Today, many of us #ShutDownSTEM (https://www.shutdownstem.com).
Instead, the assignment to us was to spend the day learning and discussing ways to be anti-racist. Because, in the words of Ibram X. Kendi, if your actions and words and policies are not anti-racist, then they are racist. You can hear Dr. Kendi discuss this online or read his best-selling book with the appropriate title How to Be an Anti-Racist.
There should be no room in STEM for racism. First, it’s socially unjust. Second, our country must be able to take advantage of its entire talent pool. Third, it’s been shown many times in many settings that a diverse group of people working on a problem results in greater creativity and more innovative solutions.
Yet the so-called STEM pipeline leaks like a sieve when viewed through the lens of race. As I’ve stated before in my writings and seminars on gender and STEM, the idea that people leaking out of the STEM pipeline have some problem is a fundamentally flawed concept. It’s the pipeline itself that is the problem. And when it comes to race, it’s largely the white STEM pipeline that is the problem. We have met the enemy to equity, and it is us because we, collectively, are the STEM pipeline.
We, the white practitioners of STEM, must be better. We, the white scientists, must must look at ourselves and at each other, and we must do better. It is not up to Black STEM members of our community to fix this problem. We white people must fix ourselves.
We white people must recognize that there is no neutral ground. In the words of Robin DiAngelo:
Nice, white people who really aren’t doing anything other than being nice people are racist. We are complicit with that system. There is no neutral place.
We white people must appreciate that good intentions are not enough. If our actions or words are harmful to our Black colleagues, they are racist. What matters is impact, not intent.
We white people must educate ourselves using the many resources out there to understand our white privilege and how it has shaped our lives and our accomplishments. It is especially important for us to learn from works written by people of color. Some good starts include the video of Dr. Kendi’s work mentioned above, the Ava DuVernay movie 13th (free on YouTube); the movie Just Mercy about Bryan Stevenson’s work, which is streaming for free this month; and the True Justice HBO documentary, also free on the Equal Justice Initiative website.
We white people in STEM must question our assumptions about our Black colleagues and students. A 2018 article asks the question: What are the assumptions and observations that might be holding us back or might provide insights into how we can better understand the challenge? In examining this question, this article examines many of the hypotheses that are frequently given for the under-representation of #BlackInSTEM.
As scientists, we must, of course, bring our usual skepticism, but we must do so in a way that fully recognizes that we are not, in fact, objective. On the contrary, we humans favor studies that confirm our current beliefs, a phenomenon called confirmation bias. Indeed, when hypotheses and data on diversity are discussed within this context, HHMI Gilliam program mentor development workshops found a more self-reflective view of the race dynamics in science.
Participants wondered whether subtle, unintentional differences in guidance or in assignment of projects might follow from assumptions, conscious or not, on the capabilities of (minority) trainees.
My fellow white people, say hello to our old friend Implicit Bias.
Newsflash that should not be so: we are all biased.
This means that we white people in STEM must first and foremost check our biases.
It’s not enough to just do this once in your career. A simple way to check yourself is by taking the RACE IAT (implicit association test) at the Harvard Project Implicit site. There’s still time today, on #ShutDownSTEM day. While you are there, you can also take several other IAT tests that report on your implicit biases in other dimensions of diversity.
We white people of STEM must recognize that diverse hires and admitting diverse students is not enough.
Not even close.
We white people of STEM must accompany invitations to the diversity party with embracing dancing by everyone. We must actively nurture an inclusive STEM community that creates a sense of belonging for all its members. This is how we plug the leaks in the STEM pipeline.
This is work. In #STEM, we signed up for this. Science is intrinsically intertwined with the search for truth, which can only be achieved through inclusive excellence.
In #Academia we signed up for this. We made a choice to stand in front of a classroom and teach and mentor and inspire the next generation. It is incumbent upon us to be anti-racist.
This work will require white people to conduct some frank self-evaluation. It will be uncomfortable at times. We white people will make mistakes. We must do this work anyway. We must become comfortable being uncomfortable. We must reflect and not react when we are wrong even if our intentions were good. We must believe all people when they speak their truth.
And we must thank our Black colleagues when they do the labor of giving us feedback, educating us, and sharing their perspectives and experiences.
Very powerful commentary. Thank you.