Tatcho Drom
Journeying Journals of a Jolly Journeyman

DNA Testing and Racism

It often goes without say that we all think differently and process information in our own unique way. As do scientists – the people who bring us the information that influence, and may even define, many of our realities.

Scientists are educated people who have a passion to seek answers. But don’t we all? Hah! I’m sure that we can find a few here who are seeking answers, I know I am. So what defines us and scientists? I would say it is the methods we use to make observations of the world around us.

Scientists use what is called the “Scientific Method” and it is defined in the dictionary as, “a method of investigation involving observation and theory to test scientific hypotheses”.

Wikipedia is used by many as a starting point for research, hence, I suggest Wikipedia’s: Scientific Method.

Once we begin to study scientific methods, a picture begins to form showing us that scientific methods are influenced by culture, philosophical trends and even politics and religion.

Some of the influences of modern scientific methods are not as virtuous as some of us like to think. For example, there is a history of racism influencing science as illustrated below (highly recommended source):

  • 1776
    Birth of “Caucasian”
    Johann Blumenbach, one of many 18th-century naturalists, lays out the scientific template for race in On the Natural Varieties of Mankind. Although he opposes slavery, he maps a hierarchical pyramid of five human types, placing “Caucasians” at the top because he believes a skull found in the Caucasus Mountains is the “most beautiful form…from which…the others diverge.” This model is widely embraced, and Blumenbach inadvertently paves the way for scientific claims about white superiority.

  • 1839
    Skulls Measured to Prove Racial Hierarchy
    Samuel Morton, the first famous American scientist, possesses the largest skull collection in the world. He claims to measure brain capacity through skull size, but makes systematic errors in favor of his biases, concluding: “[Their larger skulls gives Caucasians] decided and unquestioned superiority over all the nations of the earth.” Morton’s findings are later seized upon and popularized by pro-slavery scientists like Josiah Nott and Louis Agassiz. In just 60-70 years, Jefferson’s suggestion of racial difference becomes scientific fact: “Nations and races, like individuals, have each an especial destiny: some are born to rule, and others to be ruled….No two distinctly-marked races can dwell together on equal terms.” -Josiah Nott (1854)

  • 1904
    Race on Parade
    St. Louis, MO stages a world’s fair to celebrate American achievements and the 100th anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. Nearly 20 million visitors attend. Across from the technology exhibits are the world’s indigenous peoples displayed in “natural” habitats – a “living illustration” of man’s hierarchical development on the earth. The fair is a culmination of 19th-century ideas in science, politics, and culture. Race is invoked to explain everything from individual behavior to the fate of human societies.

The last examples shows how the philosophies of both Dualism and Racism work together to influence science.

You may ask, “How does science influence my life? What does the research of scientists have to do how I live my life?”

I would answer that science has long influenced the thought of governments and society, and hence, our lives. For example, science has influenced the way Westerners treat indigenous and tribal peoples. Science had been teaching for a number of centuries that indigenous people and tribal people are inferior to Westerners. Such is the Imperialistic nature of Westerners.

When Westerners arrived in Australia, John Harris, author of “One Blood: 200 Years of Aboriginal Encounter with Christianity” writes:

The invaders, secure in their sense of the intrinsic superiority of their own culture, rationalised their own lack of comprehension by dismissing Aborigines as sub-human, degraded or deformed…

Whereas there has always been a widespread notion that the inferior race had to be displaced by the superior race, the second half of the nineteenth century saw such views gain scientific support.

Scientific support for dehumanising non-Westerners has continued today, even through the science of genetics. Cahal Milmo reports:

One of the world’s most eminent scientists was embroiled in an extraordinary row last night after he claimed that black people were less intelligent than white people and the idea that ‘equal powers of reason’ were shared across racial groups was a delusion.

James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in the unravelling of DNA who now runs one of America’s leading scientific research institutions, drew widespread condemnation for comments he made ahead of his arrival in Britain today for a speaking tour at venues including the Science Museum in London.

The 79-year-old geneticist reopened the explosive debate about race and science in a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when “testing” suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.

Racism has been influencing scientific methods for hundreds of years, we would think Western civilisation would just lay racism aside? It reminds me of when Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought about Western civilisation and he wittingly replies, “I think it would be a good idea”, reflecting the notion that Western civilisation not often very civilised.

Bringing this subject closer to home, I sometimes feel a little apprehension for Romani people who so strongly advocate for DNA testing to prove one’s Romanipen, that is, how Romany we may be. These Roma can do what they believe is right for them, but as for myself, I still refuse to be defined by Westerners and their methods. Who I am and what I am as a Rom is not defined by a DNA test. It is defined by my God, by my family, and most of all by my spiritual culture.

I long for the days where Roma greeted in the spirit of family and cultural connections. Rather, we have a trend today that is beginning to define ourselves by scientific methods that are not civilised. How sad, when I know that despite all the ethnic slurs Westerners have thrown at us Roma; we, Roma, who remember and uphold our cultural ways are in fact one of the most civilised cultures in the world! I may not be able to convince you of that here, as this is not the place, but suggest you read my essay, Eurocentrism and its Impact on Romani Gypsies.

I can only imagine how it would be for us Roma if we continue with Westerner trends:

Changing Romani Greetings

Change is inevitable. Scientific advancements are inevitable. It is up to us to discern what we make of our culture, but with our choices, let us make informed decisions.

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