Being Black in Science
Black. Lives. Matter.
George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Michael Brown. Eric Garner.
An unending macabre list of names, stretching back years, decades, centuries. They are victims of terrorism, injustice heaped upon injustice weaving deep threads of unimaginable pain in the fabric of societies all over the world.
Racism permeates all aspects of society from entertainment to education to economic opportunity to just being. It seems that to some, just being alive and black is anathema, worthy of death. Thus, it is callow and viciously ignorant to think that the scientific community is immune from its barbarous effects.
From Darwin endorsing racist claims of white superiority, to the ridiculous pseudoscience of Blumenbach and Morton, to the history of colonialism displayed without shame in collections in natural history museums all over the world. Issues of white supremacy and racial injustice sadly are as prevalent in science as they are in every other aspect of society.
Black people and people of colour experience broader societal barriers to gain access to graduate programs and early research experience, and face life threatening situations just engaging in research outside in nature. We face daily dangers in outdoor spaces, subjected to unwarranted suspicion and violence. We have to go out of our way to show that we are not a threat or make sure we have a white person with us to vouch for our presence. The realities of being a black scientist in nature can be scary.
When we discuss climate justice, we must also talk about racial justice. They are profoundly connected and intertwined. We have seen time and time again how these global crises disproportionately impact black and Indigenous communities and yet we do not provide them with sufficient resources to combat the problem.
For non-black people, have an honest look at your discomfort, your learned anti-blackness. When you jump to the defense of a police officer murdering an innocent black man or yell “All lives matter” or say “Don’t riot” instead of “Stop murdering,” take a moment to check your privilege and unpack why those are your first thoughts.
When, throughout your life, you are fed a false narrative which puts you at the apex and is then reinforced through a created reality where black people are diminished and degraded and are then victimized for being degraded and diminished, it could be difficult to discern the true nature of the society you live in. It is incumbent on you however, to help to advance the scientific method, to make the effort, to strive for a better world, a more just world for both our sake and the sake of the next generation.
Take some time to listen and learn. Positive and incredible efforts sparked by the racist incident in Central Park started movements like #BlackBirdersWeek #BlackInNature and #BlackAFinNature. These movements create the necessary space for the well-needed visibility of Black people in nature. This is what #SciComm is supposed to look like.