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Friday, 29 June 2018 15:42

Race, Genetics, and Spirituality 

Written by Bob Short
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Bob Short – Executive Coordinator

The present-day consensus among biological and social scientists is that race is a social construct, not a biological (genetic) one. It is estimated that as a species, we humans share 99.9% of our DNA with each other. The few differences that do exist reflect variances in environments and external factors, not genetics.

We might assume that the advances in human genetics and the evidence of such trifling differences (0.1%) between all people would put an end to racist arguments. On the contrary, genetics has been used to further racist and ethnocentric views and, for those so inclined, offer justification for discriminations and atrocities. As we know more than ever in these times, for many in power, facts and solid evidence are of little consequence when it comes to behavior and policy. What is it about race (primary eye and skin color and height) that has so very deeply tarnished our history and our relationships with each other?

Brother Pacificus, my English teacher in sophomore year, once posed the following question to the class: “Would you take a bath in the same water that a person of color has just used for his or her bath?” As young teenagers, the entire class was confounded by the question, to say the least. I can’t imagine that any of us would have been all that excited about a second go in anybody’s bath water. Looking back, I now have to wonder if Brother Pacificus was trying to tell us that there is at least a residue of racism in all of us.

As Maryknoll Affiliates we strive to envision what God’s justice could and should look like in our global world. From that prophetic perspective, we set out each day to work in ways big and small towards dismantling systems of oppression—structures, institutions and human realities—that promote racism and other forms of hatred that are so contrary to who we say we are. Some days that can feel overwhelming.

We return again to the scientists’ statement that humans share 99.9% of DNA with each other. That strikes me as a deeply spiritual, even mystical revelation. If we truly understood that we, all humans, are so deeply connected, it would seem unimaginable that we could be anything but kind and accepting of each other. There is a deep hunger in each of us for connection as kindred souls—honoring our differences and celebrating our oneness. At the same time, history tells us that there is a great deal to overcome, including in ourselves, to realize this actuality. I think we’d all say that the struggle is worth it and the alternative devastating…such as a policy that separates children from their mothers and fathers.

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