READING 9.3 Why We Still Need Affirmative Action BY ORLANDO PATTERSON
    • HIGHLIGHT: The Case for Reparations BY TA-NEHISI COATES, THE ATLANTIC
  • INVESTIGATE FURTHER
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Loving v. Virginia as a Civil Rights Decision

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2017-03-06 20:13Z by Steven

Loving v. Virginia as a Civil Rights Decision

New York Law School Law Review
Volume 59, Number 1 (2014/2015)
pages 175-209

Dorothy E. Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights
University of Pennsylvania

Loving v. Virginia, the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision that invalidated state laws restricting interracial marriage, marked the tail end of the civil rights cases of the 1950s and ’60s. Loving was not issued until 1967, more than a decade after the Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education, holding racial segregation of public schools unconstitutional. At the time of the 1963 March on Washington, nineteen states still had laws prohibiting interracial marriage, and federal jurisprudence upholding these laws had remained the same since 1883.

Civil rights litigators waited so long to launch an attack on state anti-miscegenation statutes in federal court because interracial marriage seemed at once so trivial and so controversial. Trivial because it involved interpersonal relationships rather than the weighty public rights to equal education, voting, and employment. But challenging the marriage laws also struck at the bedrock of racism: Classifying human beings into supposedly biological races that should be kept apart. Some civil rights advocates, as well as justices on the Warren Court, feared that attacking anti-miscegenation too soon was doomed to fail and would threaten the implementation of recent civil rights victories because white Southerners’ loathing of racial intermingling was so basic to their dogma of racial separation. After all, a primary reason for segregated schooling was to foreclose the interracial intimacy that might be sparked in integrated classrooms. Moreover, prior to Loving, state control over marriage was absolute.

Loving was the capstone of the Court’s blow to the Jim Crow regime. As the Court stated, it struck down the Virginia law because it was a measure “designed to maintain White Supremacy.” Yet subsequent decades have faded the understanding of Loving as a civil rights decision. While Brown became the emblem of the end to de jure segregation, Loving fell into relative obscurity. In his recent book, The Civil Rights Revolution, constitutional law scholar Bruce Ackerman denies that Loving “deserves a central place in the civil rights canon.” The same-sex marriage movement revived the decision to stand for the right to marry the partner of one’s choice. In 2007, on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the Loving decision, Mildred Loving commented:

I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Today, Loving is remembered more for protecting the right to marry than for toppling the final pillar of the de jure racial caste system in the United States. Moreover, to the extent that federal courts rely on Loving as a civil rights decision, they have largely distorted its reasoning, as well as its significance to the struggle to end racism and white domination.

This article aims to revive Loving as a civil rights decision, and to stress the continuing importance of its recognition of the relationship between racial classifications and white supremacy. Part I places the Lovings’ lawsuit in the context of the litigation agenda that helped institute the civil rights revolution. Jim Crow restrictions on marriage implemented the combined white supremacist and eugenicist ideologies of an innate racial hierarchy that called for racial separation. Both civil rights lawyers and U.S. Supreme Court justices delayed tackling state anti-miscegenation laws for strategic reasons. But they understood these laws as part of the Jim Crow segregationist system that the civil rights movement was dismantling and kept their abolition as an eventual goal.

Part II analyzes the Loving decision as a challenge to racism and white supremacy as much as the validation of marriage rights—and the entangled relationship between the two in the Court’s constitutional reasoning. Just as bans on interracial marriage were an essential part of the segregationist regime, eliminating them was an integral chapter in the series of civil rights decisions issued by the Warren Court. A central question in Loving was whether the Court would extend the holding in Brown from the realm of public education to state laws regulating marriage. By applying Brown’s prohibition of racial separation to the private sphere of marriage, formerly seen as the exclusive domain of states’ power, the Court radically confirmed a constitutional mandate for federal intervention in all aspects of the nation’s racial regime.

