Transcript: The Persistence of Race Science | Jul 14, 2021

An animated slate reads "The Agenda in the Summer."

A female announcer says THE AGENDA IN THE SUMMER WITH NAM KIWANUKA IS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH GENEROUS PHILANTHROPIC CONTRIBUTIONS FROM VIEWERS LIKE YOU. THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING TVO'S JOURNALISM.

Nam stands in the studio. She's in her early forties, with shoulder length straight brown hair. She's wearing glasses, a black blazer over a gray shirt, and a golden pendant necklace.

A wall screen behind her reads "The Agenda in the Summer."

Nam says ONE OF THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS OUT THERE IS ABOUT THE NOTION OF RACE. I'M NAM KIWANUKA. TONIGHT, CONTINUING OUR WEEK-LONG LOOK AT MISINFORMATION, WE'LL HEAR AGAIN FROM AUTHOR ANGELA SAINI ABOUT WHY RACE HAS NO BIOLOGICAL BASIS, AND WHY WE NEED TO BE ON GUARD AGAINST THE RETURN OF RACE SCIENCE.

Music plays as an animated slate reads "The Agenda in the Summer."

Nam says ANGELA SAINI IS AN ACCOMPLISHED SCIENCE JOURNALIST AND FOUNDER OF CHALLENGING PSEUDOSCIENCE AT THE ROYAL INSTITUTION OF GREAT BRITAIN. SINCE THIS RECORDING, "SUPERIOR: THE RETURN OF RACE SCIENCE" WAS NAMED A BOOK OF THE YEAR BY THE GUARDIAN, THE FINANCIAL TIMES, AND VANITY FAIR AMONG OTHERS. AND WAS ALSO A FINALIST FOR THE 2019 LA TIMES BOOK PRIZE. IN 2020, SHE WAS NAMED ONE OF THE WORLD'S TOP 50 THINKERS BY PROSPECT MAGAZINE. ANGELA IS CURRENTLY WRITING HER FOURTH BOOK. AN EXAMINATION OF THE ROOTS OF PATRIARCHY. IT'S DUE TO BE PUBLISHED IN EARLY 2023. HERE IS OUR CONVERSATION FROM 2019.

An animated slate reads "The Agenda in the Summer."

In a clip, Nam and a guest sit in the studio facing each other.

A caption reads "The return of race science. A human zoo."

Nam says AT THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK, YOU TELL A STORY ABOUT A ZOO IN PARIS THAT HAS AN EXHIBITION IN 1907 OF HUMANS, AND YOU VISITED THE SITE OF THAT ZOO. WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO GO BACK THERE?

The caption changes to "Angela Saini. Author, 'Superior.' @AngelaDSaini."

Angela is in her thirties, with long straight brown hair in a bun. She's wearing a black shirt and hoop earrings.

She says IT WAS BIZARRE. REALLY REMARKABLE, BECAUSE HERE IS A PLACE, AND WE FORGET NOW THAT THESE THINGS WERE ACTUALLY VERY COMMON IN THE 19TH CENTURY, EVEN THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY. THESE KINDS OF EXHIBITIONS WHERE PEOPLE WOULD BE BOUGHT FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD. USUALLY, THE COLONIES OF THE COUNTRIES WHERE THESE EXHIBITIONS WERE HELD AND DISPLAYED VERY MUCH LIKE ZOO ANIMALS. SO, THESE FANCY HOUSES WOULD BE BUILT RECREATING THE ENVIRONMENTS WHERE PEOPLE WOULD'VE COME FROM. THEY WOULD HAVE DRESSED IN THE SAME CLOTHES AS THEY WOULD'VE WORN IN THE COUNTRY THEY CAME FROM EVEN IF IT WAS COLD. IN PARIS, THEY WOULD HAVE WORN AS FEW CLOTHES AS THEY WOULD'VE WORN IN AFRICA OR ASIA. AND THEY WERE TREATED AS EXHIBITS. AND TO BE IN A PLACE LIKE THAT AND KNOW THAT 100 YEARS AGO IF I HAD BEEN THERE, PERHAPS I WOULD HAVE BEEN AN EXHIBIT AS WELL. I WOULD HAVE BEEN IN ONE OF THESE CAGES ON DISPLAY FOR PEOPLE. WHEN FAMILIES IN THESE EXHIBITIONS HAD BABIES, THOSE BABIES WOULD BE AN ATTRACTION, A NEW ATTRACTION FOR THE VISITORS AND MILLIONS OF PEOPLE CAME. THAT FACT THAT IN PARIS, THIS SITE STILL EXISTS, THERE IS THIS GARDEN AND YOU CAN SEE, EVEN THOUGH IT'S OVERGROWN NOW, AND IT IS TUCKED AWAY, IT'S QUITE DIFFICULT TO FIND, BUT THE FACT THAT THESE STRUCTURES ARE STILL THERE IS SO EVOCATIVE AND UPSETTING TO REALIZE THAT THIS IS HOW PEOPLE THOUGHT ABOUT EACH OTHER.

Nam says UM, IT'S REALLY HARD TO SIT HERE TODAY IN THE STUDIO AND THINK THAT ONCE UPON A TIME, PEOPLE WERE IN CAGES AND OTHER HUMANS WOULD LOOK IN THESE CAGES AND STARE AT THEM AND THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED IN OUR HISTORY. HOW DO YOU RECONCILE THAT?

