Juneteenth and Equitable Science...


Figure 1 Overcoming scientific racism as a Community. (Top) This figure depicts the barriers Black scientists face in academia. (Bottom) The bottom part of the figure depicts Black scientists overcoming those challenges.

Topics: Civil Rights, Diversity, Diversity in Science, Women in Science

We are 52 Black scientists. Here, we establish the context of Juneteenth in STEMM and discuss the barriers Black scientists face, the struggles they endure, and the lack of recognition they receive. We review racism’s history in science and provide institutional-level solutions to reduce the burdens on Black scientists.


Juneteenth, diversity, STEMM, scientific racism


June 19, 1865, independence day, commonly referred to as Juneteenth, celebrates the freedom of the last large body of enslaved Black Americans following the American Civil War. Although the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared free those slaves residing in states in open rebellion against the United States, took effect more than 2 years prior, it was not until Union troops liberated Texas that more than 250,000 slaves gained their freedom. However, some in the United States remained enslaved through convict leasing and sharecropping. Following Juneteenth came the Reconstruction Era (1865–1877) in the United States, a tumultuous time when the North and South began reunification and ideologies of freedom and equality clashed, leading to the ratification of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution to protect the rights of Black peoples—defined here as people of ancestral African origin, including peoples of African American, African, Afro-Caribbean, and mixed ancestry—in the face of race riots, lynchings, and black codes (restrictive laws designed to limit the advancement of Black individuals to retain cheap labor), including Jim Crow laws. Black and White America developed along segregated and unequal paths. As segregation and intentional underinvestment occurred across education, many Black individuals did not learn to read or write, hampering career opportunities. Across the mid-to-late 1900s, the powerful civil rights movements led to the repeal of many segregationist laws. Even so, some of their effects remained unchanged: Black individuals still faced discrimination and unequal opportunities for education, and to this day, Black communities lack resources.

It took over 150 years for Juneteenth to be recognized as a federal holiday in the summer of 2021, following multiple police killings of Black individuals that gained media prominence in the preceding year. Juneteenth recognizes and celebrates freedom, civil rights, and the potential for the advancement of Black people in the United States. Yet, it also serves as a day of reflection and hopes that a nation might someday live up to its core founding principle—equality for all. Shortly after freeing Black Americans, the US state legislatures enacted harsh laws to curtail their progress; thus, as formal slavery declined, institutional slavery arose. These laws have had generational impacts: today, Black scientists continue to suffer institutional slavery, leading to lower pay, lesser access to resources, and fewer advancement opportunities. In addition to cultural erasure, undervalue, isolation, stereotype threat, and tokenism, Black scientists face many obstacles to attaining education and persisting in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine (STEMM). As the official correspondence from The White House states,“Juneteenth not only commemorates the past. It calls us to action today.” Juneteenth is a rallying call for all, but it is especially a call for action from scientists. Even though scientific innovation prospers from a richly diverse field, science has historically existed as a bastion for harboring racism.

In this commentary, we seek to explain some of the history of Black individuals in the United States. This includes the initial gap in and continued barriers to income attainment, which have inhibited their growth. We discuss the racist institutions that still exist in science, including lack of recognition for awards and disparities in funding rates. We also consider the toll that institutional racism takes on the mental health of Black individuals, which has unfortunately led to suicides. Finally, we note the double binds for those with intersectionality—e.g., those underrepresented by a combination of gender, sexual orientation, disability status, and race. Together, these limitations inhibit the progression of individuals through the elitist STEMM pipeline.1 Given the continued exclusion of Black scientists at different levels of STEMM training, it is important to recognize the relevance of Juneteenth as well as how it may contribute to future improvements. We offer steps that institutions and wider bodies should take to reduce the impact of racism in science (Figure 1). Importantly, we consider Juneteenth a growth pillar and propose steps to improve mentoring, institutional support, and training to reduce remaining institutional barriers.

Juneteenth in STEMM and the Barriers to equitable science, Cell dot com

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