Part III evaluates how federal courts have interpreted the civil rights dimension of Loving in the decades that followed. I argue that key U.S. Supreme Court decisions have perverted the central lesson of Loving. Rather than link racial classifications to political subordination (as the Loving Court did), subsequent Court opinions have wrongly relied on Loving to do just the opposite. Loving has been misused to support a colorblind approach to the Fourteenth Amendment that treats the government’s use of race to eliminate the contemporary vestiges of Jim Crow as contemptible as the Jim Crow classifications designed to enforce white rule.

Finally, Part IV explains why the lessons of Loving as a civil rights decision are especially important in today’s supposedly “post-racial” society. A new biopolitics of race is resuscitating the notion of biological racial classifications underlying the anti-miscegenation laws that Loving struck down. Genomic science and gene-based biotechnologies are promoting race-consciousness at the molecular level at the very moment the Court and many policymakers believe race-consciousness is no longer necessary at the social level. I conclude that it is more urgent than ever to understand race as a political system that determines individuals’ status and welfare, and for federal courts to implement, uphold, and enforce strong race-conscious remedies for the lasting legacy of slavery that the Fourteenth Amendment was intended to abolish and civil rights activists fought to eradicate…

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What is Race? Just the Facts.

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Social Science on 2017-03-01 13:56Z by Steven

What is Race? Just the Facts.

The Nib
2017-02-24

Whit Taylor, cartoonist, writer, and educator from New Jersey

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My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism

Posted in Africa, Books, Family/Parenting, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Monographs, Native Americans/First Nation on 2017-02-27 21:58Z by Steven

My Mysterious Son: A Life-Changing Passage Between Schizophrenia and Shamanism

Skyhorse Publishing
2014-11-18
432 pages
6.00 x 9.00 in.
Hardback ISBN: 9781629144870
eBook ISBN: 9781629149578

Dick Russell

What a father will do to fight the mental illness that has destroyed his son.

What does a father do when hope is gone that his only son can ever lead anything close to a “normal” life? That’s the question that haunted Dick Russell in the fall of 2011, when his son, Franklin, was thirty-two. At the age of seventeen, Franklin had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. For years he spent time in and out of various hospitals, and even went through periods of adamantly denying that Dick was actually his father.

A mixed-race child, Franklin was handsome, intelligent, and sensitive until his mental illness suddenly took control. After spending the ensuing years trying to build some semblance of a normal father-son relationship, Dick was invited with his son, out of the blue, to witness the annual wildlife migration on Africa’s Serengeti Plain. Seizing this potential opportunity to repair the damage that both had struggled with, after going through two perilous nights together in Tanzania, ultimately the two-week trip changed both of their lives.

Desperately seeking an alternative to the medical model’s medication regimen, the author introduces Franklin to a West African shaman in Jamaica. Dick discovers Franklin’s psychic capabilities behind the seemingly delusional thought patterns, as well as his artistic talents. Theirs becomes an ancestral quest, the journey finally taking them to the sacred lands of New Mexico and an indigenous healer. For those who understand the pain of mental illness as well the bond between a parent and a child, My Mysterious Son shares the intimate and beautiful story of a father who will do everything in his power to repair his relationship with a young man damaged by mental illness.

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The future is mixed-race

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2017-02-03 01:26Z by Steven

The future is mixed-race

Aeon
2017-02-02

Scott Solomon, Professor in the Practice
Department of BioSciences
Rice University, Houston, Texas

Edited by Sam Dresser


A grandmother and granddaughter from Cape Verde. Photo by O. Louis Mazzatenta/National Geographic

And so is the past. Migration and mingling are essential to human success in the past, the present and into the future

In the future, a lot of people might look like Danielle Shewmake, a 21-year-old college student from Fort Worth, Texas. Shewmake has dark, curly hair, brown eyes, and an olive skin tone that causes many to mistake her heritage as Mediterranean. Her actual pedigree is more complex. Her father is half-Cherokee and half-Caucasian, and her mother, who was born in Jamaica, is the child of an Indian mother and an African and Scottish father.

