East Hill Notes: On Racism and the New Racial Science

By Phil Nicklin

Photo by Chris Crisman Photography LLC
Dorothy Roberts

Last year, the Institute for the Social Sciences at Cornell University launched the ISS Annual Lecture series to bring an eminent scholar to Ithaca to speak on a pressing social issue. Each year the ISS co-sponsors the lecture with different social science units on campus in order to build bridges across diverse communities.

This year, ISS is pleased to announce that Professor Dorothy Roberts – an acclaimed scholar of race, gender and law at the University of Pennsylvania – will be the speaker for the 2017 ISS Annual Lecture. The Cornell Law School and the Africana Studies and Research Center will cosponsor this lecture.

Roberts’ lecture, “Racism and The New Racial Science,” is free and open to the public. It will take place at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 15, in the Rhodes-Rawlings Auditorium of Klarman Hall (KG70). A book signing and reception will follow the lecture in Klarman Hall’s Groos Atrium.

In her lecture, Roberts will examine the renewed interest in the myth of biological concepts of race in the genomic era. We see this resurgence as old racial types are given modern currency in science related to sequencing the human genome and as biotech and pharmaceutical companies produce and market race-specific drugs.
This is also evident in online DNA-testing products that provide information about not only genetic ancestry, but also racial identities.

One impact of this trend is that as biological and social scientists collaborate, they attempt to explain societal outcomes through the examination of genetic traits. Even researchers who study the impact of social inequality on biological outcomes have tended to explain racial disadvantages in biological terms.

This new racial science often justifies these investigations under the guise of objectivity and social benefit in an attempt to differentiate itself from past scientific racism. However, the revived myths of biological race continue to undermine a just society and promote inequality.

This lecture will critically examine the relationship between racism and the new racial science and propose a more ethical way to study race and racism.

Holding joint appointments in Africana Studies, Sociology and the Law School, Roberts has founded The Penn Program on Race, Science and Society that seeks to find different approaches to the role of race in science and society through collaborations between scientists, scholars and students from social and biological fields of study.

Professor Roberts has authored six major books. The recent “Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century” describes in detail many of the concepts she will explore in her lecture.

The 200th anniversary edition of her book “Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty” was released earlier this year and is also relevant to her talk.Join us for this opportunity to learn from an internationally recognized social justice advocate and leader in the push to change public thinking and policies on emerging issues in health, bioethics, reproduction and child welfare.

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Phil Nicklin is a junior at Cornell, majoring in the biological sciences, and an administrative assistant at the Institute for the Social Sciences. East Hill Notes are published the second and fourth Mondays of each month.