by Natasha Berryman
The week that Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered, I made a series of phone calls to the men in my life: my father, my brother and my beau.
Although the women who raised me have feminist spirits, are strong-backed and often operated in the absence of male partnership, both my mother and my grandmother taught my sister and I to value the men in our lives. They explained that their contributions would be novel both because of the individual personalities of these figures and because of their maleness. “They’re just different,” my mother would say. “And there’s beauty in that otherness.”
My phone calls to these three men who ranged in age, location and occupation (one is a research coordinator, the other a graphic designer and the third an entrepreneur), carried the same message:
I love you.
I am sorry this country doesn’t love you.
Please stay safe.
I don’t know how you’re supposed to ensure that.
Or why that responsibility falls solely on you.
But please try.
Do not let them crush you.
And do not let them fill you with fear.
Your life does matter.
It matters, especially, to me.
While my sentiment was received, and they all expressed thanks for my encouragement, each of them, essentially, had the same response: This has been happening for a long time; I’ll do my best to stay safe, but I can’t make any promises. At some point, it’s beyond my control.
How is it possible to live in this country, day and age, and to be forced into that reality?
At #VanguardSTEM, we focus on creating community and discussions around women’s and STEM issues. The extrajudicial murders of men of color is a women’s and STEM issue. And not just because women of color are also being murdered, but because all of our communities suffer when we experience these losses. In a word, we lose.
– We lose these souls who contributed, in some way, to the nourishment of souls around them.
– We lose the opportunity to see them walk in their full potential.
– We lose the possibility of their contribution to STEM.
– We lose trust in institutions and organizations when they remain silent.
– We lose confidence that our judicial and law enforcement systems function to protect us.
– We lose faith that our lives do matter and that we might have an opportunity to live in a country that does not bleed from the wounds of racism.
– We lose the sureness of our desire and right to have children, fearing for their safety — not knowing if safety is something we can actually extend to them.
– We lose the motivation it takes to get out of bed and to walk in our own potential.
– We lose the activation energy required to innovate in STEM.
– We lose hope that we’ll ever have answers to the questions,“Where can we be Black? Where will be safe? When will justice prevail? When will be free?”
We all lose.
The weight of racially charged murders and injustices has bearing on people of color who work in STEM. It haunts our thoughts and can cripple our ability to move forward in accomplishing the important work of our purpose — a consequence that has implications beyond our psyche and emotional spaces. STEM innovations happen when people pursue them. When people are crushed and shying away from disciplines that do nothing to acknowledge their concerns, those innovations run the risk of never being realized.
Although I am a woman of color, my mind reels and my heart aches when I think of the plight of the Black man. He is feared. He is hated. He is undervalued. The beauty of his otherness is diminished, destroyed; loathed. I often encourage the folks I know to “love the WoC in STEM in your life,” and I also want to encourage you to love the MoC in STEM in your lives. They are the unfortunate targets of domestic terrorism at its best, and a total disregard for their lives — for the beauty of their otherness — at its worst.
My fear is that my father, brother, beau and so many other men of color are right: the kind of overt disregard for their lives that has marred U.S. history will continue, and no matter what they do or say, they’ll always be at risk until we decide, as a nation, that their lives matter. And I fear that STEM, the men who work in it, those who benefit from it, I, and all other women of color will continue to lose in the interim.
Please join us this evening as we continue our discussion on “Burnout, Bravery and Being a Woman of Color in STEM” (#BBBinSTEM) in scope to cover the topic of racial trauma burnout that arises when aspects of our identity seem to be under attack in society (and in the scientific enterprise), yet we are expected to carry on as if nothing is happening.
We’ll feature Dr. Danielle N. Lee and Mr. Shareef Jackson as guests, who are not only brilliant, but have lots to say.
Copyright © 2016 by Jedidah Isler
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