On the Job

DNA, Racism, and Weight Bias

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Friday revoked all of the honorary titles of James Watson, a scientist who won the Nobel Prize in 1962 for describing the structure of DNA. Why? Because in a new PBS documentary, he restated abhorrent views on ethnicity and genetics. Racism can lead people to shun you. Weight bias . . . not so much.

“Not Going to Hire Fat People”

Watson’s racist views are what got him shunned by his laboratory. His sexism is notorious. But he has also expressed plenty of bias about weight. “Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you’re not going to hire them,” he told students at Berkeley. “Fat people” are happier than thin people, he said. So thin people are more ambitious. He had slides of sad-faced models to make his point.

Legal Discrimination

Here’s the thing. People seem to broadly understand it’s offensive to assert that African intelligence is inferior. Blatant sexism will win you no friends. But to deny people employment because of their size is perfectly legal in every state except Michigan. And it happens routinely.

In a recent survey of hiring professionals, 85 percent said they would not even consider hiring a heavier woman. One in five labeled her as “lazy” and “unprofessional,” based solely on her size.

For better or worse, we mostly inherit our size. But every individual deserves consideration based on their own merit. Not physical characteristics. Racism, sexism, and sizeism belong in the dustbin of history. It can’t happen soon enough.

Click here to read more from the Washington Post.

On the Job, photograph © Justin Norman / flickr

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January 15, 2019

One Response to “DNA, Racism, and Weight Bias”

  1. January 15, 2019 at 5:27 pm, Michael said:

    Thank you Ted for calling this out. More power to you.

    The paper by Charlesworth you mentioned recently showed weight bias to be a worse problem than all the others. The explanation is straight forward. People blessed by not being predisposed with a weight problem have the n=1 experience that long term weight control isn’t too hard. Naturally heavy people have the n=1 experience that weight loss is well achievable and that their long term failure is simply due to personal weakness.The diet/exercise industries perpetuate and capitalize on this misunderstanding.

    The solution is for people who understand the physiology of weight control to take every opportunity to stand up and speak up for the innocent people who are predisposed to respond negatively to our obesogenic environment. The message is twofold. The affected need access to effective care and the obesogenic environment needs change. Overcoming bias is long, hard and uphill road. But achievable.