Tanya Lee: Don't let our racist history cloud genetics research

Image from National Institutes of Health

Tanya Lee discusses how media coverage of genetic research can be influenced by racist views:
Our history of racism and our belief in “American [read White] exceptionalism” started when the first European settlers began slaughtering first nations peoples to take the land and resources they controlled. It extended right though the 20th century with the forced removal of indigenous people from their land and children from their families. In the 21st century, we still see this happening as fishing and hunting rights are contested, subsistence is threatened by international corporations, the extraction of natural resources on Indian lands is for the most part conducted by non-Indians for the benefit of non-Indians, education for most Indian children is disgraceful, and poverty and lack of opportunity lead to addiction and teen suicide.

So this is where we are: We have a history that exemplifies over and over again our contempt for other races and ethnicities based on the science of the day that interpreted them to be genetically inferior to whites. And we have new scientific research that shows poverty can lead to changes in genetic make up that appear to make the children of poverty less able to do the things that we have come to believe are most important, changes that they may transmit to their children.

It is not an intellectual leap to conclude that children brought up in poverty are genetically inferior to children brought up in affluent conditions. And from there it is an easy step to substitute poverty for race and come to the conclusion that treating poor children differently from well-to-do children is perfectly justified. Since their deficits mean they will not contribute to our nation in the same ways that wealthy children will, it’s fine to provide poor education, or no education, inadequate living conditions, limited or no medical care, and the lists goes on.

Get the Story:
Tanya H. Lee: Poverty, Genetics and the White American Psyche (Indian Country Today 2/5)

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