Angela says UM, WELL, I THINK FOR ME... TO NOT JUST THINK OF IT AS SOMETHING THAT BELONGS TO THE PAST. WEIRDLY. BECAUSE WHATEVER HAPPENED IN THE 19TH CENTURY IN TERMS OF SETTING IN STONE HOW WE THINK ABOUT HUMAN DIFFERENCE AND RACIAL DIFFERENCE, WE STILL LIVE WITH NOW. SO, UM, THE RACIAL CATEGORIES WE USE COME DIRECTLY OUT OF THOSE LINES OF INTELLECTUAL THOUGHT. THE WAY THAT SCIENTISTS STUDIED HUMAN DIFFERENCE IN THE HUMAN ZOOS AND WHEN THEY TRAVELLED AROUND THE WORLD, WE STILL LIVE WITH NOW. AND I THINK THAT, FOR ME, WAS THE KEY MESSAGE OF "SUPERIOR" IS THAT WE CAN'T JUST CONSIDER THIS A QUESTION THAT BELONGS TO ANOTHER AGE IN ANOTHER TIME. IT FULL BELONGS TO US NOW, BECAUSE WE ARE STILL LIVING WITH THESE IDEAS TO THIS DAY.

Nam says WHAT I FOUND REALLY INTERESTING IN THE BOOK WAS THAT EVEN AT THAT TIME, PEOPLE PROTESTED THAT.

Angela says YEP.

Nam says THERE WERE SOME PEOPLE WHO SAID, "THAT'S NOT RIGHT. IT'S WRONG?"

Angela says YEAH, AND THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN RESISTANCE THROUGHOUT HISTORY WHEN OBVIOUS WRONGS HAD BEEN DONE. TO THINKING ABOUT PEOPLE IN THIS WAY AND THERE ARE STILL PROTESTS NOW BECAUSE THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE WHO THINK IN THIS WAY WITHIN ACADEMIA AND ON THE ALT-RIGHT AND IN THE FAR-RIGHT.

Nam says SO, WHICH BRINGS US TO YOUR BOOK. AS IT MAKES A RE-EMERGENCE IN, I GUESS, EVERYDAY CONVERSATION. IS RACE AN ACTUAL THING ROOTED IN BIOLOGY OR IS IT A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT?

The caption changes to "Connect with us: Twitter: @theagenda; Facebook, agendaconnect@tvo.org, Instagram." Then, it changes again to "No need to categorize."

Angela says YOU KNOW, WE'VE KNOWN FOR 70 YEARS THAT RACE IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT. THIS IDEA WAS SET IN STONE IN FACT BY THE UN AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR. IT BROUGHT TOGETHER SCIENTISTS AND POLICYMAKERS, ANTHROPOLOGISTS, AND ONCE AND FOR ALL, STATEMENTS WERE PUT OUT BY THE UN DECLARING THAT RACE IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT. THAT THESE CATEGORIES THAT WE USE, THESE IDEAS THAT WE HAVE ABOUT HUMAN DIFFERENCE DO NOT MAP ONTO BIOLOGY OR GENETICS IN THE WAY THAT WE IMAGINE. AND IF ANYTHING, OVER THOSE 70 YEARS, GENETICS HAS ONLY REINFORCED THAT.

Nam says IN WHAT WAYS?

The caption changes to "Originally aired November 14, 2019."

Angela says IN EVERY POSSIBLE WAY. WE ARE MORE HOMOGENEOUS AS A SPECIES THAN ALMOST ANY OTHER SPECIES ON EARTH. WE'RE MORE HOMOGENEOUS THAN CHIMPANZEES AS A SPECIES. WE'RE SO ALIKE AND THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN US ARE NOMINAL, YOU REALLY HAVE TO SEARCH AT THE EDGES OF THE GENOME TO FIND DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HUMAN GROUPS AND EVEN THEN IT'S FUZZY AND STATISTICAL. SO, IT'S SO PROFOUND THAT IF YOU WERE, FOR EXAMPLE, I AM OF INDIAN ANCESTRY, IF YOU WERE TO RANDOMLY GO OUT ONTO THE STREETS OF TORONTO AND FIND SOMEONE OF INDIAN ANCESTRY AND FIND ANOTHER RANDOM PERSON OF WHITE EUROPEAN ANCESTRY, IT'S PERFECTLY POSSIBLE GENETICALLY FOR ME TO HAVE MORE IN COMMON WITH THAT WHITE PERSON OF EUROPEAN ANCESTRY THAN THAT INDIAN PERSON. THAT'S HOW FUZZY AND HOW MUCH COMMONALITY THERE IS BETWEEN US.

Nam says THEN WHY DOES THIS IDEA STILL PERSIST? THIS IDEA THAT BECAUSE OF OUR RACES, WE ARE DIFFERENT?

Angela says BECAUSE WE STILL USE RACE IN EVERYDAY LIFE AND WE HAVE TO IN SOME WAYS, BECAUSE RACE, THE IDEA OF RACE, WHICH WE'VE BEEN USING FOR A FEW HUNDRED YEARS NOW VISCERALLY AFFECTS HOW WE ARE TREATED, MEDICAL OUTCOMES, FOR EXAMPLE, WE KNOW THAT BLACK AMERICANS HAVE, BY A FEW YEARS, A SHORTER LIFE EXPECTANCY THAN WHITE AMERICANS. THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BIOLOGY, IT IS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT RACE AND RACISM EXISTS IN SOCIETY AND SO HOW PEOPLE ARE TREATED AND THEIR SOCIAL OUTCOMES ARE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. SO, THESE THINGS MATTER IN SOCIETY, IN POLITICS. JUST BECAUSE SOMETHING IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT, THAT DOESN'T MEAN IT HAS NO MEANING, IT STILL HAS MEANING, IT JUST DOESN'T HAVE GENETIC, BIOLOGICAL VALIDITY. THERE ARE NO INNATE, UM... REASONS TO THINK ABOUT PEOPLE IN THESE WAYS.

Nam says THEN WHAT ROLE DOES CULTURE PLAY? CAN WE SEPARATE CULTURE FROM RACE?

