How historical racism in science continues to shape the Black experience

Science is meant to be objective. In order to be trusted, it is to be free of any bias or prejudice and simply rely on experimentation, observation and conclusions.

However, that has not been the case when it comes to race. And centuries of scientific racism have been hard to shake — even to this day, where the effects are still being seen and felt.

Roberta Timothy, a scientist and researcher at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said that racism can be seen in the response to the current pandemic.

“Black people are disproportionately being impacted by COVID-19,” said Timothy, who is researching the Black experience during the pandemic. “They’re not being prioritized as a population to be supported, to be cared for, et cetera. And that comes from a history of anti-Black racism and a history of looking at how science is racist.”

Racism has been perpetuated under the guise of science going back centuries, notably by 18th-century Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, the godfather of taxonomy, and Samuel George Morton, a 19th-century American doctor and anatomy professor who documented the supposed differences between Indigenous people and Europeans by looking at their skulls.

Linnaeus’s classification system of human beings reached a pinnacle with the 10th edition of his Systema Naturae, published in 1758, in which he put humans into several categories, including skin colour, behaviour and clothing.

The “Africanus” species, he said, was “lazy, sly, sluggish and neglectful,” and the women had “elongated labia” with “breasts lactating profusely.”

In 1839, Morton published a book entitled Crania Americana, or A Comparative View of the Skulls of Various Aboriginal Nations of North and South America. The basic summary of his book is that Caucasians had the biggest brains, Indigenous peoples were in the middle and “negros” had the smallest, and that this directly corresponded with their respective intellectual capacity…

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