Why race is not a scientific category

Ingenious: Dalton Conley

The Princeton sociologist explains why race is not a scientific category

When Dalton Conley, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, talks about race, his authority is based on more than academic research. Every day he straddled the lines of race in the New York City housing project where he grew up in 1970s, a white kid, son of bohemian artists. The apartment complex, Masaryk Towers, then and now stands in a largely Puerto Rican and African-American neighborhood on the Lower East Side. As Conley explained when he stopped by the Nautilus office last week for an interview, his childhood was like a social science experiment. “Even when you flip the script and you are the minority, you see the stark advantages of whiteness and the divisions of social and cultural capital,” he said.

Traversing the flagrantly unequal means of living in Manhattan shaped the path of Conley’s career. “I made a daily journey from my home neighborhood to the wealthier area in New York’s Greenwich Village, where we were lying about our address so I could go to school,” he said. “I think that’s what really made me aware of socioeconomic disparities and made me even as a child start to realize the kind of level of inequality and lack of social mobility and lack of equal opportunity we have in the United States.”

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