Angela says WELL, I DON'T THINK WE CAN, BECAUSE THOSE THINGS ARE COMPLETELY INTERTWINED. IN FACT, THIS IS ONE OF THE THINGS THAT BOTHERS ME IS WHEN WE TALK ABOUT NATURE VERSUS NURTURE AND IN FACT, IT WAS FRANCIS GALTON, DARWIN'S COUSIN, WHO WAS A EUGENICIST, WHO COINED THIS IDEA OF NATURE VERSUS NURTURE AS THOUGH THESE ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. THEY'RE NOT. WE ARE INTRINSICALLY SOCIAL, CULTURAL CREATURES. FROM THE DAY WE'RE BORN, OUR BRAINS ARE SHAPED BY THE CULTURES THAT WE BELONG TO. WE SHOW A HUGE DEGREE OF PLASTICITY IN OUR BRAINS AND THAT ACCOUNTS FOR THE HUGE VARIETY OF CULTURES AND LANGUAGES THAT YOU SEE AROUND THE WORLD, SO WE ARE VISCERALLY SHAPED BY THE CULTURES WE BELONG TO. OUR BODIES REFLECT THAT. SO, WE CAN'T SEPARATE THESE TWO THINGS.

Nam says THEN WHAT ABOUT POLITICS?

Angela says AND THE POLITICS IS PART OF CULTURE, YOU KNOW? HOW WE ARE TREATED, HOW WE ARE SEEN AND VIEWED BY OTHER PEOPLE HAS AN EFFECT ON OUR BODIES, OUR MINDS, HOW WE THINK ABOUT OURSELVES.

Nam says DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHY SCIENCE SEEMS SO INTERESTED IN EXAMINING THE DIFFERENCES AMONGST HUMANS WHEN AS YOU WRITE IN THE BOOK, THERE ARE VERY FEW DIFFERENCES GENETICALLY SPEAKING?

The caption changes to "Objective science, or is it?"

Angela says WELL, IF WE GO BACK TO THE BEGINNING, SO IF WE LOOK AT THE BIRTH OF MODERN WESTERN SCIENCE, RIGHT THEN AT, YOU KNOW, EUROPEAN ENLIGHTENMENT SCIENCE, WAS THIS ASSUMPTION THAT NOT, EVEN THOUGH, THAT WE WERE ALL UNIVERSALLY HUMAN AND THAT WAS A GREAT ENLIGHTENMENT IDEA THAT WE ARE ONE HUMAN RACE. AT THE SAME TIME, THERE WERE HIERARCHIES BETWEEN US. THERE WERE GROUPS OF PEOPLE. SO, FOR INSTANCE, WOMEN BELOW MEN, AND OTHER RACES BELOW WHITE EUROPEANS. AND THIS WAS BAKED INTO MODERN WESTERN SCIENCE AT ITS VERY BIRTH. THE IDEA OF RACE DIDN'T REALLY EXIST IN THE WAY THAT WE USE IT NOW BEFORE THAT, SO EUROPEAN PHILOSOPHERS AND THINKERS WENT OUT INTO THE WORLD AND THEY CATEGORIZED HUMANS IN THE SAME WAY THAT THEY CATEGORIZED PLANT LIFE AND ANIMAL LIFE. THEY THOUGHT, "CAN WE ALSO CATEGORIZE PEOPLE?" AND OFTEN, THESE CATEGORIES WERE COMPLETE ARBITRARY. YOU KNOW, TAKE CAUCASIAN. SO, THIS IS THE WORD WE OFTEN USE POLITELY TO DESCRIBE WHITE PEOPLE. BUT IF WE'RE BEING EXACT, CAUCASIAN REFERS TO PEOPLE FROM THE CAUCASUS. THAT'S NOT THE WAY THAT WE USE IT NOW. IT HAS A MUCH BROADER DEFINITION AND THAT'S BECAUSE BLUMENBACH, WHO WAS ONE OF THESE EARLY THINKERS, WHO TRIED TO CATEGORIZE PEOPLE, HE THOUGHT THAT THE SKULLS OF CAUCASIANS WERE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AND IN ORDER TO PERHAPS DRAW HIMSELF INTO THAT CATEGORY, HE DEFINED CAUCASIAN AS EVERYONE FROM WESTERN EUROPE TO NORTH INDIA, WHICH WOULD MAKE ME CAUCASIAN.

Nam says DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF CAUCASIAN?

(LAUGHING)

Angela says NO, OF COURSE, I DON'T, BECAUSE NOW, SOCIALLY, WE USE IT AS A SYNONYM FOR WHITE. I AM CLEARLY BROWN. I'M OF INDIAN ANCESTRY.

Nam says BUT YOU TELL THIS REALLY INTERESTING STORY IN THE BOOK OF A PERSON WHO IS, UM, BLACK, BUT THEN BECAUSE OF WHATEVER IS CONSIDERED TO THE DEFINITION FOR A WHITE PERSON, HE'S LISTED AS BEING WHITE.

Angela says YES. AND THAT'S HOW THESE THINGS WORK. THAT'S HOW ARBITRARY THEY ARE. SO, IN THE US, IF YOU ARE, IF YOU COME FROM EGYPT, YOU ARE AUTOMATICALLY CLASSIFIED AS WHITE AND THAT MEANT THAT THIS INDIVIDUAL, MOSTAFA HEFNY, EVEN THOUGH TO ANY EVERYDAY OBSERVER IN THE US, HE LOOKS BLACK, BUT HE IS CLASSIFIED AS WHITE AND HE'S BROUGHT A CASE TO THE US GOVERNMENT ASKING FOR HIS RACIAL CLASSIFICATION TO BE CHANGED BECAUSE IT DOESN'T MATCH HIS SOCIAL CLASSIFICATION AND IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN THIS WAY. IN FACT, IF YOU LOOK IN THE LATE 19TH, EARLY 20TH CENTURY, THERE WERE LOTS OF WRANGLES AROUND WHAT IT MEANT TO BE WHITE. WHITE, IF ANYTHING, WHITENESS IS THE MOST POLICED CATEGORY OF THE ALL THE RACIAL CATEGORIES.

Nam says WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THAT?

