Racial divide: It’s a social concept, not a scientific one

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-11-23 17:43Z by Steven

Racial divide: It’s a social concept, not a scientific one

The Washington Post
2014-11-03

Nancy Szokan

Most scientists agree that race is not a biological concept.

As Wikipedia defines it, in an extremely lengthy and extravagantly footnoted entry that surely has been edited and re-edited many times, “Race is a social concept used to categorize humans into large and distinct populations or groups by anatomical, cultural, ethnic, genetic, geographical, historical, linguistic, religious, and/or social affiliation.”

Yet race undoubtedly affects government policies, pervades our social interactions, creates alliances and sets off wars.

We are asked to specify our race (or races) on census forms, medical questionnaires, job applications, college applications, opinion surveys and so on — and the very act of asking the question, sometimes to be answered by just checking a box, can seem to imply that there is a clearly definable, provable answer.

As Robert Wald Sussman puts it in “The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea,” many if not most people would be surprised to learn that race is a social rather than a scientific construct. In his new book, Sussman, a professor of physical anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, explores how race emerged as a modern social construct, tracing its origins to the Spanish Inquisition and its legacy as a justification for Western imperialism and slavery…

Read the entire review here.

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Who You Really Are

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2014-11-20 01:46Z by Steven

Who You Really Are

GeneWatch
Council for Responsible Genetics
Volume 27, Issue 2 (May-July 2014)

Robert Pollack, Professor of Biological Sciences, Earth Institute Professor, Adjunct Professor of Religion, Lecturer in Psychiatry
Columbia University, New York, New York

Patricia Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law
Columbia University, New York, New York

“International Biosciences offer a broad range of DNA Testing services designed to provide indisputable answers to emotional questions….”
www.ibdna.com/regions/UK/EN/?page=blackAmericans

“Your story awaits – go find it…”
www.ancestry.com

“Welcome to you.”
www.23andMe.com

Oh the happy marketplace for genetic information! The hunt is on: From royal roots to hidden baby-daddies, to making sure you’re not accidentally related to any of those many, many Kardashians. The very definition of “ancestry” is freighted with social meaning. “Tracking” it tempts one to imaginary flights about inheritance, wealth, esteem, identity, purity of lineage – and correction! How we all long to be redeemed by such searches, released from the unfairly limited befoggery of what we actually know of ourselves. What bliss instead to follow our most deliciously arrogant, nakedly ambitious fantasies of some Mystery Me, some hitherto unspoken-of chromosomal configuration that will distinguish and redeem. Given that hunger, it isn’t hard to market DNA as a product, like cement, designed to fill in the gaps, and provide stick-um for the jigsaw puzzle of ourselves. Within that marketplace, the definition of DNA is not confined by science but rendered connotatively huge, larger than galaxies, unconfined, a universe of wildest imagination. Yearning. Cure. Immortality. Control. A golem created from the skeletons of the past to address anxiety about what will happen to the present body.

Yet the boring bottom line is that we are all doomed to be embarrassed by the vulgar commonality of our humanity. We are all alone, orphans, bastards, individuals, adopted, adapted, lost, sold down the river, rediscovered like Moses in the bulrushes. We are, not one of us, descendants of a pure untainted line…

Read the entire article here.

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A Post-Genomic Surprise: the molecular reinscription of race in science, law and medicine

Posted in Audio, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, Videos on 2014-11-17 02:12Z by Steven

A Post-Genomic Surprise: the molecular reinscription of race in science, law and medicine

The London School of Economics and Political Science
Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building
London, United Kingdom
2014-11-06

Speaker:

Troy Duster, Chancellor’s Professor of Sociology
Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy
University of California, Berkeley

Chair:

Nigel Dodd, Professor of Sociology
London School of Economics

Professor Duster will analyse the resurgence of the idea that racial taxonomies deployed to explain complex social behaviours and outcomes have a biological and genetic basis.

Download the audio (01:29:49/43.2 MB) here. Download the video (01:29:27/767.1 MB) here.

