WHILE IT WAS ONCE COMMONSENSICAL that the proper sensibility to counter racial discrimination was an emphasis on human universality and colorblindness, in the late twentieth century a shift occurred: the proper corrective to racial discrimination became racial consciousness, a disposition which requires the recognition of difference. As the field of genomics was born at the cusp of this major shift in larger social worldviews, it also became a field that most dramatically reflected it, and which granted this shift the aura of scientific legitimacy. From the late 1990s to the early 2000s, scientific elites steered genomics toward intensive investigation into race. They did so in responding to political pressures, seeking new funding opportunities, managing the field’s image, and dealing with a burgeoning public interest in race. If paying too much attention to race had once been a mark of racism, now ignoring racial difference was heralded as a dangerous perpetuation of racial inequality. Genomic scientists adapted to meet novel demands for public accountability as notions of racism shifted under their feet.
This shift occurred within a broader civic move to include racial minorities and acknowledge minority status. As the political sphere became rife with racepositive measures, scientists moved from population-blind sampling—a protocol in which anybody’s DNA was adequate material—to population-conscious, race-focused sampling. From a race-neutral to an inclusionary, prodiversity protocol, genomics has advanced its science in step with dominant American political positions.