‘My sister and I are just a combination of all that,’ she says, adding that she dislikes having to pick a particular racial identity. She prefers the term ‘mixed’.

Differences in physical traits between human populations accumulated slowly over tens of thousands of years. As people spread across the globe and adapted to local conditions, a combination of natural selection and cultural innovation led to physical distinctions. But these groups did not remain apart. Contact between groups, whether through trade or conflict, led to the exchange of both genes and ideas. Recent insights from the sequencing of hundreds of thousands of human genomes in the past decade have revealed that our species’ history has been punctuated by many episodes of migration and genetic exchange. The mixing of human groups is nothing new.

What is new is the rate of mixing currently underway. Globalisation means that our species is more mobile than ever before. International migration has reached record highs, as has the number of interracial marriages, leading to a surge of multiracial people such as Shewmake. While genetic differences between human populations do not fall neatly along racial lines, race nevertheless provides insight into the extent of population hybridisation currently underway. This reshuffling of human populations is affecting the very structure of the human gene pool…

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Auschwitz to Rwanda: The link between science, colonialism and genocide

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Articles, Europe, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive on 2017-02-01 22:16Z by Steven

Auschwitz to Rwanda: The link between science, colonialism and genocide

Mail & Guardian Africa
Johannesburg, South Africa
2017-02-01

Heike Becker


Sixty years later, the recurrent connections of science and genocide still demonstrate the dark underbelly of Western modernity in Africa, Europe, and the world. (Reuters/Finbarr O’Reilly)

Significant links connect racial science in colonial southern Africa with the holocaust of the European Jews.

When the Soviet army liberated the Auschwitz death camp on January 27 1945, among the prisoners left behind were a number of young twins. The surviving children and many more who had died were the subject of disturbing human experiments by Josef Mengele, a physician known as the “Angel of Death”.

About 3 000 twins were selected from an estimated 1.3-million people who arrived at Auschwitz for Mengele’s deadly “scientific” experiments. Only about 200 of them survived.

Mengele is significant for understanding the complicity of science with the mass atrocities of the 20th century. The elegant young doctor defied the stereotypical image of the Nazi brute. He was no crazy drunken beast with a whip. This was an ambitious researcher of human genetics, holding doctorates in anthropology and medicine.

Mengele worked in Auschwitz from May 1943. The death camp presented him with a “perfect” laboratory. It provided an unlimited supply of human specimens to study genetics, and he wouldn’t get into trouble if they died following lethal injections and other gruesome experiments.

Nazis and colonial ‘racial science’

The institute’s first director in 1927 was the well-known physical anthropologist Eugen Fischer. Fischer was a prolific researcher who had earned his scientific merits in genetics and racial science in the then German colony of German South West Africa (today’s Namibia).

His 1908 field study, published in 1913, focused on the effects of racial mixing (“miscegenation”), applying the genetic theory of Gregor Mendel. Fischer examined 310 children of the “Basters” of Rehoboth, a community of “mixed-race” people living to the South of Windhoek in Namibia.

The Rehobother offspring of Nama women and white men were observed and subjected to physical measurements. Based on these “scientific” methods, Fischer classified the mixed-race population.

His verdict that African blood imparted impurity resulted in the prohibition of mixed-race marriages in all German colonies by 1912. In Namibia interracial marriage was already prohibited in 1905.

German colonialism ended after World War I. This, however, was not the end of racial science. Incubated in the colonial laboratories of southern Africa, it was brought back and applied in “civilised” central Europe. Fischer first followed up his “bastard studies” in the 1920s and early 1930s with the “Rhineland bastards”, children born to German mothers and fathers from the French African colonies. Few black Germans perished during the Nazi era. But, many were forcibly sterilised.

The story of the KWI-A demonstrates how several significant dimensions connect 20th century racial science, colonialism and genocide…

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