Illustration of Anthony M. Johnson working in an ultrafast laser lab; Ronald McNair playing the saxophone aboard the Challenger; Mercedes Richards in front of a computer.Illustration by Abigal Malate, American Institute of Physics
Topics: African Americans, Diaspora, Diversity in Science, Women in Science
Former First Lady, Secretary of State, and Presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said "women's rights are human rights." Comparatively, Black History is American History. The insurrection at the Capitol wasn't just white privilege on-steroids, it was ignorance writ large. Not that the information isn't in their face for twenty-eight days, twenty-nine on leap years, but an ignorance born of willfulness, arrogance, hubris, and mental deficiencies.
The Middle Passage. December 7, 1941. The Holocaust. September 11, 2001. January 6, 2021. All is a part of our history, days that shall live in infamy. Days we commemorate in ceremony, observance, remembrance, and a commitment within our souls: never again.
You don't forgive anything by shrugging, and the victims of violence never forget. We've all been experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder for four years we would LIKE to forget, but we'd rather heal from, in the light of science, and truth.
The American Psychiatric Association has never officially recognized extreme racism (as opposed to ordinary prejudice) as a mental health problem, although the issue was raised more than 30 years ago. After several racist killings in the civil rights era, a group of black psychiatrists sought to have extreme bigotry classified as a mental disorder. The association's officials rejected the recommendation, arguing that because so many Americans are racist, even extreme racism in this country is normative—a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology.
The psychiatric profession's primary index for diagnosing psychiatric symptoms, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), does not include racism, prejudice, or bigotry in its text or index.
Therefore, there is currently no support for including extreme racism under any diagnostic category. This leads psychiatrists to think that it cannot and should not be treated in their patients.
To continue perceiving extreme racism as normative and not pathologic is to lend it legitimacy. Clearly, anyone who scapegoats a whole group of people and seeks to eliminate them to resolve his or her internal conflicts meets the criteria for a delusional disorder, a major psychiatric illness.
When astronaut Mae Jemison saw actress Nichelle Nichols portray Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, her life was changed forever. Seeing an African-American role model helped steer Jemison toward a goal – she was determined to join NASA and become an astronaut. Years later, Jemison achieved her goal when she made history as the first African-American woman to go into space with the U.S. space program.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential components to the success of our fields. In recognition of that fact, the American Institute of Physics adopted a Strategic Framework in 2019 that aims to “advance the physical sciences with a unifying voice of strength from diversity.” Further, we are committed to becoming an institution that “leads the physical sciences community toward an impactful understanding of how to be more welcoming to, and supportive of, the full diversity of physical scientists throughout their [education and] careers.”
Topics: African Americans, Diaspora, International Space Station, Octavia Butler, Science Fiction, Spaceflight
A casual search on this blog, it's not the first time I've invoked Octavia Butler as an observer of our times, and it likely won't be the last.
Octavia Butler’s tenth novel, “Parable of the Sower,” which was published in 1993, opens in Los Angeles in 2024. Global warming has brought drought and rising seawater. The middle class and working poor live in gated neighborhoods, where they fend off the homeless with guns and walls. Fresh water is scarce, as valuable as money. Pharmaceutical companies have created “smart drugs,” which boost mental performance, and “pyro,” a pill that gives those who take it sexual pleasure from arson. Fires are common. Police services are expensive, though few people trust the police. Public schools are being privatized, as are whole towns. In this atmosphere, a Presidential candidate named Christopher Donner is elected based on his promises to dismantle government programs and bring back jobs.
“Parable of the Sower” unfolds through the journal entries of its protagonist, a fifteen-year-old black girl named Lauren Oya Olamina, who lives with her family in one of the walled neighborhoods. “People have changed the climate of the world,” she observes. “Now they’re waiting for the old days to come back.” She places no hope in Donner, whom she views as “a symbol of the past to hold onto as we’re pushed into the future.” Instead, she equips herself to survive in that future. She practices her aim with BB guns. She collects maps and books on how Native Americans used plants. She develops a belief system of her own, a Darwinian religion she names Earthseed.
The sequel, “Parable of the Talents,” published in 1998, begins in 2032. By then, various forms of indentured servitude and slavery are common, facilitated by high-tech slave collars. The oppression of women has become extreme; those who express their opinion, “nags,” might have their tongues cut out. People are addicted not only to designer drugs but also to “dream masks,” which generate virtual fantasies as guided dreams, allowing wearers to submerge themselves in simpler, happier lives. News comes in the form of disks or “news bullets,” which “purport to tell us all we need to know in flashy pictures and quick, witty, verbal one-two punches. Twenty-five or thirty words are supposed to be enough in a news bullet to explain either a war or an unusual set of Christmas lights.” The Donner Administration has written off science, but a more immediate threat lurks: a violent movement is being whipped up by a new Presidential candidate, Andrew Steele Jarret, a Texas senator and religious zealot who is running on a platform to “make American great again.”
In "Sower," one of the distinct things I recall is the juxtaposition between advancement and debasement; triumph and depravity. While civilization on Earth was practically going to shit in the novel, I remember from the novel, we discover microbial life on Mars, which is predicted to be the extraterrestrial life we'll likely discover on the red planet. The Moon Landing - that conspiracy theorists don't think happened, and likely won't think the next one led by commercial space vehicles isn't a forgery - occurred in 1969: it was the year after the Fair Housing Act and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, followed by the presidential candidate that announced the sad news, Robert F. Kennedy. It was the year the Original Star Trek was cancelled, "boldly going" into syndication, convention and science fiction mythology; a vison of us surviving to be our better angels. We were still in the Civil Rights Era, and fighting for the rights to be human. On that year, mankind walked on the moon, but specifically European men, as African American astronauts only appeared as extras along William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, or in prosthetic makeup so you couldn't tell what culture they were from. Guy Bluford, Ron McNair and others had yet to appear on the scene, then and now a small selected group of explorers.
