Shelf Help: 'The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome'

Can genetic tests restore lost legacies?
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Can genetic tests restore lost legacies?
The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome. (Photo: Beacon Press)

The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome. (Photo: Beacon Press)

The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome
Alondra Nelson
Beacon Press

Historically, the relationship between gene science and racial justice has been uneasy at best. Too often, geneticists—or pundits brandishing their findings—have propagated bogus theories of racial superiority. And yet, in the current millennium, black Americans have embraced genetic testing with enthusiasm. The slave trade ripped Africans from their home tribes; once in America, black families were split apart as members were bought and sold—transactions for which there is often no record, the paperwork having been destroyed. Alondra Nelson, a Columbia University sociologist, explores black Americans’ hopes that genetic tests might restore lost legacies. Some of her subjects have used DNA as evidence in reparations trials; most are simply looking to restore something of their stolen pasts. Nelson is sympathetic but skeptical throughout: Genes, she insists, can only tell us so much, especially on a subject where “evidence may be no match for ideology.”

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