Marginalized communities have long contend with biomedical victim-blaming, maybe epigenetic can help?
Epigenetics in my opinion, is the scientific account of Kimberle Crenshaw’s social science theory of intersectionality. Epigenetics is the study of how elements in our environment impact our bodies molecular makeup. The study seeks to qualify and quantify the impacts of sustained societal ills such as racism, violence, poverty, drugs and others on our bodies. I believe it can be a tool for contending with biomedical victim-blaming because it starts the process of creating vocabulary to address societal ills. An example is the Caronavirus pandemic.
Some medical professionals describe COVID-19 as the ‘great regulator’ in that people from all ethnic backgrounds and geography were dying as a result of the virus. This created a narrative that provided a superficial global mantra ‘we’re all in this together’. This race blind, colour blind unification effort was challenged on inception from leaders within the BIPOC Community. As the economy shut down, the term “essential workers” took centre stage with images of nurses, doctors, paramedics, nurses and other medical professionals as the new superheroes.
This image however, was not true in representation because the reality is, the majority of essential workers are predominantly of the BIPOC community and consisted of those who worked in a crosscut of sectors all of which are front line and essential. Most of these jobs are not unionized, don’t have adequate health insurance, or sick days allowances and many are severely underpaid.
Grocery store clerks, truck drivers, taxi drivers, janitors, security, gas station attendants are examples of jobs that are essential for the rudimentary function of our society. At this moment we start to see how race and health are intertwined and how vectors of identities such as class, gender, ethnicity and geography are equally at play during this pandemic.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, Ebro Daren, and others have spoken about how this virus highlights the embodiment of structural racism within our society, including institutions of health and law. Collectively- these leaders argue that the true impact of COVID-19 is the realization that our society is dying from deep rooted racism.
However the BIPOC community is not a monolith, challenging these norms is a dramatic fight against white fragility, not only for White people but also to BIPOC members who are afraid to contest whiteness in fear of losing employment, housing, social status or because they see being white as the only ticket out of poverty. While many arguments can be made that these characteristics are signs and evidence of trauma, it is not realized as such in common discourse.
Epigenetic isn’t going to eradicate racism, it’s primary contribution is the scientific interpretation of intersectionality and it’s function is to discredit the racists idea of genetic differences amongst humans.