The caption changes to "tvo.org/theagenda; agendaconnect@tvo.org."

Angela says WELL, THE BOUNDARIES OF WHO GETS TO CALL THEMSELVES WHITE AND WHO DOESN'T HAS ALWAYS BEEN CONTESTED THROUGHOUT HISTORY, SO THERE WERE CASES IN THE US... SO THERE WAS ONE CASE WHERE AN UPPER-CASTE INDIAN MAN WENT TO THE US AND SAID, "I SHOULD BE CLASSIFIED AS WHITE OR CAUCASIAN BECAUSE, YOU KNOW, BY THIS WESTERN TO NORTH INDIAN DEFINITION, I AM CAUCASIAN. AND I'M AN UPPER CASTE, YOU KNOW, HIERARCHY INDIVIDUAL," AND THEY SAID, "NO, WELL, YOU HAVE BROWN SKIN, SO YOU CAN'T BE CATEGORIZED AS WHITE." AND THEN, SOMEONE OF CHINESE ORIGIN CAME TO THE US AND MADE THE SAME CASE AND SAID, "OKAY, I'M NOT CAUCASIAN, BUT I HAVE WHITE SKIN, SO CAN I BE CATEGORIZED AS WHITE?" AND THEY SAID, "NO, BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT CAUCASIAN." SO, THESE CATEGORIES ARE ALWAYS OPEN TO POLITICAL MANIPULATION. YOU KNOW, WHAT PEOPLE AT THE TIME, WHERE THEY WANT TO PLACE PEOPLE IN THAT HIERARCHY.

Nam says AND IT DEPENDS ON WHAT COUNTRY YOU'RE IN, RIGHT? BECAUSE IT'S DIFFERENT IN SOUTH AFRICA...

Angela says YEAH.

Nam says COMPARED TO THE UK, COMPARED TO THE US.

Angela says YES.

Nam says UM, WE OFTEN THINK OF SCIENTISTS AS BEING OBJECTIVE AND WORK FROM PURE FACTS. IS THAT WRONG?

The caption changes to "Watch us anytime: tvo.org, Twitter: @theagenda, Facebook Live, YouTube."

Angela says WELL, THIS IS KIND OF THE THEME OF ALL MY WORK. ALL OF MY PREVIOUS TWO BOOKS IS REALLY ASKING THE QUESTION IS SCIENCE ALWAYS OBJECTIVE? AND I WOULD SAY THAT EVEN THOUGH FOR ME SCIENCE IS ONE OF THE BEST WAYS WE HAVE OF UNDERSTANDING THE UNIVERSE AND UNDERSTANDING OURSELVES, BUT IT IS DONE BY HUMANS. AND WHEN HUMANS DO ANYTHING, THEY OF COURSE, BRING THEIR OWN BIASES AND ASSUMPTIONS AND SUBJECTIVITY TO THE QUESTIONS THEY'RE ASKING. NOW, HISTORICALLY, IF MODERN WESTERN SCIENCE HAS BEEN MALE-DOMINATED, WHICH IT HAS, IF IT HAS BEEN WHITE-DOMINATED, WHICH IS HAS, THEN YOU ARE GOING TO GET A CERTAIN SET OF ASSUMPTIONS AND BIASES CAKED INTO THAT AND THAT'S WHAT WE SEE. THAT WE SEE A CERTAIN SET OF IDEAS PERPETUATING.

Nam says ARE SCIENTISTS STARTING TO ASK THOSE QUESTIONS OF THEMSELVES?

Angela says YEAH, THEY ARE AND THEY'VE BEEN DOING IT FOR A LONG TIME.

Nam says AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR US TO UNDERSTAND A PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS AND BIASES OF SCIENTISTS?

Angela says WELL, BECAUSE THEN WE HAVE A MORE HONEST RELATIONSHIP WITH SCIENCE, YOU KNOW? AND PEOPLE OFTEN, I MEAN, WE LIVE IN AN AGE NOW WHERE TRUST IN SCIENCE AND SCIENTISTS HAS FALLEN AND I THINK THAT'S PARTLY BECAUSE, PARTLY BECAUSE OF THE AGE WE LIKE IN, BUT ALSO BECAUSE WHEN SCIENTISTS GET THINGS WRONG, PEOPLE START TO WONDER, "WELL, CAN I TRUST SCIENCE?" AND IF THE EXPERTS DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT. BUT ACTUALLY, GETTING THINGS WRONG IS PART OF THE SCIENTIFIC PROCESS. IT ALWAYS HAS TO BE THAT WAY. YOU MAKE MISTAKES, YOU LEARN, YOU TRY AGAIN, YOU MOVE FORWARD.

Nam says BUT PEOPLE MIGHT HEAR YOU SAY THAT, BECAUSE I THINK WE DO HAVE A GENERAL SENSE THAT SCIENTISTS KNOW MORE THAN WE DO.

Angela says YEAH.

Nam says AND IF YOU ARE FALLIBLE, WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR US? AND ALSO WHEN YOU DO ADMIT TO BIASES, YOU KNOW, LIKE THIS CONVERSATION WE'RE HAVING AROUND CLIMATE CHANGE. HOW DO YOU WALK THE LINE BETWEEN UNDERSTANDING THAT SCIENTISTS ARE HUMAN AND CAN MAKE MISTAKES, BUT THAT WE SHOULD STILL LISTEN TO WHAT SCIENTISTS HAVE TO SAY?

