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Blood Groups and the Reform of Race Science in the 1950s

Blood Groups and the Reform of Race Science in the 1950s

(p.175) Nine Blood Groups and the Reform of Race Science in the 1950s
Blood Relations
Jenny Bangham
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 9 turns to the aesthetics and rhetoric of genetics and blood groups as they were used in the early 1950s by UNESCO (a specialized agency of the UN) and by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). Both organizations used science and scientists in public efforts to mitigate racial tensions. Most famously, UNESCO launched a campaign to combat racial prejudice using “the means and methods of education, science and culture.” This chapter focuses on one output of that campaign—a lavishly illustrated picture book entitled What Is Race? Evidence from Scientists (1952)—to explore how UNESCO projected genetics as uniquely positioned to reveal fundamental insights into human origins and diversity. Specifically, this book—and a BBC program based on it, called "Race and Colour"—argued that blood group genetics proved a common humanity. They proclaimed that no race was superior to any other, even while asserting that “race” was biologically meaningful. Both organizations used blood groups as political tools to project a specific notion of antiracism. They constructed blood group genetics as racial but not racist; as social but not political. Blood groups, and by extension, genetics, projected a new race science that UNESCO regarded as fit for the postwar era.

Keywords:   UNESCO, BBC, What Is Race? Evidence from Scientists, Race and Color, race science, antiracism, blood groups, rhetoric, aesthetics

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