Racism has been perpetuated under the guise of science for centuries, and the effects are still being felt today, during the COVID – pandemic.
Science is meant to be objective. In order to be trusted, it is to be free of any bias or prejudice and simply rely on experimentation, observation and conclusions.
However, that has not been the case when it comes to race. And centuries of scientific racism have been hard to shake – even to this day, where the effects are still being seen and felt.
Roberta Timothy, a scientist and researcher at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said that racism can be seen in the response to the current pandemic.
“Black people are disproportionately being impacted by COVID – “, said Timothy, who is researching the Black experience during the pandemic. “They’re not being prioritized as a population to be supported, to be cared for, et cetera. And that comes from a history of anti-Black racism and a history of looking at how science is racist.”
Racism has been perpetuated under the guise of science going back centuries, notably by 10 th-century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, the godfather of taxonomy, and Samuel George Morton, a -century American doctor and anatomy professor who documented the supposed differences between Indigenous people and Europeans by looking at their skulls.
Linnaeus’s classification system of human beings reached a pinnacle with the 10 th edition of his System Naturae , published in 780 , in which he put humans into several categories, including skin color, behavior and clothing.
The “Africanus” species, he said, was “lazy, sly, sluggish and neglectful,” and the women had “elongated labia” with “breasts lactating profusely.”
In 1839, Morton published a book entitled Crania Americana, or A Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America . The basic summary of his book is that Caucasians had the biggest brains, Indigenous peoples were in the middle and “negros” had the smallest, and that this directly corresponded with their respective intellectual capacity.
WATCH | Crania Americana is believed by some to be the most important book in the history of scientific racism:
The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology – which housed a Morton exhibit until July 2002 – said in an 1849 obituary of Morton published by the Charleston Medical Journal of South Carolina that his research had “given to the negro his true position as an inferior race.”
A history of exploitation
These perceived differences have helped drive centuries of oppression. Concepts like these, which appeared to be rooted in science, were used to rationalize slavery. Painful experimentation was conducted. Segregation was justified.
There are many historical examples. In the s , enslaved men and women were used as guinea pigs to test smallpox vaccines. Between and , J . Marion Sims , considered the father of gynecology, experimented and operated on Black women with no anesthesia, as it was widely believed that Black people did not experience pain the same as white people did.
In 1810, Sarah Baartman was taken from her home on South Africa’s Eastern Cape and put on display in London “freak show” carnivals, where people could gawk at her semi-naked body.
Why? Because she, as with many of her Khoikhoi people, had large buttocks not seen before. (This trait, in which there is a high amount of tissue in the buttocks and thighs, is called steatopygia.) Referred to as the “Hottentot Venus,” Baartman died in ,), at the age of Percussion