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"America, Genealogy, History: ‘New World’ Technologies of Race"

Monday, February 25, 2013
12:00 AM
411 West Hall

In the year 2000 two competing scientists shared a stage at the
Clinton White House to publicly announce the first draft of the Human
Genome.  As is now familiar to many, these geneticists emphasized that
humans share 99.9 percent of their DNA.  Yet what is less clear to
most is what has happened to the surface (or public) consensus within
biological science fields that “race” as we know it in the
contemporary United States has no genetic basis.  Since 2003, I have
been studying key scientists who ultimately feel that an emphasis on
humans’ shared genetic patrimony is a stance of political correctness.
Many of those arguing that “real” genetic differences exist between
popularly understood racial groups have staked that such human
variance exists on a broader spectrum than that acknowledged by the
genome drafters.  Moreover, they argue that studying such difference
is exceedingly important for finding the genetic basis for health
disparities, and will therefore benefit historically dispossessed
groups.  This turn of embracing potentially racialized biology to
help, heal, and liberate historically neglected and generationally
dispossessed American minorities marks a curious turn in the history
and culture of racial science.

In this talk I will explore Michel Foucault’s inclusive concepts of
“genealogy” and “effective history” to present ethnographic work with
several American teams who have constructed models of human history
and population mixing, generally termed “admixture mapping.” Through
modeling colonial encounters and what those in this field call
specific “admixture events,” such as “1492,” or, “the trans-Atlantic
slave trade,” geneticists have found a series of disease risk regions
in the genome—the majority of which have been discovered in peoples
labeled African and African-American.  Specifically, I examine the
social processes that are embedded in building the scaffolding of
human admixture models, as well as the U.S. health disparities that
drive scientists' political will to search for ancestral continental
differences—often thought of as “race”—as “in the genes.”  I also
trace this research into the field of forensics where the use of
African-Americans' DNA and facial trait morphology has attracted the
attention of the National Institutes of Justice.

Dana Fullwilley, Stanford University