The Risks of Turning Races Into Genes

The Risks of Turning Races Into Genes

The Huffington Post

Matthew W. Hughey, Professor of Sociology
University of Connecticut

From 22-25 August, sociologists from around the nation and world will descend upon the Windy City of Chicago to discuss sundry issues as they participate in the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. One issue, however, is quite controversial: do genes or the social environment determine our behavior and health? Precisely, does nature or nurture determine the outcome of racial differences and racial inequality found throughout society?

Many readily acknowledge scientific advances are a necessary part of an improving society. From making cars more efficient on the road and beaming pictures from Pluto across the solar system to Earth, to developing new medical procedures to help us live better and making a longer lasting light bulb. Despite the many improvements science affords, cultural bias and normative assumptions can undergird the scientific methods and lead us down a dangerous path that has plagued American society for centuries. This path relies on a logic about race and difference that was and continues to be shared by many: from Thomas Jefferson to Dylan Roof, the white supremacist who murdered nine African American churchgoers in Charleston this summer. What may be even more surprising is that a variation of this same logic can infiltrate science and influences how we understand who achieves better jobs and even who succeeds at professional sports.

In the just released issue of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science we edited, I have gathered (with Professor W. Carson Byrd) an array of experts on race, science, technology, and society to explain how the fiction of “race” can have very real consequences. By exploring both biological determinism and racial essentialism together–what I and Professor Byrd call the “ideological double helix”–we explain how misunderstandings of race, genes, and inequality frequently creep into supposedly an objective science…

Read the entire article here.

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