From racialism to racism
Georgina Lawton (A twist in the tale, 17 August) questions whether DNA testing companies accurately present information about race. More importantly, she questions how genomic testing companies treat the concept of ethnicity. Quoting Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist, Lawton agrees that “these companies are using ethnicity as a nice, polished euphemism for race”.
However, Lawton should have taken her critique further, for some DNA testing companies actively exploit popular misconceptions about race and ethnicity, and in so doing, pander to age-old racialist views regarding the inheritance of biological and cultural traits. An email ad from one of these companies bears the click-bait title, Do you have royal blood? Thus, the long-discredited notion that cultural or psychological traits are transmitted “in the blood” are simply shifted to the implication they are “in the genes”.
The great danger lying in this racialised take on ethnic differences is that it only requires the injection of a few invidious distinctions between ethnic groups to turn racialism – the heightened awareness of biological differences – into racism. Ironically, then, what ostensibly began as an attempt to show how surprisingly diverse human genetic endowments are may unfortunately have the effect of hardening negative racial stereotypes among people believing in the objective reality of biological race, thereby further confusing biology, personality and culture. Margaret Vazquez-Geffroy Las Vegas, New Mexico, US