The recent Black Lives Matter protests have sparked new dialogues on race in the United States. Science is also having its conversations about diversity in STEM, while Black scientists are speaking up about their own experiences of racism in their field.
According to a 2016 survey from the National Science Foundation, 6% of scholars who earned a doctorate in life sciences identified as Black with another 3% of scholars who earned doctorates in physical and Earth sciences. With such little representation across the field, it can create problems for those already in the area.
“I’ve been quizzed by random strangers,” Tanisha Williams told the Associated Press. Williams said the harassment and prejudice happen far too often when she is in the field doing work.
“Now I bring my wildflower books and botanical field guides, trying to look like a scientist. It’s for other people. I wouldn’t otherwise lug these books.” Williams, a botanist at Bucknell University, said the casual racism is something being Black, and in this field, that happens far too often.
Christopher Schell, an ecologist from the University of Washington, has to think about how he’s perceived.
“I wear the nerdiest glasses I have and often a jacket that has my college logo so that people don’t mistake me for what they think is a thug or hooligan,” he told the AP. He also stressed the importance of having more diverse voices in the field as Black scientists in urban ecology were the ones to address historical issues such as redlining and racial discrimination in mortgage-lending practices.
“Who you are affects the questions you ask and the type of data that’s being collected,” Schell said. “We cannot understand how our natural world interacts with our cities without understanding the problems and legacy of racism.”