Systemic Racism, Systemic Sexism, And The Embryological Enterprise

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Developmental Biology


The core of systemic racism and sexism is not merely an emphasis about human differences and thinking that another group of people is inferior to one’s own. Rather, the institutional nature of racism or sexism establishes a permanent group hierarchy that is believed to reflect the laws of nature or the decrees of God. It thus becomes the norm of a culture to think and behave according to these rules. Notions of hierarchy became solidified into the Great Chain of Being during the Middle Ages, as did views concerning hereditary racial and gender superiority. During the Enlightenment, such classifications became established by philosophy and science. Starting in the 1800s, embryology and anthropology were used to provide evidence for the unilinear progression of species and races. The first evolutionary schemes were not “branching trees.” In these schemes, women and non-white races were seen as embryonic or juvenile forms of the adult white male, and they were often depicted as intermediaries between the fully human and the animals. Such linear schemes of evolution remain part of popular culture and even some science, promoting the racism and sexism associated with them.


Racism, Sexism, Great chain of being, History, Embryology

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