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The Value of Whiteness

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Law, Media Archive, United States on 2014-11-17 01:07Z by Steven

The Value of Whiteness

The Diary of a Mad Law Professor
The Nation
2014-11-12

Patricia J. Williams, James L. Dohr Professor of Law
Columbia Law School, New York, New York

A lawsuit is being waged against the “wrongful birth” of a black child.

In a recent encounter between Fox’s Bill O’Reilly and Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, the two men discussed “white privilege.” O’Reilly maintained that his accomplishments had nothing to do with race and everything to do with hard work. Stewart pointed out that O’Reilly had grown up in Levittown, New York, a planned community to which the federal and local governments transferred tremendous mortgage subsidies and other public benefits—while barring black people from living there—in the post–World War II period. O’Reilly thereby reaped the benefits of a massive, racially exclusive government wealth transfer. As legal scholar Cheryl Harris observed in a 1993 Harvard Law Review article, “the law has established and protected an actual property interest in whiteness”—its value dependent on the full faith and credit placed in it, ephemeral but with material consequences.

A recent lawsuit brought by Jennifer Cramblett pursues the stolen property of whiteness in unusually literal terms. Cramblett is suing an Ohio sperm bank for mistakenly inseminating her with the sperm of an African-American donor, “a fact that she said has made it difficult for her and her same-sex partner to raise their now 2-year-old daughter [Payton] in an all-white community,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Cramblett is suing for breach of warranty and negligence in mishandling the vials of sperm with which she was inseminated, as well as emotional and economic loss as a result of “wrongful birth,” which deprived her of the whiteness she thought she was purchasing…

Read the entire article here.

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Q&A with Dorothy Roberts

Posted in Articles, Autobiography, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Interviews, Law, Media Archive, Social Science, United States, Women on 2014-11-17 00:32Z by Steven

Q&A with Dorothy Roberts

Penn Current: News, ideas and conversations from the University of Pennsylvania
2014-10-16

Greg Johnson, Managing Editor

When Dorothy Roberts was 3 months old, she moved with her parents from Chicago to Liberia, where her mother, Iris, had worked as a young woman after leaving Jamaica.

It was the first of Dorothy’s many trips abroad, and one during which her father, Robert, took a bunch of photographs and filmed home movies with his 16-millimeter camera. The Roberts family moved back to Chicago when Dorothy was 2, and she can recall weekly screenings of the 16-milimeter reels from Liberia in he living room.

“I had a very strong interest in learning about other parts of the world from when I was very little,” says Roberts, the 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor. “My whole childhood revolved around learning about other parts of the world and engaging with people from around the world.”

Robert was an anthropologist and Iris was working on her Ph.D. in anthropology when Dorothy was born. They raised their daughters as citizens of the world in a home filled with a wealth of books and ethnographies about different cultures, places, and people. The Roberts home stayed connected with the international community, hosting foreign-exchange students and living overseas.

Five-year-old Dorothy had already decided she was going to be an anthropologist—as her parents expected—and would sneak into her father’s office and spend hours reading his books. The family spent two years in Egypt when she was a teenager, reinforcing her status as a global citizen.

Twenty-one-year-old Dorothy, after finishing her undergraduate studies at Yale, including a year in South America, decided she wanted to be a lawyer, and enrolled at Harvard Law School.

“I got a law degree and went into legal practice because I thought that was the best tool for doing social justice work,” says Roberts, who has joint appointments in the Departments of Africana Studies and Sociology in the School of Arts & Sciences and Penn Law School. Her work focuses on gender, bioethics, health, and social justice issues, specifically those that affect the lives of children, women, and African Americans.

Roberts began her legal career with one of the icons of the Civil Rights Movement, Judge Constance Baker Motley, for whom she clerked in the early 1980s. After practicing law in the private sector, she started her teaching career in 1988 at Rutgers University School of Law-Newark, an institution known for its history of social justice advocacy. She was a professor at Northwestern School of Law before joining Penn in 2012.

