Four Field Colloquium Series: "America, Genealogy, History: ‘New World’ Technologies of Race" by Duana Fulwiley
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.