Seminar 7

In this seminar, we’ll look at the chapter on the Epigenome from Shannon Sullivan’s book The Physiology of Sexist and Racist Oppression. I have emailed a copy to you all, and it is also available in the dropbox.

Here are some questions to think about. There are quite a few here, but just do as much as you can.

  1. What kinds of things does Sullivan suggest can be passed down through generations, so that we can talk about them as ‘inherited’? Why might this be somewhat surprising?
  2. Explain the notions of ‘racial disparities in wealth’ and ‘racial disparities in health’.
  3. What is the shift from racial disparities to racist disparities?
  4. What is Sullivan asking when she says, ‘But how exactly should we understand the relationship between biological genes and social environments? More specifically, how can the effects of racism be simultaneously social and biological such that they can get “under the skin” and into the bloodstreams of people of color? And how are these physiological effects sometimes inherited by subsequent generations, getting “under the skin” too?
  5. Sullivan identifies three different views on the relationship between the biological and the social in her discussion of pre-term birth rates in African-American women. Give short summaries of each. (We can label these: (1) search for the premature birth gene; (2) epigenetics; and (3) weathering.)
  6. How can we know that the higher rates of premature birth in African-American women is not due to their carrying a preterm gene?
  7. What is epigenetics?
  8. Explain the point Sullivan makes about methylation and DNA regulation.
  9. How are epigenetic processes inherited by future generations?
  10. Sullivan offers an aside about biases of scientists interested in epigenetics. What is her point here? Why might epigenetics be politically dangerous as a field of study?
  11. What solution does she offer?
  12. What point does she make with the Swedish case study?
  13. Explain the distinction she draws between merely physical symptoms, and those that are psychosomatic.
  14. How might these ideas be useful in thinking about Fanon’s work?

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