The Current sat down with Roberts in Penn Law’s Golkin Hall for a conversation about her globetrotting, her influential parents, racism in the child welfare system, the degradation of black bodies, the resurgence of race in science, and controversial decisions by the United States Supreme Court

…Q.Your most recent book, ‘Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century,’ examines the resurgence of biological concepts of race in genomic science and biotechnologies. What is it about?

A. Biological explanations have historically been a powerful way of convincing people that social inequality is natural and, therefore, does not require social change. To me, that is what the eugenics movement, which was prominent in the United States from the 1920s until World War II, was all about. Mainstream science in the United States promoted biological explanations for social inequality, claiming it resulted from differences in people’s inherited genetic traits. That basic ideology continues to this day in what is seen as cutting-edge and sophisticated scientific research. You can tie together all of my work from ‘Killing the Black Body’ to ‘Fatal Invention’ as uncovering the ways in which that basic philosophy—disguising social inequalities as biological ones—continues to fuel unjust social policies and legitimize very brutal practices against the most marginalized people in this country, blaming them for their own disadvantaged status. How can you blame the least powerful people for creating powerful systems of inequality in the United States? But the biological explanation for inequality deludes people into thinking that is possible—that it’s natural for black infants to die at two or three times the rate of white infants; it’s natural for black people to be incarcerated at many times the rate of white people; it’s natural for black children to have lower graduation rates than white children; it’s natural for black people to have a fraction of the wealth white people have. Americans who don’t want to explain these glaring inequities as stemming from institutionalized racism find comfort in explaining them as stemming from a natural order of human beings…

…What are you currently working on? I understand you are continuing a research project that was originally started by your father.

A. I’m working on a book using about 500 interviews of black/white couples that my father conducted in Chicago from 1937 to 1980. He was working on a book on interracial marriage my whole childhood but he never wrote it. My father was white and my mother was black. I want to take advantage of this extraordinary archive to study the relationship between the experiences and views of these couples and the intensifying challenge to the racial order that occurred during that period. How did they understand their own marriages in terms of changing race relations and politics in Chicago? I’m very interested in the role interracial marriage has played in perpetuating and contesting racial inequality.

While my father believed that interracial marriage could be a key strategy for overcoming racism, I neither glorify nor ignore its political significance. I am investigating interracial marriage from the perspective of black-white couples without assuming an inherently problematic or progressive role in the advancement of racial equality. And I’m very excited to explore what the interviews reveal.

Read the entire interview here.

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Four Statements on the Race Question

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Books, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Social Science on 2014-11-09 22:18Z by Steven

Four Statements on the Race Question

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
1969
54 pages

Foreword

This booklet reproduces the texts of four statements on the race question prepared by groups of experts brought together by Unesco in 1950, 1951, 1964 and 1967, as part of its programme to make known the scientific facts about race and to combat racial prejudice. The names and qualifications of the experts responsible for the preparation of each of the statements are given at the end of each.

The statements are preceded by two essays, one by Professor Hiernaux, biologist, University of Brussels (Belgium), the other by Professor Banton, sociologist, University of Bristol (United Kingdom), on the four statements and the relationships among them. The views expressed in the essays are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Unesco.

Contents

  • Biological aspects of the racial question by Jean Hiernaux
  • Social aspects of the race question by Michael Banton
  • I. Statement on race, Paris, July 1950
  • II. Statement on the nature of race and race differences, Paris, June 1951
  • III. Proposals on the biological aspects of race, Moscow, August 1964
  • IV. Statement on race and racial prejudice, Paris, September 1967

Read the entire booklet here.

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AAPA Statement on Biological Aspects of Race

Posted in Anthropology, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Statements on 2014-11-09 21:27Z by Steven

AAPA Statement on Biological Aspects of Race

American Journal of Physical Anthropology
Volume 101, Issue 4, December 1996
pages 569–570
DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.1331010408

PREAMBLE

As scientists who study human evolution and variation, we believe that we have an obligation to share with other scientists and the general public our current understanding of the structure of human variation from a biological perspective. Popular conceptualizations of race are derived from 19th and early 20th century scientific formulations. These old racial categories were based on externally visible traits, primarily skin color, features of the face, and the shape and size of the head and body, and the underlying skeleton. They were often imbued with nonbiological attributes, based on social constructions of race. These categories of race are rooted in the scientific traditions of the 19th century, and in even earlier philosophical traditions which presumed that immutable visible traits can predict the measure of all other traits in an individual or a population. Such notions have often been used to support racist doctrines. Yet old racial concepts persist as social conventions that foster institutional discrimination. The expression of prejudice may or may not undermine material well-being, but it does involve the mistreatment of people and thus it often is psychologically distressing and socially damaging. Scientists should try to keep the results of their research from being used in a biased way that would serve discriminatory ends.

