Dorothy Roberts reviews Postcolonial Melancholia by Paul Gilroy, in The Boston Review:
It was not so long ago that the biological meaning of race seemed to be on its way out: the Human Genome Project discredited the genetic basis of racial groupings just as social scientists were declaring that race is a social construction. Apparently, reports of the demise of race as a scientific concept were premature. In June 2005, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first race-specific pharmaceutical, BiDil, to treat heart failure in African-Americans. The drug is just one example of a burgeoning scientific and commercial interest in genetic racial differences. Some scientists have even claimed that clusters of genetic similarity correspond to antiquated racial classifications.
The renewed acceptance of inherent racial differences has gone hand in hand with intensified state surveillance of inner-city communities: racial profiling, mass incarceration, welfare restructuring, and the removal of children from families into foster care. As its lineage foreshadows, the biological definition of race provides a ready rationale for this disenfranchisement of black citizens and complements colorblind policies based on the claim that racism is no longer the cause of social inequality.
Given this alarming convergence, black intellectuals today face a critical question: how can we fight systemic racism without relying on the idea that biology divides human beings into races?
Paul Gilroy’s Postcolonial Melancholia is a deeply engaging exploration of this question.