DNA Ethnicity as Black Social Action?

Peer Reviewed

From the Essay

"Commercial genetic analysis is typically and aptly regarded as an offshoot of the cutting-edge Human Genome Project that was completed in 2002. However, an origin story for genetic testing that begins with supercomputing or single nucleotide polymorphisms (or 'snips') can only partly account for why this analysis became widely popular and, moreover, became important in African-American cultural politics. The controversy that transpired over excavation methods and research priorities at the centuries-old African Burial Ground, on the other hand, reveals how genetic information would come to be seen as the building blocks for reconciliation projects related both to the history of chattel slavery and the future of American racial politics. The supplementary 'genealogy' for genetic ancestry testing elucidates why and how this form of DNA analysis took a particular course toward social and political utility and why claims of racial essentialism brought against the consumers of genetic genealogy testing may actually miss the mark."  

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology’s August 2013 issue contains essays on race theory, articles on cultural citizenship in the Black Atlantic World and a roundtable featuring Deborah A. Thomas, Alondra Nelson, John L. Jackson Jr., Wahneema Lubiano, Robyn Wiegman, and Jemima Pierre.  

Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of articles on race and on science including Deepa S. Reddy’s "Good Gifts for the Common Good: Blood and Bioethics in the Market of Genetic Research," Vincanne Adams's "The Sacred in the Scientific: Ambiguous Practices of Science in Tibetan Medicine," and Damani Patridge’s "We Were Dancing in the Club, Not on the Berlin Wall: Black Bodies, Street Bureaucrats and the Exclusionary Incorporation into the New Europe."  

About the Author  

Alondra Nelson received her Ph.D. from New York University and is a Professor in the Department of Sociology and Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University. Nelson’s research examines knowledge production around human difference in biomedicine and technoscience and has been funded by the Ford Foundation, Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. In 2011, Nelson published Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination, which examined the organization’s efforts around healthcare, and was awarded the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award from the Eastern Sociological Society and Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award from the American Sociological Association. Nelson has also coedited two books: Genetics and the Unsettled Past: The Collision of DNA, Race and History (2008) and Technicolor: Race, Technology and Everyday Life (2001). The Social Life of DNA: Race and Reconciliation after the Genome, which addresses how ancestry claims are organized together with genetic analysis in a number of public spheres, is forthcoming.  

Additional Readings by the Author  

Nelson, Alondra."Bio Science Genetic Genealogy Testing and the Pursuit of African Ancestry." Social Studies of Science 38, no. 5 (2008): 759–783. 

Braun, Lundy, Anne Fausto-Sterling, Duana Fullwiley, Evelynn M. Hammonds, Alondra Nelson, William Quivers, Susan M. Reverby, and Alexandra E. Shields. "Racial Categories in Medical Practice: How Useful are They?." PLoS Medicine 4, no. 9 (2007): e271.  

Nelson, Alondra, Thuy Linh N. Tu, and Alicia Headlam Hines, eds. Technicolor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life. New York: New York University Press, 2001.  

Nelson, Alondra, and Nalo Hopkinson. "Making the impossible possible: an interview with Nalo Hopkinson." Social Text 20, no. 2 (2002): 97–113.    

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