POSITION

We offer the following points as revisions of the 1964 UNESCO statement on race:

  1. All humans living today belong to a single species, Homo sapiens, and share a common descent. Although there are differences of opinion regarding how and where different human groups diverged or fused to form new ones from a common ancestral group, all living populations in each of the earth’s geographic areas have evolved from that ancestral group over the same amount of time. Much of the biological variation among populations involves modest degrees of variation in the frequency of shared traits. Human populations have at times been isolated, but have never genetically diverged enough to produce any biological barriers to mating between members of different populations.
  2. Biological differences between human beings reflect both hereditary factors and the influence of natural and social environments. In most cases, these differences are due to the interaction of both. The degree to which environment or heredity affects any particular trait varies greatly.
  3. There is great genetic diversity within all human populations. Pure races, in the sense of genetically homogenous populations, do not exist in the human species today, nor is there any evidence that they have ever existed in the past

Read the entire statement here.

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There Is No Such Thing as Race

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science on 2014-11-09 21:12Z by Steven

There Is No Such Thing as Race

Newsweek
2014-11-08

Robert Wald Sussman, Professor of Physical Anthropology
Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri

In 1950, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued a statement asserting that all humans belong to the same species and that “race” is not a biological reality but a myth. This was a summary of the findings of an international panel of anthropologists, geneticists, sociologists, and psychologists.

A great deal of evidence had accumulated by that time to support this conclusion, and the scientists involved were those who were conducting research and were most knowledgeable about the topic of human variation. Since that time similar statements have been published by the American Anthropological Association and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists, and an enormous amount of modern scientific data has been gathered to justify this conclusion…

…In my book, The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea, I have not dwelt upon all of the scientific information that has been gathered by anthropologists, biologists, geneticists, and other scientists concerning the fact that there are no such things as human biological races. This has been done by many people over the past fifty or so years.

What I do is describe the history of our myth of race and racism. As I describe this history, I think that you will be able to understand why many of our leaders and their followers have deluded us into believing these racist fallacies and how they have been perpetuated from the late Middle Ages to the present.

Many of our basic policies of race and racism have been developed as a way to keep these leaders and their followers in control of the way we live our modern lives. These leaders often see themselves as the best and the brightest. Much of this history helped establish and maintain the Spanish Inquisition, colonial policies, slavery, Nazism, racial separatism and discrimination, and anti-immigration policies.

Although policies related to racism seem to be improving over time, I hope to help clarify why this myth still exists and remains widespread in the United States and throughout Western Europe by describing the history of racism and by exploring how the anthropological concepts of culture and worldview have challenged and disproven the validity of racist views…

Read the entire article here.

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Mestizo Genomics: Race Mixture, Nation, and Science in Latin America

Posted in Anthologies, Anthropology, Books, Brazil, Caribbean/Latin America, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Mexico on 2014-11-09 17:49Z by Steven

Mestizo Genomics: Race Mixture, Nation, and Science in Latin America

Duke University Press
April 2014
320 pages
4 photos, 2 tables, 6 figures
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5648-6
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8223-5659-2

Edited by:

Peter Wade, Professor of Social Anthropology
University of Manchester

Carlos López Beltrán, Researcher
Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas, Coyoacán, México, D.F.

