Meet The 63rd Black Woman In American History With A Physics Ph.D.
She has highlighted the professional challenges of investing her time in activism:
Sat Jul 4 04:19:32 2015 - permalink -
Where I see it as a Black cultural tradition to lend a helping hand even as I continue to achieve my own dreams, others see my commitment to [the National Society of Black Physicists] as a signal that I am wasting my time not doing science. Do my friends who play music in their spare time get this same signal? Moreover, many of us who are women or people of color or both are often involved in efforts to change the face of science. When we are challenged about that by our peers, not only are they standing in our way, but they are also failing to recognize that for many of us, this investment in the community is necessary to our survival, much like someone else might say playing music is for theirs.
. I either care, or I don't care.
I tend to be someone who runs on passion. I think people who run on passion often find things they're passionate about early on.
It took me until years after I graduated to really realize what she meant, which is that I'm not a very competitive person. I'm competitive with myself, but I don't mind other people doing well. I actually really want everybody to do well. I want everybody to have the chance to do well.
It was not a fun place to be someone who had gone to a public school that was good, but didn't have preparation for the level that Harvard expected physics majors to come in with. If you hadn't had a really good AP physics class, the physics program wasn't really for you—that was kind of the ethos. I had taken AP physics independent study. I'd only gotten through about half the material because I was teaching myself. I think it was a challenge for me, and I noticed that a lot of people who were like me ended up dropping out of the physics major even though they had been excited to major in physics when they arrived.
That said, I had an office mate my first year of graduate school who was completely the opposite of me in a lot of demographic ways. She came from an upper middle class household, had gone to a very nice public school in a rich neighborhood in the Bay Area, had had all of the preparation, and she still found the physics department to be an unhappy place.
"Well, I don’t really see what my race has to do with anything."
It was like, "Of course you don’t, which is kind of the point." We need to ask about race because there are lots of women who do feel that way about it.
At the same time, I also want to say that I recognize that it's problematic that to be somewhat successful and be able to be an activist and advocate for myself and for people like me and for people not like me, it kind of requires this second person who's functioning in a supportive way
I think understanding that all things can't be sacrificed on the altar of academic career and physics has been really important, and understanding that that balance is not just for my own sake, but is in fact really in some sense in service of doing the physics. I can't just sit around feeling angry about the number of Black women, or worrying a lot about dark matter. I also have to allow myself to do these other things.
"Well, if you're doing something else with your time, it clearly shows that you're not committed, and that you're not a genius—like Einstein-level genius—because Einstein just worked really hard and thought about things."
But in fact Einstein was a polymath. He was interested in a lot of things. So I've been working on allowing myself to be interested in the many things that I am interested in, and not feel guilty about it.
But my dream is for Black children, and Native American children, and Latino children, and Asian children to be able to make the choices that White children seem to sometimes be able to make, which is that, "I'm going to think about this because it interests me." Not because, "I owe it to the community." Not because, "I see this problem in my community that doesn't get solved because of the color of our skin, so I'm going to try and solve it." But for them to say, "Hey, dark matter's a weird thing. Why don't I think about that?" I want everybody to have that equal opportunity to dream, and dream big, and not dream in the context of the duress of racism, and transphobia, and a host of other things.
He really saw science as a humanitarian enterprise in some sense, and a shared human enterprise—not something that just people with Ph.D.'s in some rarified environment—but really something that we collectively, as a human community, have been doing together for millennia. That had a profound effect on the way that I thought about science. It said to me that people like me did do science.
Heather, Pretending their is not Racism OR pretending a perfect world where race doesn't matter are EXACTLY what racists do.
Look around you (with open eyes) We do not live in a perfect world and pretending we do gives aid and comfort to those that are haters. Of course race identity here shouldn't matter to her own accomplishments, but that there are only 63 of them, tells us that race does matter in this imperfect world. To ignore that ugliness -- to pretend it doesn't exist is to be an accomplice in its perpetuation
This is a rhetorical question -- why do racists claim the loudest that there is no racism?
Actually, the incredible and unfortunate deficit of black people we see in physics is not going to go away until we address why it exists in the first place. The history of and ongoing racism in this country is the underlying issue.