Angela says IT'S DIFFICULT, BECAUSE SCIENTISTS HAVE GOT THINGS WRONG. FOR ME, RACE SCIENCE IS THE PERFECT EXAMPLE OF SCIENCE GONE WRONG FOR AN INCREDIBLY LONG TIME, YOU KNOW, THAT PEOPLE THOUGHT IN THIS WAY. PEOPLE EVEN INTO THE MAINSTREAM SCIENTISTS EVEN INTO THE 1950S, SOME BELIEVED THAT WE WERE NOT ONE HUMAN SPECIES. THEY WEREN'T CONVINCED OF THAT. SO, WE KNOW THAT MISTAKES CAN HAPPEN, BUT OVER TIME, THE HOPE IS THAT SCIENCE REACHES CONSENSUS AND COMES CLOSER TO THE TRUTH. SO, ON THINGS LIKE CLIMATE CHANGE, GIVEN ALL THE EVIDENCE WE HAVE, AND THERE IS... THERE ARE STILL DISSENTERS, THERE'S NO DOUBT, WITHIN ACADEMIA, BUT THE CONSENSUS AND THE BODY OF KNOWLEDGE NOW SEEMS TO SUGGEST THAT THERE ARE REASONS TO THINK THAT CLIMATE CHANGE IS MAN-MADE AND THERE ARE THINGS THAT WE CAN DO TO MITIGATE IT AS HUMANS AND WHILE WE SHOULD ALWAYS BE WARY I THINK OF TAKING ANY ONE SCIENTIST'S WORD FOR IT, I THINK WHEN YOU HAVE SUCH A HUGE CONSENSUS AND SUCH A GOOD BODY OF EVIDENCE THEN PERHAPS WE CAN BE MORE CONVINCED.

Nam says CAN SCIENCE BE RACIST IF THE PEOPLE DO THE SCIENCE ARE ANTI-RACIST?

Angela says YES. BECAUSE WE ALL HAVE BIASES AND ASSUMPTIONS. I HAVE SOME, YOU HAVE SOME. AND WE ALL BRING THOSE PRECONCEPTIONS TO THE WORK THAT WE DO.

Nam says BUT I DON'T KNOW IF PEOPLE LIKE ADMITTING THAT.

Angela says NO, THEY DON'T. I MEAN, THAT'S ONE OF THE ISSUES. SO, IN "SUPERIOR", I LOOK AT TWO DIFFERENT STRANDS OF RACE SCIENCE. ONE IS SCIENTIFIC RACISM, SO THESE ARE PEOPLE LARGELY OUTSIDE MAINSTREAM ACADEMIA WHO HOLD, IN SOME CASES, 19TH-CENTURY VIEWS ABOUT HUMAN DIFFERENCE AND RACIAL MIXING. AND THEN, I LOOK AT MAINSTREAM SCIENCE. SO, WHAT DOES MAINSTREAM SCIENCE TELL US ABOUT RACE BEING A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT? HOW WELL HAVE THEY CONVINCED US THAT RACE IS A SOCIAL CONSTRUCT AS THEY INSISTED IT WAS 70 YEARS AGO. AND I THINK THERE, IT'S A LITTLE BIT MURKY, SO EVEN THOUGH THE GENETIC EVIDENCE IS SO OVERWHELMINGLY AGAINST THE IDEA THAT WE CAN BE DIVIDED INTO DISCRETE RACIAL GROUPS AND THAT THESE SOCIAL GROUPS THAT WE HAVE HAVE BIOLOGICAL MEANING. THERE IS STILL MUDDY THINKING AROUND THIS AND THERE'S STILL SCIENTISTS SOMETIMES WHO INVOKE RACE INAPPROPRIATELY USING RACIAL CATEGORIES AS THOUGH THEY ARE BIOLOGICAL CATEGORIES. IN HEALTH AND MEDICINE, WE SEE IT A LOT. YOU KNOW, DOCTORS TELLING US THAT BELONGING TO A CERTAIN RACIAL GROUP SOMEHOW BIOLOGICALLY MAKES US DIFFERENT.

Nam says MORE SUSCEPTIBLE TO CERTAIN ILLNESSES?

Angela says YEAH. AND THAT'S NOT ACTUALLY ALWAYS HOW THINGS PLAY OUT MEDICALLY. SO, I KNOW THIS IS DIFFICULT FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE AND I DO OFTEN HEAR DOCTORS KIND OF SHOCKED WHEN THEY HEAR ME TALK IN THESE TERMS AND WHEN THEY READ SUPERIOR, THAT THEY CAN'T BELIEVE THAT THESE FRAMEWORKS THAT THEY'VE BEEN USING FOR SO LONG ARE FLAWED, BUT AGAIN, I HAVE TO INSIST, IN TERMS OF GENETICS, THERE IS, YOU KNOW, THE BULK OF HUMAN DIFFERENCE IS INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCE. GROUP DIFFERENCE ACCOUNTS FOR A VERY LITTLE PROPORTION OF THE DIFFERENCES THAT WE SEE AND IT'S STATISTICAL. SO WHEN, FOR EXAMPLE, PEOPLE SAY THAT SICKLE CELL. SICKLE CELL IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF A RACIALIZED, OR WHAT'S SEEN AS A RACIALIZED CONDITION. BUT GLOBALLY, IF YOU LOOK AT SICKLE CELL PREVALENCE, IT'S FOUND IN THOSE PLACES IN THE WORLD WHERE MALARIA IS COMMON, BECAUSE IT CONFERS HAVING THE SICKLE CELL TRAIT CONFERS SOME RESISTANCE TO MALARIA. AND THAT MEANS IT'S FOUND NOT ONLY IN PARTS OF AFRICA, BUT ALSO IN REGIONS OF THE WORLD WHERE PEOPLE HAVE WHITE SKIN. SO, IT'S NOT ACTUALLY RACIALIZE GLOBALLY, IT'S ACCORDING TO THIS MALARIA LINK. IN THE US, IT LOOKS RACIALIZED BECAUSE BLACK AMERICANS TEND TO BE OF WEST AFRICAN ANCESTRY AND WHITE AMERICANS TEND TO BE OF EUROPEAN ANCESTRY AND SO, IT LOOKS, BECAUSE OF THE DEMOGRAPHICS, IT LOOKS RACIALIZED, BUT GLOBALLY, IT IS NOT. SO, IN THAT SENSE, WE ARE USING RACE THEN, AS A PROXY, FOR GEOGRAPHICAL ORIGIN AND PRETTY MUCH ANY CONDITION THAT YOU LOOK AT THAT HAS BEEN RACIALIZED IN THAT WAY IS A PROXY FOR SOMETHING ELSE.

