No – Science is not racist. The systematic study of the natural world around us through observation and experimentation is not on its face “racist”. When professor Stone gave her talk last week, however, she wasn’t just blowing off smoke about a problem that doesn’t exist. Sometimes, the way scientists classify variations within a given species by their typological differences has the potential to promote a stereotypical ideology that can be harmful to the way we as a species see and define the world.
For example, when I was a kid growing up learning about heredity and genes my science teacher, an elderly woman who by no fault of her own as she was jus working with the tools she was given, had us read a textbook circa 1980 that felt the need to provide profiles to differentiate genetic variation. That’s why I nearly laughed during the lecture when the slide came up showing the different boxes of “types” of humans – I had seen that before! There was a latino person blocked off from a red-headed person as if they were completely different species. That alone might be an unfortunate coincidence, but the textbook went further than that. On the next page, there was a chart that showed dominant genes vs recessive genes and increased melanin was one of the dominant genes – so you can see the possible racial intonation to that kind of ‘educating’. It might have been a product of budget cutting or something not the fault of the educators, but it was science that enforced a kind of racism that science should, by definition as an intellectual and practical discipline, be divorced from. Stone’s lecture was a timely reminder that our preconceptions can leak out into any field.
One devil’s advocate argument that could be made against this kind of reasoning is the idea that typological science is a useful way to separate certain variations within plants. How else would we classify certain shrubberies from one another? Is there some kind of gray area to all of this? Can typological science be useful in some instances? I think it can be but we need to be careful when and how it is used because the way we learn about genetic variation as children does determine the way we think of different races and ethnicities.