Racism and Science – Basic Research

By Mariana Inglez

What have we done to break the legacy of “biological” justification for oppression?

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In the article “O Escravo do Naturalista” published in the magazine “Ciência Hoje”, Ildeu de Castro Moreira shows how important naturalists who were in Brazil in the 19th century of the knowledge of indigenous peoples and enslaved people for the collection and identification of species benefited locally. The collection of the Imperial Natural History Museum of the time, for example, was compiled from the work of enslaved people. During my apprenticeship I was always one of the few black biologists in the class and I don’t remember any classes that discussed these episodes or made them think about the subject.

Founding members and prominent scientific leaders in physical or biological anthropology, now my specialty, used their research and belief in the superiority of white Europeans to justify and promote policies that lead to inequalities and violence against non-white people. It is worth remembering human zoos with anthropological exhibits, both for public entertainment and for the interests of researchers. Found mainly in Europe and the United States and active until the late 1950s, these zoos explored various indigenous races, Asian peoples, and more commonly African peoples.

It was not until after World War II that scientists in various fields, particularly in physical anthropology, began to reassess definitions of human “races”. The discussion continued until 1996 when the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (AAPA) produced a document that defined that all humans belong to a single species that is not structured into races. that the differences between populations are due to both hereditary and environmental and social factors; that there is no evidence to prove the inferiority or superiority of one or the other “race”; Finally, that all human beings have the same potential to assimilate knowledge and culture, that is, there are no biological differences between supposed races that define the intellectual or cultural potential of each individual.

In June of this year, the same AAPA published a letter in support of the black and indigenous people in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. As scholars in this discipline who have provided a “biological” justification for colonialism, slavery and ongoing oppression, it is important that we act effectively to break this legacy. Just as in the past there was a movement for the dominant spheres to adhere to the rules of the scientific community of that time, we must now campaign against racism and its effects on society.

I believe that scientific production in general should be more self-critical and devoted to socio-racial agendas, as recognizing different voices is a way to restore the authority of discriminated minorities. Unless there is diversity, we will not even be able to identify inequalities and resolve the actions that arise from them.

This article is a call for thought and action, especially for white peers who follow the majority in all academic sciences. What has been done to promote racist inclusion, promote diversity of values ​​and promote human rights? Are we trying to make our fields of study more diverse and to decolonize knowledge within the university?

Not only do we need to study the variation and biology of our species, but we also need to shift the internal structures of the national scientific work itself, expand dialogue with a wider audience, and support the guidelines on racial inclusion.

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Mariana Inglez is a doctoral candidate at the Laboratory for Environmental and Evolutionary Archeology and Anthropology (LAAAE) of the Biosciences Institute (USP) and coordinator of the scientific dissemination project “Evolução para death”.

This article is the last in a series of three articles from the Ciência Fundamental blog in honor of the Month of Black Consciousness.

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