I watched the launch of SpaceX, marveling at its sleekness, benefiting from transistors and the march of Moore's law to the nanoscale. It was a day after riots for the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaund Aubrey. The scientists and technicians in Mission Control were wearing masks acknowledging the pandemic; the president* and vice president* were playing their "macho-tough-guy" shtick.
We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says:
Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word (unquote).
We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood -- it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, "Too late." There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on."
We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
Poets in many spaces have earned the quaint acronym: "prophets of eternal truths." As prophets, Gaye, Heron and King made the same observation of their time, that it was obscene to attain such technological triumphs while letting income inequality, rampant militarism, racial unrest and societal disparity go as unchallenged as established on Plymouth Rock. Prophecy isn't prediction as much as it is warning: it is usually written as suggested course-correction, not inevitable conclusion.
A global empire was gotten initially with sugar cane and cotton, on land looted from First Nation peoples, the same who helped the colonists survive their first winter - they were repaid with near extinction. The land was looted from Mexicans, the theft memorialized in jingoism and sloganeering: "remember the Alamo." The land was cultivated by kidnapped peoples from the African continent. The looters wrote us all off as savages, uncivilized, unintelligent, rapists, drug dealers, animals, and took their sexual pleasures - heterosexually, homosexually and depraved pedophilia - with their captive property. Mulatto children typically worked in the master's house, but acknowledged their fathers like they acknowledged his white children: sir and ma'am, so ingrained Floyd used "I can't breath, sir" to the assassin sitting on his neck. Science moved forward during these years, a proof that it can advance even in the midst of a nation's depravity.
Sleek, Dragon SpaceX craft can dock with International Space Stations, while below cities burn in dystopia and a madman mean-girl tweets from the loo. As "comforter-in-chief," he is consistently missing in action, befitting a five-deferment draft dodger.
Topics: African Americans, History, Diaspora, Diversity in Science, Women in Science
Originally published February 27, 2017, during Black History Month. We are reeling from George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaund Aubrey. "I can't breathe" isn't a cliche: it's a statement of continual trauma, perpetual PTSD from 1619 to present day. We can't breathe from the 82 black boys and men killed before, and now during a global pandemic. We can't breathe from armed gunman shouting at police and threatening lawmakers in Michigan, and unarmed, pissed off demonstrators getting maced, rubber bullets and flash bombed after a murder in the same state Philando Castile lost his life in for a concealed handgun licence. It is building a nation, but not taking part of its advantages fully. It is a relationship to a maniacal, misogynistic, patriarchal, racist, sociopathic system that is determined we nonwhite "stay in our places" - pariah to the rest of the nation founded on genocide, kidnapping and domestic terrorism - in abject fear, all the while masking quite poorly their own stated, pseudoscientific conspiratorial fears of genetic annihilation. Since we all share the same planet, and I see no starships in orbital shipyards under construction, the only thing their inane fears may bring to apocalyptic destruction is the human species.
*****Re-post with additions*****
The talk is painful to do and painful still to recall. My talk was based on being slammed into a wall of plastic model cars and toys at King's Department Store (see: "Old Tapes" below).
My boys... didn't take the story well. Though ten years apart, their reactions were the same: they were angry, hurt, confused as to why such a thing could happen to their "Pop." Watching this again, in the modern context brought back painful memories:
Despite there and my tears, I had to deliver "the talk," the speech that transcends political party affiliations that every black parent has to relay to their children: fathers to sons; mothers to daughters; uncles and aunts to nieces and nephews; "Big Mommas," and Paw-Paws to grand and great-grandchildren. Despite their tears, my oldest son and his wife will have to deliver "the talk" to our granddaughter, now accustomed to a world in which daycare workers must wear masks; a world where she will likely be judged by the color of her skin, her gender and not the content of her character.
The Preamble to the US Constitution:
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Posterity (noun): 1: the offspring of one progenitor to the furthest generation, 2: all future generations. Merriam-Webster
That's what "the talk" is about. It's probably the purist act of citizenship since 1865, as well as love. It says our children matter to "us"; that like most parents of any generation, we'd like to see them grow, mature and have a life of meaning and children themselves if they want. It does not sound like the realm, attitude or philosophy of thugs: it sounds like the realm of citizens. If indeed "all lives mattered," it would not be necessary.
This is the darker history of American exceptionalism. A segment of citizenry - be they democrats or republicans - must give a safety brief to their children for walking out the door into the dominant society to ensure their safe return. Because apparently, that's not guaranteed due to a preponderance of Melanin and an equal preponderance of the assumption guilty-while-black.
When the talk becomes a thing we discuss in history books, we'll be a free nation; we'll be America, the Beautiful, definitively.
I will consider my life a blessing to have my sons live full lives, and be allowed to do what I had to do with their Grandpa, Robert Harrison Goodwin after August 26, 1999, and their Grandma Mildred Dean Goodwin after May 7, 2009:
To Robert Harrison Goodwin (Pop/Grandpa), Third Class Petty Officer, United States Navy Veteran, World War II -my first martial arts instructor (boxing). I hope you like what your daughter-in-law and I have done with your grandsons (Real Estate/Civil Engineering), and now, your great-granddaughter. They are, after all, your posterity. We love you and mom always, "Chief."