Thursday, May 1, 2014

NdT on Equal Opportunity

When Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked about women in science and whether genetic differences contributed to the fact that there are more men in science than women, he gave this thoughtful response:

I’ve never been female. But I have been black my whole life. And so, let me perhaps offer some insight from that perspective, because there are many similar social issues related to access, to equal opportunity that we find in the black community as well as the community of women in a male dominated — white male dominated — society. And I’ll be brief because I want to get to more questions.

When I look at, throughout my life, I’ve known that I wanted to do astrophysics since I was 9 years old, my first visit to the Hayden Planetarium. I was a little younger than Victor at the time, although he did it before I did. So I got to see how the world around me reacted to my expression of these ambitions. And all I can say is, the fact that I wanted to be a scientist, an astrophysicist, was hands down the path of most resistance through the forces of nature - the forces of society. Anytime I expressed this interest teachers would say "Don’t you want to be an athlete?” I wanted to become something that was outside the paradigms of expectation of the people in power. And so fortunately my depth of interest in the universe was so deep and so fuel-enriched that every one of these curveballs that I was thrown and fences built in front of me and hills that I had to climb, I just reached for more fuel and I kept going.

Now here I am, one, I think, one of the most visible scientists in the land, and I want to look behind me say, where are the others who might have been this and they’re not there? And I wonder. what is the blood on the tracks that I happened to survive that others did not? Simply because of the forces of society that prevent it at every turn. At every turn. To the point that I have security guards following me as I go through department stores presuming that I am a thief. I walked out of a store one time and the alarm went off, so they came running to me. I walked through the gate at the same time a white male walked through the gate. And that guy just walked off with the stolen goods, knowing that they would stop me, and not him. That’s an interesting sort of exploitation, what a scam that was. I think people should do that more often! [audience laughs]

So my life experience tells me that when you don’t find blacks in the sciences, when you don’t find women in the sciences, I know that these forces are real, and I had to survive them to get where I am today. So before we start talking about genetic differences, you’ve got to come up with a system where there’s equal opportunity. Then we can have that conversation.
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I talked about Dr. Tyson's answer to the question in my last podcast, but I wanted to share these words again, because I believe the point being made here cannot be overstated. We're still a long way from where we need to be.


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