Social media as a whole needs a lot of flak to facilitate the creation of bubbles that amplify the division. But in recent weeks, many bubbles have burst on the topic of racial inequality. That includes a plethora of images and stories that were shocking to some, but painfully unsurprising to others.
This goes well beyond the realm of the police – science is no exception to society’s problems. Under the hashtag #BlackInTheIvory, black academics share examples of roadblocks and disrespect they have faced in their careers. also the #BlackInVOICE hashtag has been used to encourage new connections with researchers and students in STEM areas who sign up to introduce themselves.
On Wednesday it’s everyone’s turn. Efforts organized under hashtags like #ShutDownVOICE, #ShutDownAcademia and #Strike4BlackLives are asking academics to clear their agendas and spend some time working on concrete steps to improve the entrepreneurial spirit of science. For example, the website behind #ShutDownSTEM has specific suggestions for people in various roles, from students to department presidents. So is a letter from a group of geoscientists shared with the hashtag #NoTimeForSilence.
The physicist-led group Particles for Justice explains: “We are aware of the ways in which black students and scientists, including two authors of this letter to the community, are expected to do the hard work of advocating for justice and representation in academia. We know this burden is an unfair and unequally distributed barrier to their ability to thrive in academia. We call for a universal strike to give them a break and because those of us with the most privilege have the greatest responsibility to use that privilege to make changes.”
Leading scientific journals have also expressed their support. The journal Nature published an editorial on Tuesday, postponing the publication of articles that would have appeared on Wednesday. In addition to a plan to collect studies for a special issue on racism in academia, the editorial says:
Black people, including researchers, use social media to explain what that action should look like, drawing attention to decades of literature on the steps needed to make academia and science fair. This outpouring is partly due to the fact that black researchers have long been denied space and platform in established institutions and publications like this one.
We recognize that nature is one of the white institutions responsible for bias in research and science. The enterprise of science was – and remains – complicit in systemic racism, and it must strive harder to correct those injustices and amplify marginalized voices.
The journal Science and the journal Cell published editorials on Monday. Science Editor H. Holden Thorp wrote:
The American scientific enterprise is predominantly white, as are the American institutions to which the authors of Science are affiliated. The evidence of systemic racism in science permeates this nation. Why are there so few scholarly authors from historically black colleges and universities? Why are the scientific fields more often studied by people of color, constantly underfunded by the government? Why do people of color need to remind society that they are almost never taught by someone similar to them? Why hasn’t the United States updated its ways of teaching science when data shows people of color learn better with more inclusive methods? If there had been more diversity in science, would we have the painful legacy of the Tuskegee syphilis study and the shameful non-recognition of Henrietta Lacks’ contribution to science?
The lead article in Cell reads:
We are the editors of a scientific journal dedicated to publishing and disseminating exciting work in the biological sciences. We are 13 scientists. None of us are black. Underrepresentation of black scientists extends beyond our team: our authors, reviewers, and advisory board. And we are not alone. It’s easy to shift the blame, to point out that the magazine is a reflection of the scientific establishment, to quote statistics. But it is this epidemic of denial of the integral role that every member of our society plays in sustaining the status quo by not actively fighting it that has allowed open and systemic racism to flourish, affecting the lives and livelihoods of black Americans have become paralyzed. including black scientists.
One thing that all these statements have in common is the recognition that statements are not worth much in and of themselves. To survive after this civic moment, they must be constantly translated into actions in the absence of memories of mass protests and trending hashtags.
If you know of additional efforts, please share in the comments.