Eduardo Restrepo
Universidad Javeriana, Estudios Culturales

Ricardo Ventura Santos
Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Escola Nacional de Saúde Pública
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ)

In genetics laboratories in Latin America, scientists have been mapping the genomes of local populations, seeking to locate the genetic basis of complex diseases and to trace population histories. As part of their work, geneticists often calculate the European, African, and Amerindian genetic ancestry of populations. Some researchers explicitly connect their findings to questions of national identity and racial and ethnic difference, bringing their research to bear on issues of politics and identity.

Based on ethnographic research in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico, the contributors to Mestizo Genomics explore how the concepts of race, ethnicity, nation, and gender enter into and are affected by genomic research. In Latin America, national identities are often based on ideas about mestizaje (race mixture), rather than racial division. Since mestizaje is said to involve relations between European men and indigenous or African women, gender is a key factor in Latin American genomics and the analyses in this book. Also important are links between contemporary genomics and recent moves toward official multiculturalism in Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. One of the first studies of its kind, Mestizo Genomics sheds new light on the interrelations between “race,” identity, and genomics in Latin America.

Contributors: Adriana Díaz del Castillo H., Roosbelinda Cárdenas, Vivette García Deister, Verlan Valle Gaspar Neto, Michael Kent, Carlos López Beltrán, María Fernanda Olarte Sierra, Eduardo Restrepo, Mariana Rios Sandoval, Ernesto Schwartz-Marín, Ricardo Ventura Santos, Peter Wade

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Use of Race and Ethnicity in Public Health Surveillance: Summary of the CDC/ATSDR Workshop

Posted in Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive, Reports, United States on 2014-11-05 22:58Z by Steven

Use of Race and Ethnicity in Public Health Surveillance: Summary of the CDC/ATSDR Workshop

United States Department of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
Volume 42, 1993-06-25, Number RR-10
28 pages

Preface

This edition of MMWR Recommendations and Reports summarizes a workshop that addresses the role of race and ethnicity in public health surveillance. The importance of public health surveillance efforts in assuring the nation’s health objectives cannot be overstated. However, because of a lack of consensus when defining and measuring race and ethnicity, public health surveillance systems have been limited. If the Year 2000 Health Objectives are to be met, recognizing and addressing these limitations are essential.

The issues addressed in this report highlight concepts, measures, and uses of race and ethnicity in public health surveillance. Representing the private sector, government and other public agencies, workshop participants assisted CDC and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in describing, assessing, and improving the use of race and ethnicity in public health surveillance. The involvement of health professional organizations and minority health advocates ensured that relevant “real life” health concerns of racial and ethnic groups were addressed. This report includes summaries of plenary presentations by invited experts. The summaries do not necessarily represent the views or positions of CDC.

The workshop focused on the limitations of the current use of race and ethnicity in public health surveillance, and the problems that persist because of these limitations. Although conceptual alternatives and practical strategies for improvement were recommended, further refinement is necessary. For example, while race may have some biological basis, its significance is mainly derived from social arrangements. Thus, race should be viewed within public health surveillance as a sociological phenomenon. Race and ethnicity are not risk factors — they are markers used to better understand risk factors. For instance, homicide disproportionately impacts African American communities; however, when income status is considered, the impact of homicide in African American communities is similiar to that in white communities. Finally, there should be further exploration of the full utility of the concept of ethnicity. This term generally has been limited to definers such as surname or language, while ignoring, for example, the importance of historical and sociological experiences.

The recommendations generated from the workshop were developed for CDC/ATSDR and some of them may be used to improve surveillance systems at CDC/ATSDR and in other parts of the Public Health Service. In addition, some of these recommendations may be used to update the 1985 Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Health, as well as in measuring progress in reaching theYear 2000 Health Objectives. These recommendations have been submitted to the Director of CDC for consideration. They are being published in this format to stimulate further discussion. Some of these recommendations may exceed the missions of CDC and ATSDR, may be in conflict with other recommendations, or may be in various stages of implementation. Any comments regarding these recommendations may be sent to me at: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of the Associate Director for Minority Health, 1600 Clifton Road, MS-D39, Atlanta, GA 30333.

Rueben C. Warren, D.D.S., M.P.H., Dr.P.H.
Associate Director for Minority Health…

Read the entire report here.

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