Nam says UM, RACE SCIENCE HAS BEEN STUDIED AND DEBUNKED AND STUDIED AND DEBUNKED. WHEN FACTS ARE PRESENTED AND IGNORED, HOW DO YOU CONVINCE THOSE WHO WANT TO BELIEVE THAT RACE SCIENCE IS VALID? BECAUSE I THINK FOR YOU AND I, WE'RE BOTH PEOPLE OF COLOUR SO... BUT HOW DO YOU CONVINCE PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY BELIEVE THAT IT IS TRUE?

The caption changes to "Forgotten but not gone."

Angela says WELL, THE FACT IS I THINK WE ALL HAVE SOME COMMITMENT TO THE IDEA OF RACE. I THINK WE ALL USE THESE. I SEE PEOPLE OF COLOUR ALSO THINKING IN THESE WAYS IN THE MEDICAL PROFESSIONS, IN HEALTH RESEARCH, AND GENETICS. WE CAN ALL FALL INTO THESE TRAPS, BECAUSE WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY IN WHICH WE ARE EXPECTED TO CATEGORIZE OURSELVES ROUTINELY. WE DO IT EVERY DAY. WE THINK IN THESE TERMS ALL THE TIME. SO, IT'S VERY DIFFICULT THEN TO NOT CONFLATE THAT WITH BIOLOGY, TO NOT SUSPECT THAT THERE MIGHT BE SOME BIOLOGICAL BASIS TO THESE CATEGORIES AS WELL. AND WHEN WE UNDERSTAND THAT WE ALL THINK IN THIS WAY, THEN I THINK IT'S EASIER TO UNDERSTAND WHY THOSE ON THE POLITICAL EXTREMES COME TO ABUSE THAT POSITION, BECAUSE FOR THEM, THEY COME FROM PERHAPS, UH... NOT A WELL-INTENTIONED POSITION, A POLITICAL POSITION THAT REALLY IS DIVISIVE OR MISANTHROPIC IN SOME WAY AND THEY BRING, YOU KNOW, EVERYDAY FOLK IDEAS ABOUT RACE TO THAT AND THEN THEY LOOK FOR THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE OR WHAT THEY IMAGINE TO BE THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE TO BACK THAT UP. BUT WE ARE ALL CAPABLE OF DOING THAT BECAUSE IF SOMETHING EXISTS IN SOCIETY. IF AN IDEA LIKE THIS EXISTS IN SOCIETY AND IS SO POWERFUL IN SOCIETY, THEN IT'S EASY FOR ANYBODY TO FALL INTO THOSE LAZY ASSUMPTIONS.

The caption changes to "tvo.org/theagenda; agendaconnect@tvo.org."

Nam says I FOUND THE CHAPTER ON THE CASTE SYSTEM VERY INTERESTING BECAUSE IT GOES TO WHAT YOU'RE SAYING. IT'S NOT JUST, IT'S WITHIN MANY DIFFERENT CULTURES THAT THIS IDEA EXISTS.

Angela says YEAH, AND WE ALL RECOGNIZE HUMAN DIFFERENCE IN DIFFERENT WAYS. IT MAPS DIFFERENTLY DEPENDING ON WHERE YOU ARE IN THE WORLD. THE CASTE SYSTEM IN INDIA. INDIA IS WHERE MY PARENTS WERE BORN, WORKS VERY MUCH LIKE A RACIAL HIERARCHY. YOU KNOW, PEOPLE ARE STRATIFIED BY BIRTH ACCORDING TO THE COMMUNITY THAT THEY BELONG TO AND IT'S VERY DIFFICULT TO HAVE ANY KIND OF SOCIAL MOBILITY BETWEEN THOSE GROUPS. WHICH IS, TO ME, NO DIFFERENT FROM A RACIAL SYSTEM, A RACIALIZED SYSTEM AND IN FACT, EARLY EUGENICISTS IN THE 20TH CENTURY USED TO LOOK TO INDIA AS A MODEL FOR EUGENICS, BECAUSE FOR THEM, THERE WAS A SOCIETY IN WHICH EUGENICS WAS ACTUALLY BEING PRACTICED.

Nam says THE PEOPLE WITH WHITE SKIN WERE AT THE TOP AND THE ONES WITH DARKER SKIN WERE BASICALLY AT THE BOTTOM.

Angela says WELL, CASTE DOESN'T ALWAYS WORK THAT WAY, SO YOU COULD STILL BE, YOU CAN STILL HAVE DARKER SKIN AND BE OF A HIGH CASTE, YOU CAN HAVE LIGHT SKIN AND STILL BE OF LOW CASTE, BUT THERE ARE CORRELATIONS THERE. THERE'S NO DOUBT.

Nam says UM, YOU MENTIONED THE ACADEMIC JOURNAL, MANKIND QUARTERLY. WHY IS IT SIGNIFICANT?

