To Predestine and Condition – On Dorothy Roberts’ Fatal Invention

“The highly publicized lawsuit was intensified by the clinic’s failure to deliver a white baby…”

Dorothy Roberts stood before a room full of people, showing a picture of what seemed to be a happy interracial family portrait. But it wasn’t a happy family picture, or even a success story. The picture staring down at that night’s crowd was proof and evidence to a lawsuit – it was a picture capturing the failure of a reproduction clinic to produce a blond hair, blue eyed child. It was a picture overtly publicizing the devaluation of black babies because of their race.

It may be cliché to reference Aldous Huxley when discussing Dorothy Roberts’ Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race In the Twenty-First Century, yet when covering Roberts’ account of the alarming push to find evidence behind the notion of ‘biological race’ one finds themselves eerily remembering the eugenic utopia of Huxley’s novel, and the warnings it posed to the world.

Deaf ears seemingly received those warnings. Robert’s Fatal Invention traces society’s tragic scientific credence of “biological race” and its possible implications in the rise of eugenics and justifications of social class stratification in the twenty-first century.  With extensive research, Roberts shows just how big of an issue race is for modern society; furthermore, how such a delusion (that race is biologically inherited) distorts and pacifies many Americans against purely barbaric, cruel, and unfounded practices against certain races, particularly African Americans.

‘Race,’ to Roberts, is not a biological category – she argues that this idea cannot be substantiated by any scientific research to date. In fact, the pursuit of the ‘biological component’ of race is tragically funded in the billions by companies relentless in trying to prove this concept without success. As a convincing alternative, Roberts highlights over and over again how failed outcomes of ‘race research’ reinforce “race [as] a political category that [instead] has staggering biological consequences” (129). The constant pursuit of the “biological component” of race is therefore not only absurd, but a by-product of the social system long standing in American society that positions ‘racialized’ bodies at the bottom of the political, economic, and social pyramid. Roberts pushes her readers to become more conscious of this misunderstanding of ‘race,’ and to reflect on the enduring consequences race will have on scientific research.

Currently in the golden age of ‘science’ – the mapping of the Human Genome, the most sophisticated scientific advancements seen this century – Roberts warns us to be always conscious of what questions are being asked, what the scientific findings are trying to prove, and what ideologies they are benefiting.  And how ultimately these questions might mirror an unfortunate history.

It is clear to Roberts that neither motive nor outcome can be wholly trusted.  Race does not have a biological component – but it does have history.  Even with the failure to find a “biological component,” billions of dollars have been spent to investigate ‘biological race’; money, of which, could be spent investigating environmental or societal stressors, both which have been proven to correlate more to health than political grouping. This report should be alarming. Roberts encourages us all to find fault with science in the same way we have found fault with other fields. Science, though groundbreaking, is still victim to society. It is a social system, and we should not be oblivious to the fact that racism, whether overtly or not, is still practiced within it. It may again be a cliché, but as Huxley warned, Roberts needs us to reexamine the “oh brave new world that hath such people in it”.

Whether it is measuring of skulls, claims of inherited mental illness, fashioning of race-specific drugs, or picking both the color of your child’s eyes and the womb in which he or she will be carried, Roberts illustrates just how “different” we are from the “Brave New World”. The ideology, Roberts quotes, “promoted by science, government, and big-business, that race is written in our genes provides the modern-day mechanism for concealing the most heinous crimes that racism inflicts on poor communities of color and an excuse for keeping a backward racial caste system firmly in place.” (309) Sound familiar? Aldous Huxley warned in Brave New World about the preeminence of eugenics and the possibility of a social caste system based off of biological traits. By supposing race as biologically inherit, our society is rendered no different than that of Huxley’s – differentiating caste as either biologically black or white, genetically good or bad, or better intrinsically Alpha or Epsilon.

“We… predestine and condition. We decant our babies as socialized human beings, as Alphas or Epsilons, as future sewage workers or […] future Directors of Hatcheries.”
Brave New World

Roberts warns, “Raced-based medicine gives people a morally acceptable reason to hold on to their belief in intrinsic racial difference” (167), a reason to prove that the immoral Hottentots really do exist! – That all whites are more intelligent, that all black men have a genetic component of violence, promiscuity, and animalism, that all Asians have a knack for quantum physics, all Mexicans work better in the sun – or that black childbirth is somehow found to be less painful!? Roberts, though not as curt, clearly underlines the absurdity in the claim of race as biological; and she needs her readers to realize the forthcoming damage done by this statement when it is regarded as true.

Karole Collier is a sophomore at Barnard College, who is most recently from Philadelphia, PA, previous living in New Jersey, and North Carolina. She is an Africana Studies Major with a Pre-Medicine concentration. She is currently enrolled in Professor Kim Hall’s Critical Race Theory Class, and enjoys spoken word poetry.

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