Critical Race Theory and the human genome
by Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai
Let’s talk about race – although there is mounting evidence it does not exist. That’s why race is so uncomfortable to talk about! Race is an imaginary construct that has been delegitimized by modern science yet continues to fuel wanton fear, violence and disharmony among members of the human family. Critical Race Theory recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past, according to the American Bar Association.
You may not be familiar with Critical Race Theory or CRT. You may think it is an esoteric concept being hotly debated in academic lecture halls or a nebulous ideal that triggers fierce opposition by right wing politicians looking to whitewash U.S. history and politics.
Perhaps you have no idea why the Florida Board of Education banned teaching CRT in schools in May or why five Republican-led state legislatures banned CRT in recent months, according to the Washington Post.
Wikipedia defines Critical Race Theory as an academic movement of civil rights scholars and activists in the United States seeking to critically examine the law and its intersection with racial justice. CRT emerged in the mid-1970s in the writings of legal scholars and emerged as a movement in the 1980s rooted in critical theory.
In my opinion, CRT represents a continuum of the rancorous social debate over human evolution that has been substantiated by genetic research and weaponized by politics, sociology and racial injustice. CRT is rooted in the science of the human genome that does not prove the existence of race.
The human genome project arrived at an astonishing conclusion: “Race is a fluid concept used to group people according to various factors including ancestral backgrounds and social identity. Race is used to group people who share a set of visible characteristics, such as skin color and facial features.
“Though these visible traits are influenced by genes, the vast majority of genetic variation exists within racial groups and not between them. Race is an ideology and for this reason, many scientists believe that race should be more accurately described as a social construct and not a biological one.”
Get that? The human genetic code is basically the same for all members of the human family. We are hardwired to be the same – not different!
In “A Lesson on Critical Race Theory,” the American Bar Association defines CRT as “a practice of integrating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal and academic fields and spread to other fields of scholarship.”
The human genetic code is basically the same for all members of the human family. We are hardwired to be the same – not different!
The ABA analysis examines why CRT has become a “firehose” of legal, sociological, educational, political and human rights debate in critiquing how race – an artificial social construct – perpetuates a caste system grounded in skin color and physical variations that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers.
Business Insider reports CRT has become one of the most “animating” issues for Republicans nationwide grounded in the belief that CRT teaches kids to “hate the U.S. and each other.” The Florida educational guidelines banning CRT apply to U.S. history, civics and government.
And yet there has been no mounted dissent to teaching Critical Race Theory in the field where it is most substantiated by genetic science – human biology!
In “Where are We? Critical Race Theory in Education 20 Years Later,” Dixson and Anderson explore the archive of trailblazing work launched in 1995 by Ladson-Billings and Tate in “Toward a Critical Race Theory in Education.”
Dixson and Anderson organize their review of CRT in education around six “boundaries”:
- CRT in education argues racial inequality in education is the logical outcome of a system of achievement predicated on competition.
- CRT in education examines the role of education policy and practices in the construction of racial inequity and perpetuation of normative whiteness.
- CRT in education rejects the dominant narrative about the inherent inferiority of people of color and normative superiority of white people.
- CRT in education examines historical linkages between educational inequity and racial oppression.
- CRT in education engages intersectional analyses that recognize ways that race is mediated by other identity markers such as gender, class, language and citizenship.
- CRT in education agitates and advocates for meaningful outcomes that redress racial inequity.
According to Education Week, as of May 2021, 15 states have introduced legislation to restrict how teachers can talk about race.
Teachers in Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma and Tennessee are banned from introducing concepts that one race or sex is inherently superior or that any individual is racist just because of their race and that no one should be made to feel guilt or discomfort because of their race.
Critical Race Theory as a methodology, not an ideology: CRT is a work in progress in education with a mandate to improve educational access and equity and to create critical race research studies that are “theoretically grounded and methodologically sound.”
Critical Race Theory and the health sciences
Thought leaders in science, medicine and allied health sciences are taking a more proactive approach in acknowledging that race is “conceptually underdeveloped in the health sciences and operates in these fields as 19th century theories of human diversity that reify long discredited notions of racial typologies.
“Within medicine and the health sciences, race is widely understood as a ‘natural’ part of human diversity that scientists and physicians merely observe. These fields assume that the visual distinctions that align with social understandings of race reflect real and meaningful biological dispositions.
“Tied to this is the assumption that these racialized genetic and physiological dispositions explain why certain racial groups may be sicker – or healthier – than others. From this standpoint, racism is thought to be an external social or political variable that has little to do with the processes that shape health outcomes or influence the measurement of human differences.
“This perspective is not only woefully inadequate, but also affirmatively harms human health by perpetuating theories of biological race in the clinic, the lab and within our collective imaginations … Critical Race Theory offers science and medicine opportunity to examine how the biological consequences of discrimination shape our approaches to thinking about human difference and population disparities.”
I was fascinated by the human diversity I encountered in seaport cities like London, Frankfurt, Washington, D.C., Cairo, Nairobi and Ethiopia traveling from San Francisco as a medical volunteer for the humanitarian relief effort in the Horn of Africa.
Some sociologists predict the intermingling of travelers bearing international passports being granted entry to the “hot beds” of diversity in major seaport cities of the world may one day produce the multiethnic human.
In the interim I have adopted the practice of checking off both African American and “Other” on forms and applications requiring racial designations. In recognition of my Louisiana Choctaw maternal grandfather, my Korean cousins and my paternal grandfather who passed for white – in the near future, perhaps, the “Others” will emerge as the one true “race”!
SF Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD, PD, founder and principal investigator for the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program, founding chair of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board’s Radiological Subcommittee and contributor to the 2005 Draft Historical Radiological Assessment, can be reached at AhimsaPorterSumchaiMD@Comcast.net. Dr. Sumchai is medical director of Golden State MD Health & Wellness, a UCSF and Stanford trained author and researcher, and a member of the UCSF Medical Alumni Association Board of Directors.