“Politically Neutral” Methods and “Backing Into” Race

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Tackling a science that believes it is objective and politically neutral because it also believes it is colour-blind is extremely difficult. How might colour- blindness work in settings where, because it is assumed to be present, race is by definition absent, or at least of lesser importance? Here I found Duster’s rendition of the two strategies used within science to navigate with race while trying to navigate around race not only intriguing, but also providing an entre into how a logic of colour-blindness works in science. In the first strategy, the ‘back into’ strategy, race is assumed to be absent until the researcher ‘finds’ it by happenstance. In Duster’s words:

A significant wing of the Biological Sciences has found an unusual and effective way around the problem of confronting the matter of ‘race as a biological category’. The strategy is to NOT deal with race in a full-scale case-control design, but to ‘back into’ a clinical study that was never designed to test whether race plays any role, only to discover ex post facto that the race of the clinical population, however defined, played a role in drug efficacy. (Duster 2015: 12)

How convenient – not setting out to ‘find’ race, it turns out that race was there all along in the ways that racial populations responded to drugs. With the ‘back into’ strategy, the researcher can claim the high moral ground that he or she has clean hands regarding racism because the study was ostensibly colour- blind.

From Patricia Hill Collins (2015), “Science, critical race theory and colour-blindness,” British Journal of Sociology, 66:1, 48.

Citing Troy Duster (2015),“A Post-genomic Surprise: The Molecular Reinscription of Race in Science, Law and Medicine,” British Journal of Sociology, 66:1, 1–27.
“Politically Neutral” Methods and “Backing Into” Race