Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2017

Affirmative Action is Bad, But Wealth is Good

I wonder if anyone asked Jared Kushner if he got into Harvard only because he is white. It would've been a valid question. Even so, the question wouldn't have drawn upon centuries of stereotypes about the inferior intelligence and work ethic of white men. Who cares how he got into Harvard? He could always convince himself that he is hard working, just like, or even better than, all of the mediocre white men that preceded him in leading this country of ours. His grades were better than George W's C-average at Yale. If forced to answer how he got into Harvard, young master Jared could've shrugged it off and comforted himself by thinking ahead about how much wealth he would inherit. Hell, if his parents played their money right, he might even have a job waiting for him in a future presidential administration.

Isn't it great to live in a meritocracy?

No Human is Illegal, But Some Are Not White

Our white nationalist presidential administration is cracking down hard on non-white immigrants, particularly those from Mexico. In fact, it's the only successful policy that the child-king has managed to implement in his short presidency. While we should celebrate the failure of the attempt to destroy the ACA, the resistance that federal judges are applying to the racist Muslim travel bans, and the fact that he still hasn't built his big beautiful wall, we should not forget that hundreds of people who are working, paying taxes and attempting to establish stable lives in the US are now being rounded up, separated from their children, and dying because they have been successfully scapegoated for our country's economic woes.
It's a common question for Americans to ask, "why didn't those people come here legally?" The short answer is that they can't, because they aren't white. Does that sound a bit hyperbolic or simplistic? If so, then I'd recom…

Hidden Explicit Messaging

A common refrain these days about racism in our society—to the extent that it's discussed at all—is that racist language is far less explicit today than it was in the past. There may be racism (way over there, and by those people) but let's be glad that people don't casually throw around the N-word anymore. Or so say people—good liberal people—like to frequently say.

But is racism less explicit today, really?
In my last post I gave an example of some extremely common, casual, yet racist messaging in the example of a white person claiming that a person of color only got a prestigious academic fellowship "because they're Black/Brown/Indigenous." Is this racist comment not explicit? The message here is that the only way a person of color could possibly get, say, an NSF Fellowship is because of affirmative action, whereby more qualified white people are pushed aside so a less qualified person can get the fellowship based on their race (or so the fictional, carto…

An annual note to all the (NSF) haters

It's that time of year again: students have recently been notified about whether they received the prestigious NSF Graduate Student Research Fellowship. Known in the STEM community as "The NSF," the fellowship provides a student with three years of graduate school tuition and stipend, with the latter typically 5-10% above the standard institutional support for first- and second-year students. It's a sweet deal, and a real accellerant for young students to get their research career humming along smoothly because they don't need to restrict themselves to only advisors who have funding: the students fund themselves!
This is also the time of year that many a white dude executes what I call the "academic soccer flop." It looks kinda like this:

It typically sounds like this: "Congrats! Of course it's easier for you to win the NSF because you're, you know, the right demographic." Or worse: "She only won because she's Hispanic."…

This week in the freedom to discriminate

Race has no biological basis. Race is assigned based on biological features (hair, skin, etc), but biological features do not uniquely map to a race. Academics know this. Or at least they should. However, if you are an academic who believes in race, and would like to use this belief to promote the notion that white people are superior, you can make a living off of it. 
Enter Charles Murray, the author of the racist and scientifically debunked text, Bell Curve. He was recently invited to speak at Middlebury College, and despite espousing nonsense, his place on the stage at an institution of higher learning was justified under "the freedom of speech." If Murray were there to tell his story of UFO sightings, describe his theory of a flat Earth, or to discuss his attempts to interbreed various types of unicorns, this defense would not be available to him. But because he has staked his career on dabbling in America's age-old dark art of racecraft, and because his ideas add a…

Tiny Post 3: The Impossibility of Biraciality

I was once interviewed by a journalism student for an article about what it means to be biracial in America, a subject she told me that was near to her heart (and experience). Among other things she wanted to learn about my experiences as a successful biracial academic. I imagine the conversation that ensued resulted in no small amount of consternation for her, because I informed her that I not believe I am biracial, because there can be no such thing. One's race is defined by one's position in our societal hierarchy; it is imposed, not inherited. To be Black is to be in the lower caste, to be white is to be in the upper. To claim biraciality, one must believe either that race is a biological reality that can be genetically amalgamated, or that the social hierarchy is justified such that you belong above those who are Black, and by doing so you may lay claim to the benefits of being white. I reject both positions. Further, the woman in the elevator clutching her purse or the …

