|Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos|
Topics: Civics, Civil Rights, Human Rights, LGBT Rights, Women's Rights
I participated in JSNN's version of #ShutDownSTEM yesterday. It was a discussion led by the Dean about the situation we all find ourselves in post the deaths of Ahmaund Aubrey, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, laid to rest next to his mom in Houston, Texas.
It was a tentative meeting, thankfully from the Zoom participants extremely diverse. The Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering is by its construction diverse: Afghanistan, Brazil, Chad, India, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone and the United States represented in its student body and faculty. It's quite easy - at least, before the pandemic - to get lulled by the interactions that are often taken as routine, and that the entire country and world are doing exactly what you're doing.
On June 10, 2020, we will #ShutDownAcademia, #ShutDownSTEM, and #Strike4BlackLives.
In the wake of the most recent murders of Black people in the US, it is clear that white and other non-Black people have to step up and do the work to eradicate anti-Black racism. As members of the global academic and STEM communities, we have an enormous ethical obligation to stop doing “business as usual.” No matter where we physically live, we impact and are impacted by this moment in history.
Our responsibility starts with our role in society. In academia, our thoughts and words turn into new ways of knowing. Our research papers turn into media releases, books and legislation that reinforce anti-Black narratives. In STEM, we create technologies that affect every part of our society and are routinely weaponized against Black people.
Black academic and Black STEM professionals are hurting because they exist in and are attacked by institutional and systemic racism. Black people have been tirelessly working for change, alongside their Indigenous and People of Color allies. For Black academics and STEM professionals, #ShutDownAcademia and #ShutDownSTEM is a time to prioritize their needs— whether that is to rest, reflect, or to act— without incurring additional cumulative disadvantage.
I recalled my asking Mr. Tedford - my middle school science teacher - a question on the coefficient of linear expansion: I was answered with "no, you big dummy!" Upset, in tears, I relayed the encounter to my parents, who promptly made an appointment with Mr. Tedford and the principal at Mineral Springs Middle School. We got a sweaty apology, and I got all my questions answered the rest of that semester year.
I recalled my own interactions with a store detective at Kings Department Store in Winston-Salem, NC, 1976. I was body slammed and frisked while four white males robbed "Deputy Do Wrong" blind in the tennis shoe section. Despite my trying to bring this to his attention, he was convinced that "nigras steal" despite my objections and his lack of evidence.
I recalled asking a rhetorical question of the Brigade Commander: "what does it take to get to your rank" as a ninth grade, shy and impressed Neo ROTC cadet, answered with: "YOUR KIND will never get to this rank!" I did actually, three years later.The Ku Klux Klan (or, someone pretending to be them) left me a death threat: "don't show up for the Brigade Review (parade), nega, or we'll shoot your azz!" I showed up and commanded 180 cadets in formation in front of onlookers that included my parents and girlfriend at the time: anyone that spells that horribly, can't be serious or aim a gun! I'm sincerely glad I wasn't wrong.
These roadblocks are the moments that either break you, or make you, our Nietzsche ("that which does not kill us makes us stronger") Négritude.
The concept of Négritude emerged as the expression of a revolt against the historical situation of French colonialism and racism. The particular form taken by that revolt was the product of the encounter, in Paris, in the late 1920s, of three black students coming from different French colonies: Aimé Césaire (1913–2008) from Martinique, Léon Gontran Damas (1912–1978) from Guiana and Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001) from Senegal. Being colonial subjects meant that they all belonged to people considered uncivilized, naturally in need of education and guidance from Europe, namely France. In addition, the memory of slavery was very vivid in Guiana and Martinique. Aimé Césaire and Léon Damas were already friends before they came to Paris in 1931.
Beyond the encounter between Africa and the French Caribbean Césaire, Senghor and Damas also discovered together the American movement of Harlem Renaissance. At the “salon”, in Paris, hosted by sisters from Martinique, Jane, Paulette and Andrée Nardal, they met many Black American writers, such as Langston Hughes or Claude McKay. With the writers of the Harlem Renaissance movement they found an expression of black pride, a consciousness of a culture, an affirmation of a distinct identity that was in sharp contrast to French assimilationism. In a word they were ready to proclaim the négritude of the “new Negro” to quote the title of the anthology of Harlem writers by Alain Locke which very much impressed Senghor and his friends (Vaillant 1990, 93–94).
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Négritude
I didn't say any of the above stories, or relate our Zoom meeting to Négritude, but they are not very far behind me.
The deaths of Ahmaund Aubrey, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd sparked a Neo-Négritude, that instead of remaining indigenous has spread throughout the world. Most marches have been peaceful and multicultural, with a few knuckleheads looting. That's important, because to deconstruct white supremacy, we need the creators of it to do it. We also need certain public African American figures to get a little Négritude, get diagnosed for Stockholm Syndrome or enough sense to shut up such that they get out of the way of progress.
This is the minefield/mind-field blacks in STEM have to navigate. Teachers, counselors and what should be "role models" feel an almost instinctive, no: tribal obligation to reinforce the status quo. They will say hateful, hurtful, disappointing things to diminish you; to "keep you in your place." A cursory review of history had only the comfortable roles of the buck boy, mammy, sex slave and step-n-fetch for the African Diaspora. The system reinforces itself by backlash politics, cognitive dissonance and a propagandized, false narrative of history that makes the descendants of the original perpetrators "feel good." Like a membrane disturbed and a nerve throbbed, it responds with cold, robotic efficiency.
This time, it's different. We've taken time out from the orgy of violent shooting incidents our news would report and naval gaze on until the next shiny object; the next shooting. We just couldn't take a break from the 401 year orgy of knees-on-necks, even during a pandemic: it's endemic to the American experiment, that currently, is not giving the results posed by the original hypothesis.
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." Ephesians 6:12
No truer words uttered at George Floyd's home going. He is NOT, however, a martyr:
1: a person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion 2: a person who sacrifices something of great value and especially life itself for the sake of principle
George Floyd is not a Messianic figure. He never wanted to be. He was a man, like all of us, with his flaws, horrible choices and sins. He was a man that like any man, can learn from his sins and seek redemption, if he so chose. He was a man that had a little brother and children that looked up to him. He was a man that wanted to breathe.
Perhaps, STEM has finally inhaled the stench of racism, and instead of spraying Febreze to mask the odor, found it finally, rancid. Perhaps it will exhale in meetings to come, solutions. This will take time. It will be worth the effort.