That’s the word of the moment.

If you want proof that the impact of past racism is still felt today, take a look at this intersection of science, religion, culture, race, politics and conspiracy theories covered in this week’s Sunday Times article, “DNA Gatherers Hit Snag: Tribes Don’t Trust Them.”

The article covers the trouble scientists part of The Genographic Project are having. Their goal is to more fully understand the migration of original peoples out of Africa and across the globe. Their tactic is to use DNA analysis of still-pure indigenous people to help in that effort. Their problem is with Native Americans who fear that the white man is up to his old dirty tricks again:

They argue that genetic ancestry information could also jeopardize land rights and other benefits that are based on the notion that their people have lived in a place since the beginning of time.
…indigenous leaders point to centuries of broken promises to explain why they believe their fears are not far-fetched. Scientific evidence that American Indians or other aboriginal groups came from elsewhere, they say, could undermine their moral basis for sovereignty and chip away at their collective legal claims.

I’m sure we can understand why Native Americans might have a wee bit of hesitance in signing contracts with white scientists and believing that the DNA research will come back to haunt them, but it’s a sad case. I’m a pro-science kind of guy. The pursuit of truth is a good thing. This is an interesting question, but the discovery of its answer is hampered by a long history of backstabbing and “broken promises” suffered by Native American folk.

As a black person, I completely understand. After Katrina, a lot of black people thought that the government intentionally blew up the levees around the Ninth Ward to protect the property of wealthy (and predominantly white) New Orleans residents. The Tuskegee Experiments, COINTELPRO, dropping a bomb on the MOVE organization, not to mention slavery, Jim Crow and election shenanigans, contribute to a general distrust that black people have in “the system” often to our detriment.

One extraordinarily sad consequence is our people’s reluctance to visit doctors regularly.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fielded the question (or accusation), “isn’t racism over?” or “why does it matter that Richards said the N-word?” or “well I didn’t do anything, so let’s just move on.” It’s hard to just move on when attempts to move on in the past have been met with further oppression, and it’s not just the folks of color who suffer. These Genographic scientists are suffering. Human knowledge is suffering. Everyone’s public health is suffering.

And the core issue is trust.

On a slightly-related note, I found the following aspects of this genetics story interesting:

  • One problem is that the religion of many Native Americans teaches an origin story different from what science is likely to find. They are afraid that science will undermine their religious beliefs. Hmmm, where have we stumbled across this before?
  • Also, I just read today that 90 million Americans believe the government was directly behind or intentionally allowed 9/11 to happen. How much you wanna bet there’s a disproportionate share of black and brown folks in that mix?

Update (14 Dec): Racialicious has kindly cross-posted this on their wonderful site!

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