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Saturday Storytime: Zero Bar

“If only,” we say. If only this one thing were different, then everything would be changed. All our problems would be solved. But that assumes that all our problems are simple things with simple causes. As this story by Tom Greene demonstrates, that isn’t always the case. Even if we avoid them, the problems don’t simply go away.

It’s because of the new school that I find out what’s been done to me. Because of sophomore biology class where we actually do things, instead of reading silently at our desks and answering the questions at the end of the chapter.

We’re studying genetic inheritance, drawing Punnett Squares of our hair and eye color for two generations back. My father’s grandparents both had brown eyes and hair. My mother’s grandparents both had brown eyes and hair. So that means that I should have. . .

I raise my hand. “Mr. Kreiger? Am I doing this right?”

He comes over and looks at my datafly. “Hmm, that’s all correct. Human eye and hair color is actually more complicated than Mendel’s peas—” He stops suddenly. I get the feeling he’s realizing something. Connecting the dots.

His eyes shift away from me. “Recessive genes can sometimes lie dormant for generations.”

My father picks me up after school and I tell him what happened. He doesn’t look at me until I get to the end and say, “So I should have brown hair and brown eyes, right?”

“Yes,” he says, “And brown skin. You have the genes for those. And from your mother’s Spanish ancestors you also have genes for green eyes, fair hair and white skin, which are actually expressed.”

“Huh?”

“We were wondering when to tell you. It had just been approved by the FDA when you were—you know, before you were born.”

“What had been approved?”

“A way to swap—or not actually to swap out genes—they can’t do that yet. But a way to control which genes are expressed by inserting an extra piece of DNA. A ‘plasmid’.” He glances at me. “So you would have brown hair and eyes, and darker skin. But those genes were switched off.” He looks back at the road. I take a moment to figure out what to say.

“You messed with my genes? To make me look white?”

“You gotta understand, Zoe. As a parent, you want your child to have every possible advantage.”

“What advantage?”

“Demographics don’t lie. Race and poverty are still correlated for Latinos almost as strongly as for African Americans. So we do everything we can. Good nutrition. A safe neighborhood. Strong schools. So when we had the chance to do this—you understand, right?”

Keep reading.

Comments

  1. Pen says

    And from your mother’s Spanish ancestors you also have genes for green eyes, fair hair and white skin, which are actually expressed.

    That would be quite unusual for Spain where virtually everyone is dark haired, brown eyed and olive skinned (and still not seen as racially different from more northerly Europeans).

    “You gotta understand, Zoe. As a parent, you want your child to have every possible advantage.”

    I find the premise of parents artificially mangling their children’s appearances, as if they were ashamed of them and of themselves, and considering it an advantage, so implausible. Wouldn’t each parent at least have married the other because they considered him/her drop dead gorgeous and therefore want the children to look like that? And I’m not speaking from a position of total naivety here. Our family has made more multi-racial marriages than not in my generation, but any concern for our children is more likely to express itself in anti-racist militancy of various kinds, which I’m pretty sure is the general trend. Is America tired of fighting, or what? I just don’t understand what Tom Greene was thinking when he wrote this story.

  2. says

    I don’t find it implausible at all.

    In fact, I just finished a novel with much the same themes; and I’m not even biracial. Their choices (or hopes, in the case of my story) just seemed to flow logically from the characters’ situations.

    Bleak as this particular story looks in many ways (and bleak as I feel over the incredible bigotry US culture in general and the atheist movement in particular seems to be going out of its way to display) I did like the optimism implied in the daughter’s choice: things had, presumably, improved to the point that she felt less constrained by necessity than her parents.

    Progress, right?

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