Racism Defines Race

In a discussion about race and racism with a group of Black and Latinx students, the first part of the dialog centered around the things such as the difference between being African American and Black, or Hispanic versus Latinx. We meandered about for a while, and the conversation didn't gain focus until we talked about what it means to be white in America. Most observations about whiteness boiled down to having one's life valued more that those of people of color; the "value gap" as Prof. Eddie Glaude describes it. At that point it became clearer that our position in society defines our race. The processes that put us there is racism.
This brings up a subtle yet key point about race that is summarized nicely by Ta-Nehisi Coates: "race is the child of racism, not the father." Racism is a double standard that breaks along the line drawn by our society that places whiteness above, and non-whiteness below (I can never recommend Barbara Field's essay enoug…

Tiny Post 2: Exceptionalism

The believers of American Exceptionalism see the country as a "city on the hill," morally above other nations and a force for good in the world. However, when one points to the historical record of our nation waging unjust wars of choice, unseating democratically elected leaders, supporting dictatorships, standing idly by as genocide rages, and the like, the response is to point out that other countries have done the same thing, apparently unaware of how this invalidates their original claim of exceptionalism. Thus, how ironic it was for the so-called president to defend the Russian leader as "a killer" by pointing to our country's history of evil. I'm left wondering whether he has some special insight that his electorate lacks, or if he is just woefully inept at applying their arguments by forgetting which country to defend as exceptional. I can't shake the feeling that it's a mixture of both.

No Human is Illegal: Not a Tough Concept

I'm encouraged to see so many fans of progressive, pluralistic society recently rally together against the presidential administration's recent Muslim ban. The executive order is blatantly unconstitutional, and as such it is reasonable that federal judges have moved quickly to strike it down (It turns out it is impossible to legally implement an unconstitutional order, but this hasn't stopped the Court from doing so in the past). However, it's important for people who are protesting the ban to realize that we've had bans similar to this in place dating back to the original Naturalization Act of 1790, which restricted citizenship only to white Christian men. Citizenship in this country has never been free from discrimination. Having a national policy that discriminates against and abuses non-citizens is nothing new.

Tiny Post 1

When you spend time talking about racism's central role in our society, they think you must be suffering from depression, which is the only way they can fathom you'd think such a thing. What they fail to consider is that you are, indeed, depressed, but solely because that thing is so manifestly true and yet they refuse to see it.

And We Settled for Mediocrity

This, y'all: One day we will look back at the lack of equity & inclusion in STEM & see we settled for mediocrity when we could have been better together — Lucianne Walkowicz (@shaka_lulu) November 30, 2016 This got me thinking again about a revelation I had not long ago, but admittedly not long enough ago. I'm going to explore some tough truths here. So before I get going, let me explicitly state some of my working assumptions. First, I believe that all humans, no matter how one cares to group them, whether by race, religion, physical ability, gender, sexuality, possess the same distribution of intellectual abilities. For example, I believe that a group of 100 undocumented, Lutheran, Latinx transwomen have the same distribution of mental talents as a group of 100 straight, cisgender, white, atheist men. Can I prove this beyond doubt and within 0.1% precision? Nope, probably not. But it's an historical fact that the biological and social sciences in Europe and US…

Culture: Made Fresh Daily

There are two inspirations for this essay worth noting. The first is an impromptu talk I gave to the board of trustees at Thatcher School while I was visiting in October as an Anacapa Fellow. Spending time on this remarkable campus interacting with the students, faculty and staff helped solidify my notions about how culture can be intentionally created. The second source is Beam Times and Lifetimes by Sharon Tarweek, an in-depth exploration of the culture of particle physics told by an anthropologist embedded at SLAC for two decades. It's a fascinating look at the strange practices and norms that scientists take for granted.
One of the stories that scientists tell themselves, whether implicitly or explicitly, is that science exists outside of and independent of society. A corollary of this notion is that if a scientific subfield has a culture, e.g. the culture of astronomy vs. the culture of chemistry, that culture is essential rather than constructed. That is to say, scientific c…