Is Science Racist? by Jonathan Marks

The Blurb On The Back:

Every arena of science has its own flash-point issues – chemistry and poison gas, physics and the atom bomb – and genetics has had a troubled history with race.  As Jonathan Marks reveals, this dangerous relationship rumbles on to this day, still leaving plenty of leeway for a belief in the basic natural inequality of races.

The eugenic science of the early twentieth century and the commodified genomic science of today are unified by the mistaken belief that human races are naturalistic categories.  Yet their boundaries are founded neither in biology nor in genetics and, not being a formal scientific concept, race is largely not accessible to the scientist.  As Marks argues, race can only be grasped through the humanities: historically, experientially, politically.

This wise, witty essay explores the persistence and legacy of scientific racism, which misappropriates the authority of science and undermines it by converting it into a social weapon. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Jonathan Marks is a Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina and although the title of this essay (published as part of Polity Press’s DEBATING RACE SERIES) suggests a general look at racism in science, in fact it focuses on anthropology and genetics.  As you’d expect, there’s a lot of specialist jargon and concepts used here, but Marks explains it in terms simple enough for even a layperson like me to follow.  Essentially Marks’s argument is that science is racist to the extent that it tries to impose or suggest biological differences between racial groups on the basis that race is essentially a matter of culture, politics, history and economic differences as fundamentally humans are all the same.  He’s particularly scathing about companies that claim to be able to tell you about your own heritage by paying for a DNA test on the basis that once you go back a few generations, everyone is inevitably related to everyone else.  He makes interesting observations about those scientists who have claimed to find biological differences between racial groups (most notably so-called research that suggests that Africans are in some way intellectually inferior to Caucasians) and the objectives of some of the groups funding such research.  He also provides neat summaries on 19th century schools of thought in anthropology in relation to race and also the eugenics movement, which helps to provide an interesting backdrop to the field of anthropology and how it developed.

Ultimately I found this a clearly written, fascinating read about the misuse of genetics and anthropology with clear arguments that I found compelling and I would definitely check out the other 2 books in this series (IS RACISM AN ENVIRONMENTAL THREAT? By Ghassan Hage and ARE WE ALL POSTRACIAL YET? By David Theo Goldberg).

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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