Like scientists of past generations, a University of Pennsylvania law professor argues that contemporary researchers continue to use race in their explanations of (racial) inequality.
Dorothy Roberts, who’s also a professor of sociology, told those assembled at a Cornell University talk this past week that there needs to be “an intersection between the biological and social sciences” and that researchers now “must root their studies in realized experiences.”
According to The Cornell Daily Sun, Roberts said “If you really wanna help black children in Philadelphia get a better education … don’t do research on the gray matter of their brains. Do you really think that’s gonna help these children?”
Roberts added that policymakers and “extremists” have “seized” on the notion that there are “biologically-explained differences that underlie social problems” — like, for instance, the theory “that poverty reduces cognitive function in the brains of poor, black children.”
Seemingly fueled by empirical facts, systematically suppressive policies then prevail, Roberts said.
“Scientists invented race as an explanation for social inequality,” she said. Later, she reaffirmed this and said “there is a whole system designed to keep black children from succeeding, again and again.”
Roberts offered her insight to the overarching question. “What I’ve realized is it’s not so much about … thinking black children are inferior,” she said, “It’s about not wanting to confront white privilege and power.”
In this way, solutions proposed by researchers and policymakers aim toward those affected by the system — often “interven[ing] in the behavior of … victims” or even blaming them on a biological basis, Roberts said.
This approach neglects a reform of the system itself, she said.
“The black baby in the womb is being harmed by structural racism … not his black mother’s ‘bad behavior’ or genes,” Roberts said.