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White supremacy embedded in geology, ‘pale-ontology’: professor

ANALYSIS: Scholar’s new book accuses scientists of creating ‘geotrauma’

A British professor of “inhuman geography” links white supremacy to geology and paleontology – or “pale-ontology,” as she refers to it – in a new book published by Duke University Press.

The author of “Geologic life,” Kathryn Yusoff is a professor at Queen Mary University of London, according to her bio. Her work focuses on “historical, geophilosophical and black feminist methods to speak to issues of environmental change.”

In the book, Yusoff makes the argument that “forms of imperial geology embedded in Western and Enlightenment” have created “anti-Black, anti-Indigenous, and anti-Brown environmental and racial injustices,” according to the publisher’s description.

Yusoff writes in the introduction that the goal of her book is “to understand geology (in its broadest sense) as a tool of raciality that has historically shaped the grounds of struggle and continues to shape material relations of racism into the future.”

She believes geology began as a “colonial practice that created normative orders of materiality and destroyed worlds.”

One passage of her introduction seems to suggest paleontology, the study of prehistoric life through fossils and other means, is partially to blame for racism.

“… paleontology (pale-ontology) named and raced persons as geologic subjects through the category of the ‘inhuman,’” she writes.

Yusoff has not responded to two emails from The College Fix asking why she wrote “pale-ontology” that way and if she believes the term suggests pale skin and/or whiteness.

Another passage accuses scientists of creating “geotrauma” by “eras[ing] geologies that belonged to other imaginations of earth.”

Yusoff writes: “In the ledger of geologic time there are missing earths. Earths that appear only as a negative inscription, underground, beneath and behind the geographical imagination of colonial earth and its discourses of purposeful extraction. Indigenous earths. Black earths. Brown earths.”

This “colonial earth” has been created through “white geology,” and is a “historical regime of material power that used geologic minerals, metals, and fuels, combined with the epistemic violence of the category of the inhuman to shape regimes of value and forms of subjective life,” according to her book.

Her writing suggests even rocks have been corrupted in white supremacists’ schemes.

“To tell a story of rocks is to account for a eugenic materialism in which white supremacy made surfaces built on racialized undergrounds across multiple—political, geophysical, subjective—states,” Yusoff writes.

She also ties gold, iron, and other metals to racism, arguing that “Africans and Africa were constructed as the abundance necessary for extraction.” And their “muscle and strength were fetishized as persons were degraded,” she writes.

The professor’s arguments linking oppression with the hard sciences are not entirely unique.

A 2023 survey of American students majoring in geosciences expressed concerns about courses being “too rock heavy,” and faculty not being sufficiently diverse, The Fix reported.

Meanwhile, a Williams College biology professor spoke out about students increasingly displaying “ideological intolerance in the science classroom.”

One example she gave was “a marked increase in students asking for ‘trigger-warnings’ for ‘offensive content’ such as … the use of the word ‘dyke’ in geology, not as slur on lesbians, but as a technical term (‘dyke’ is a layer of rock cutting into another layer),” The Fix reported in 2022.

MORE: Geologist field camps criticized as reliving Manifest Destiny, conquest

IMAGE: Queen Mary University, Duke University Press

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.