Statement on Police Violence, Racism, and Genetics

Department of Human Genetics, University of Chicago

The Department of Human Genetics at the University of Chicago condemns police violence against Black people, a long-standing epidemic in American society that is finally – and painfully – being broadly recognized for what it is: an institutionalized system of brutality, intimidation, harassment and control by the state against its own citizens. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sean Reed, and Tony McDade are just a few recent victims of murder by police in the context of systemic dehumanization, oppression, and discrimination that has lasted for centuries. We add our names to the growing chorus of voices saying, “Enough.”

We also support and defend the right of all who engage in nonviolent protest and civil disobedience to dismantle this entrenched and repugnant system. There can be no justification for deploying police and military violence against protesters who insistently defend the ideals of justice in our society.

We are painfully aware that genetic science has, for more than a century, played a central role in producing the ideology that supports systemic racism. By providing a “scientific” justification for the idea that some groups of people are fundamentally different or intrinsically superior to others, genetics and geneticists have rationalized and legitimated white supremacy. In some cases, these efforts have been conscious and deliberate; in others, geneticists have played an unwitting role in the perpetuation of racism. We understand that we cannot simply disavow this history, because many of our field’s fundamental concepts and approaches were established for the purpose of advancing eugenics, under the assumption of extensive racial differences within a social hierarchy. As scientists, we commit to the work of identifying how that history influences the research and teaching that we do today, including study design, scientific focus, and the structure of basic concepts like heredity, adaptation, genetic disorders, and genetic variation within and between populations. We seek to weed out the remnants of systemic racism from our field, so that we can pursue genetics research in ways that further our values of diversity, dignity, equity, and justice.

We recognize that police violence is just one symptom of racism that pervades every level of society, including academic institutions. We will redouble our efforts to increase diversity and to identify and eliminate any individual, institutional, and structural racism within our department.  We commit ourselves, as geneticists and human beings, to the effort to achieve justice and self-understanding in our society.

A list of specific actions will follow shortly and will be posted on the department’s website.