Prophets and Profits of Racial Science

Ruha Benjamin


In this response to Terence Keel and John Hartigan’s debate over the social construction of race, I aim to push the discussion beyond the terrain of epistemology and ideology to examine the contested value of racial science in a broader political economy. I build upon Keel’s concern that even science motivated by progressive aims may reproduce racist thinking and Hartigan’s proposition that a critique of racial science cannot rest on the beliefs and intentions of scientists. In examining the value of racial-ethnic classifications in pharmacogenomics and precision medicine, I propose that analysts should attend to the relationship between prophets of racial science (those who produce forecasts about inherent group differences) and profits of racial science (the material-semiotic benefits of such forecasts). Throughout, I draw upon the idiom of speculation—as a narrative, predictive, and financial practice—to explain how the fiction of race is made factual, again and again. 

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