The Dialectics of Racial Genetics

By Sundquist, Christian B. | Albany Law Review, Spring 2013 | Go to article overview

The Dialectics of Racial Genetics


Sundquist, Christian B., Albany Law Review


INTRODUCTION

The devices of dialectic and narrative have long been used by scholars to analyze jurisprudence and disrupt traditional legal discourse. Henry M. Hart was one of the first legal scholars to utilize the dialectical method in his classic article, The Power of Congress to Limit the Jurisdiction of Federal Courts: An Exercise in Dialectic. (1) Since Hart's excursion into dialectical writing, a number of other scholars have used the device to analyze pressing legal issues. (2) The critical theory movement has also demonstrated the power of narrative writing in challenging and disrupting dominant legal norms as they relate to various forms of social inequality. (3) In particular, the late Derrick Bell influenced the writing of scores of critical scholars with his seminal book, Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism. (4) I call upon the instruments of dialectic and narrative in this article to analyze an extremely troubling scientific and judicial phenomenon: the re-emergence of biological theories of race in the twenty-first century. The following discussion takes place between a fictionalized representation of a childhood friend and me.

A DIALOGUE ON RACE AND GENETICS

My wife, daughter, and I recently decided to spend the holiday season with my mother and siblings at the family home on the South Side of Chicago. Upon arrival to "Nana's" house, I realized that I would always regard Chicago as "home"--despite having lived on the East Coast for the last sixteen years. And yet whenever I visit my childhood home, I often experience an odd muddle of feelings--from love and excitement at reuniting with family and old friends to anguish and despondency over the unrelenting poverty and crime that has come to define my community. A thoroughly African-American community due to past and current segregative practices, the Woodlawn-Roseland neighborhood that I grew up in has long been plagued with high rates of crime, poverty, and unemployment. (5) And while I spent long stretches of my childhood on "welfare" and fleeing gang violence, I had always remained ardently hopeful for the future of my community. Indeed, my commitment to social justice was strongly shaped by my experiences growing up in the "wild, wild, 100s," and fed my personal and scholarly interests in overcoming oppression through action and critical theory.

As we drove through my old neighborhood, any lingering feelings of Obama-esque hope for change were tempered by the too familiar signs of crushing poverty: burned out buildings, hopeless drug addicts, boarded-up homes, and gang-controlled corner blocks. Far from experiencing a revival, my Woodlawn-Roseland neighborhood has suffered a re-entrenchment of race-based poverty over the last two decades. (6) I steeled myself as we approached the family house, reminding myself that my mother's new next door neighbor was a high-ranking leader of the Gangster Disciples "Folks" gang. (7) I steeled myself at the memory of my youngest sister having to shield her infant son (my nephew) with her body during a fatal shooting at the nearby Ada Park a couple of years prior. (8) I steeled myself as I considered the safety of my wife and infant daughter, both snoozing quietly in the backseat of the rental car.

We arrived in front of the house, and my fitful thoughts were soon displaced by the expectant joy of seeing family. As I finished unhooking my infant daughter from her car seat, I heard a familiar voice behind me: "What's up, brother? Where you been?" I awkwardly whirled around--any street-sense instincts having long been forgotten--and came face-to-face with a childhood friend. "Farrow Powell! Is that you? I haven't seen you since we were kids!" I responded in shock. Although Farrow and I had been best friends for a while growing up, I had not seen him for over twenty years.

"Yeah, it's me, brother," replied Farrow. "I haven't seen you or your family in a minute. …

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