Angela says SO, THE MANKIND QUARTERLY WAS UM... INVENTED AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR AS A MEANS FOR THE FEW SCIENTIFIC RACISTS THAT THERE STILL WERE IN CIRCULATION AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR. AS A MEANS TO DISSEMINATE THE KIND OF WORK THAT OTHER JOURNALS WOULD NOT PUBLISH. IT WAS FUNDED BY A VERY WEALTHY MULTI-MILLIONAIRE TEXTILE HEIR CALLED WICKLIFFE DRAPER. AN AMERICAN WHO WAS VERY MUCH COMMITTED TO SEGREGATION. TO MAINTAINING SEGREGATION IN THE US AND FOR HIM, IF HE COULD PRESENT AN INTELLECTUAL CASE IN FAVOUR OF SEGREGATION THEN SOMEHOW, HE COULD, YOU KNOW, PROMOTE THAT POLITICAL VIEW, SO WHAT HE DID THROUGH THE MANKIND QUARTERLY IS FUND SCIENTISTS AND JOURNALS THAT WOULD DEFEND THE IDEA THAT RACIAL MIXING WAS SOMEHOW DANGEROUS TO THE RACE. AND HE USED TO HAND OUT COPIES TO PROMINENT CONSERVATIVES IN THE US TO KIND OF PUSH THIS IDEOLOGY. WHAT TO ME IS REMARKABLE. SO, THE FIRST ISSUE OF MANKIND QUARTERLY CAME OUT EARLY 1960S. I THINK 1961. IT WAS ROUNDLY DEBUNKED AT THE TIME. MAINSTREAM SCIENTISTS JUST THOUGHT IT WAS SHOCKINGLY BAD. NOT JUST IN TERMS OF POOR SCHOLARSHIP AND FOR MORAL REASONS, BUT ALSO, THEY POINTED OUT THE TYPOGRAPHICAL ERRORS. IT WAS JUST SHODDY IN EVERY WAY. AND YET...

Nam says IT STILL EXISTS.

Angela says IT IS STILL IN PUBLICATION TODAY.

Nam says WHY IS THAT SIGNIFICANT THAT IT'S STILL AROUND?

Angela says IT JUST GOES TO SHOW THAT THE INTELLECTUAL CIRCLES THAT KEPT SCIENTIFIC RACISM ALIVE AFTER THE SECOND WORLD WAR ARE STILL WITH US NOW. THEY HAVE NURTURED THESE IDEAS FOR 70 YEARS. GENTLY TAILORING THE ARGUMENTS. CHANGING THE KIND OF LANGUAGE THAT THEY USE. DEVELOPING EUPHEMISMS AROUND RACIAL DIFFERENCE IN ORDER TO MAKE IT MORE PALATABLE AND THEY'RE WINNING. ONLINE NOW, MANKIND QUARTERLY IS JUST ONE OF MANY SCIENTIFIC RACIST PUBLICATIONS THAT EXIST. THEY ARE CIRCULATING ON SOCIAL MEDIA AND WHEN WE LOOK AT THE RISE OF THE ALT-RIGHT AND THE FAR-RIGHT, AND SOMETIMES WE FEEL SHOCKED THAT IT SEEMS TO HAVE HAPPENED SUDDENLY. THERE'S NOTHING SUDDEN ABOUT IT. FOR ALL THESE DECADES, THEY HAVE BEEN CAREFULLY BIDING THEIR TIME AND THIS IS THEIR MOMENT.

Nam says YOU ALSO DISCUSSED IN YOUR BOOK THE POPULARITY OF ANCESTRY KITS. HOW DID THOSE COME ABOUT?

The caption changes to "Belonging."

Angela says SO, DNA ANCESTRY TESTING, FOR ME, PARADOXICALLY GIVEN ALL THE BRILLIANT GENETIC EVIDENCE THAT WE HAVE NOW TO SHOW HOW SIMILAR WE ARE, HAS IN WAYS, REINFORCED IN THE PUBLIC IMAGINATION THAT RACE MUST BE REAL. BECAUSE IF YOU CAN DO THESE DNA ANCESTRY TESTS, AND HOW CAN RACE NOT BE REAL IF IT CAN TELL YOU WHERE YOU ARE FROM? I THINK PEOPLE DON'T ALWAYS UNDERSTAND HOW THESE TESTS WORK. LIKE I SAID, THE DIFFERENCE IS SUBTLE. SO, FOR EXAMPLE IN MY CASE, I KNOW EXACTLY WHERE MY ANCESTRY LIES. MY PARENTS ARE FROM A CERTAIN REGION OF NORTH INDIA, PUNJAB. AND AS FAR AS I KNOW, THEIR FAMILY HAVE LIVED THERE FOR AS LONG AS WE CAN REMEMBER. NOW, WHEN I HAD MY TEST DONE. NOT VOLUNTARILY I SHOULD SAY. I WAS MAKING A TELEVISION DOCUMENTARY AND THE PRODUCERS HAD MY TEST DONE AND I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT, AT THE VERY LEAST, THEY COULD PIN ME DOWN TO INDIA, YOU KNOW, WHICH IS A HUGE COUNTRY IN ITSELF. MY TEST TOLD ME I WAS 96 percent SOUTH ASIAN. SO, JUST IMAGINE WHAT A HUGE SWATH OF THE WORLD THAT IS.

Nam says LIKE A THIRD OF THE WORLD. THAT WAS SHOCKING TO YOU.

Angela says BUT ACTUALLY, THAT IS WHAT WE SHOULD EXPECT GIVEN THE FUZZINESS OF THIS. WHEN WE DO THESE TESTS, WE IMAGINE THAT THEY'RE LOOKING AT ANCESTRY, BUT THEY'RE NOT.

Nam says WHY DO YOU THINK THEY'RE SO POPULAR?

Angela says WHAT THEY'RE ACTUALLY DOING IS COMPARING YOUR GENOME TO THE GENOMES OF OTHER PEOPLE LIVING WHO HAVE HAD THESE TESTS DONE AND SEEING IF THERE'S ANY KIND OF FUZZY SIMILARITY THERE AND LIKE I SAID, IT WILL ALWAYS BE FUZZY, BECAUSE WE HAVE SO MUCH GENETIC SIMILARITY BETWEEN US. SO, THEY'RE REALLY LOOKING AT THE EDGES OF THOSE GENOMES. NOW, THE REASON THEY CAN FIND ANY SIMILARITY AT ALL IS BECAUSE, UM, OF COURSE, WE HAVE CLOSER GENETIC RELATIONSHIPS TO OUR FAMILY. SO, I HAVE A VERY TIGHT GENETIC RELATIONSHIP TO MY PARENTS AND TO MY SON AND MY SISTERS. AND BECAUSE, HISTORICALLY, WE HAVE TENDED TO LIVE NEAR KIN, THERE WILL BE SOME FUZZY SIMILARITY WITHIN COMMUNITIES. IT GETS WEAKER AND WEAKER THE FURTHER YOU GO AWAY. AT THE CONTINENTAL OR NATIONAL LEVEL, IT ALMOST LOSES ALL MEANING. BUT THERE IS, YOU KNOW, SOME KIND OF FUZZY SIMILARITY THERE, BUT THAT'S ALL THEY DO.

