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A few words on diversity

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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I just wanted to write a quick post on the events of the past month here at SciAm blogs. When my friend and fellow SciAm Blogger Dr. Danielle Lee posted about her experiences with a now notorious (and now fired) employee at Biology-Online, I cheered her on. I especially loved that she even used a Tanzanian khanga to illustrate her point because it’s a cloth from my mother’s home country and a place where she has done extensive scientific research.

But then the post was pulled, the incident blew up all over the internet, and I began to feel very conscious of the fact that many people were watching it all. As the only other black woman blogging on the network, I felt a bit conspicuous and that feeling translated into staying silent and watching the saga unfold before commenting. Then the whole incident was eclipsed a bit by the events surrounding the resignation of Bora Zivkovic. While I think the events of this month have been difficult for everyone at SciAm, I am impressed by the resilience, strength, and insight of my colleagues and friends in the online science communication world. I am glad that the events of October have started a dialogue about issues of diversity, privilege, power, and harassment in science and beyond.

I am very lucky to have never experienced sexual harassment from a boss or colleague. The main extent of harassment I’ve faced is from cat callers on the street, which is easy enough to ignore without any potential professional consequences. Many others have spoken of their experiences with harassment this month, and you should read their posts for some amazingly heartfelt perspectives on that topic. But I want to speak to something that resonated with me after the events of this month, and that is the insidious power of microaggressions.

Microaggressions are things that many minorities are often considered oversensitive or “crazy” for speaking out against. They are prevalent and can accumulate over a lifetime, instilling self doubt, negative feelings, and ultimately decreased diversity due to feeling alienated and oppressed by constant mini-assaults. A salient quote from the Gawker article linked in this paragraph rings true to some of my personal experiences with microaggressions.

“I believe there are numerous valid reasons to criticize Kanye West, but his rant on Jimmy Kimmel Live is not one of them. You may think he sounded crazy, but it wasn’t a kind of crazy that was foreign to me—or, I’d assume, millions of other Americans. It was the crazy that comes from being stared at for daring to look different while eating breakfast with your mom. It was the crazy that comes from never knowing if you deserved to be kicked out of that bar. It was the crazy that comes from being the one person stopped by a cop amidst a sea of white people. “This is racist,” you might say to the cop. “Prove it,” he might say back. And at that moment, you can’t.”

#ripplesofdoubt has been a trending topic surrounding the subject of harassment, and I just wanted to point out that the pain of ripples of doubt apply when people experience offhand comments or or actions that make them wonder whether the world at large views everything for which they’ve worked through a lens of their racial and/or gender identity.

There was a ton of good writing on all these issues this month, which gives me great hope that people as a whole will take extra care to consider the perspectives of minorities of all types. I’m linking some of my favorite reads on this topic below.

Kanye West Knows You Think He Sounded Nuts on Kimmel
Guest Post 3: If these blogs could talk: characterizing power, privilege, and everyday life in the sciences
Why #standingwithDNLee’s Orientation towards SciAm Was So Important
Jeepers, Creepers: What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like?
The Power of Harassment series on LadyBits

Princess Ojiaku About the Author: Princess Ojiaku is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin - Madison in Neuroscience and Public Policy. She is also a student of life, exuberant nerd, and musician. She often tweets her daily links of interest and digital personal mutterings. Follow on Twitter @artfulaction.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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