Nam says WELL, WHY DO YOU THINK IT SEEMS SO IMPORTANT TO PEOPLE TO FIND OUT WHERE THEY'RE FROM WHEN THEY PROBABLY ARE NOT REALLY CONNECTED TO THESE PEOPLE?

Angela says WELL, I THINK PERHAPS, YOU KNOW, IT'S VERY EASY FOR ME AS SOMEONE WHO KNOWS WHERE HER ROOTS LIE TO LAUGH AT THIS, BECAUSE I DON'T HAVE ANY IDENTITY ISSUES AROUND THIS. YOU KNOW, I HAVE A VERY GOOD RELATIONSHIP WITH INDIA, I'VE LIVED THERE, I SPEAK HINDI, I'VE WRITTEN A BOOK ABOUT INDIA. SO, I DON'T FEEL THAT DISCOMFORT, BUT JUST IMAGINE IF YOU'RE SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T AS MANY AMERICAN AND CANADIAN CITIZENS ARE IMMIGRANTS AND IF IN PARTICULAR, IF YOU'RE AFRICAN AMERICAN, BLACK AMERICAN, BECAUSE OF THE HISTORY OF SLAVERY, YOU HAVE NO CONNECTION ANYMORE TO THOSE ROOTS AND DNA ANCESTRY TESTING, I THINK, FOR SOME PEOPLE OFFERS THE LAST RESORT WHEN THEY WANT TO UNDERSTAND THEIR FAMILY BACKGROUND. IT CAN FEEL LIKE THE ONLY OPTION. THE SADNESS TO ME, THE TRAGEDY IS NOT JUST THAT PEOPLE WERE SO TORN FROM THEIR ROOTS, BECAUSE OF THE HISTORY OF RACISM AND DISCRIMINATION AND SLAVERY, BUT THAT NOW THESE TESTS MASQUERADE AS A WAY OF SOMEHOW RECONNECTING THEM TO SOMETHING THAT CAN ONLY EVER BE CURSORY.

Nam says WELL, YOU MENTIONED AT THE BEGINNING ABOUT HOW YOU GREW UP IN AN AREA WHERE THERE WERE WHITE NATIONALISTS IN THAT AREA AND IN THE BOOK, YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR SON AND YOUR HOPE THAT HE DOESN'T HAVE TO FACE THE SAME STRUGGLES THAT HIS PARENTS HAVE FACED. WHAT ELSE DO YOU WANT FOR HIM IN THIS ENVIRONMENT WHERE THIS CONVERSATION SEEMS TO BE GETTING MORE OXYGEN?

Angela says I WANT, UM, THE POLITICS TO CHANGE, I WANT THE INTERNET TO BE BETTER. FOR ME, ONE OF THE BIG PROBLEMS WE FACE TODAY, AND I SEE THIS NOT JUST AS A JOURNALIST, BUT THERE IS HUGE PANIC ALSO IN THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY THAT THIS SPREAD OF MISINFORMATION AND DISINFORMATION ONLINE AND BADLY INTENTIONED ACTORS ONLINE DELIBERATELY SPREADING UM... PSEUDOSCIENCE HAS REACHED EPIC PROPORTIONS. IT IS ONE OF THE REASONS FOR INSTANCE THAT THE UK HAS LOST ITS MEASLES-FREE STATUS, BECAUSE OF THE SPREAD OF ANTI-VACCINATION MESSAGES, CLIMATE CHANGE DENIAL, AND PSEUDOSCIENTIFIC RACISM AND SEXISM. I FEEL WE NEED SOME KIND OF CHECKS AND BALANCES HERE IF WE ARE GOING TO GET GOOD QUALITY INFORMATION. THIS IS WHAT I WANT FOR MY SON. I WANT HIM TO BE ABLE TO GO ONLINE AND NOT HAVE TO READ RACIST PSEUDOSCIENCE ROUTINELY WHEN HE GOES ON SOCIAL MEDIA. I WANT HIM TO HAVE ACCESS TO GOOD QUALITY INFORMATION. I WANT THE WORLD TO HAVE GOOD QUALITY SCIENTIFIC INFORMATION AND I HOPE, MY GREAT HOPE IS THAT WE CAN FIND SOME WAY TO GIVE THAT TO PEOPLE.

The clip ends.

An animated slate reads "The Agenda in the Summer."

Nam stands in the studio alone and says AND THAT'S IT FOR TONIGHT'S AGENDA IN THE SUMMER. MISINFORMATION CAN BE A PROBLEM ACROSS THE POLITICAL SPECTRUM. TOMORROW, A DISCUSSION ABOUT ANTI-SCIENCE THINKING AND POLITICS. I'M NAM KIWANUKA. THANKS FOR WATCHING TVO AND FOR JOINING US ONLINE AT TVO.ORG. AND WE'LL SEE YOU AGAIN TOMORROW.

The announcer says THE AGENDA IN THE SUMMER WITH NAM KIWANUKA IS MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH GENEROUS PHILANTHROPIC CONTRIBUTIONS FROM VIEWERS LIKE YOU. THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING TVO'S JOURNALISM.

Music plays as the end credits roll.

Logos: Unifor Local 72M. Canadian Media Guild.

Copyright The Ontario Educational Communications Authority 2021.

Watch: The Persistence of Race Science