The protests that are sweeping the country are a direct response to the fact that racism is an inescapable reality in the United States. That these protests are happening right now, in the midst of a pandemic that places the protesters at risk from congregating, speaks to how deep the injustice is, and how urgent the need for change. The legacy of white supremacy continues to harm those of us who are Black, Indigenous, Latinx, or members of other racially marginalized groups.
And despite having a veneer of objectivity and impartiality, science is not immune.
Science is a powerful tool for solving problems and making people’s lives better. But it has been used to do harm and obstruct progress as well.
Most people have heard of the infamous example of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. In this 40-year study, Black men with syphilis were left untreated, without their informed consent and despite the availability of effective therapies, so that researchers could study the progress of the disease. This is but one example of how science has been used to justify white, European conquest for centuries and continues to this day.
Today’s protests aren’t just about the nine minutes that ex-Officer Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck ultimately leading to his death. They are about the thousands of other unarmed Black men, women, and children who have been needlessly killed by police or others with impunity. They’re about the 40 years of treating hundreds of Black men as guinea pigs in the name of science. And they’re about the 400-year old legacy of slavery and inequality in this country, which manifests itself in institutional and systemic racism in all aspects of modern life from access to housing, health care, food, economic opportunity, and beyond.
As an organization that works for a healthy planet and a safer world, we must address the reality that health and safety are enjoyed unequally across racial lines in our country. Ending these inequities must be an integral part of our mission and our daily work. And a commitment to facing facts means we must be willing to talk about racism explicitly, listen to those who’ve been hurt by it, take counsel from and show up as allies for those who are leading the fight against it, and confront it both in the world we seek to change and in our own institution, assumptions, and actions.
We stand in solidarity with the protesters and urge our supporters to do the same. We also recognize the additional risks protesters are incurring in the midst of a pandemic, and we strongly encourage all to protect their own health and the health of their loved ones at home by maintaining a safe distance from one another and wearing masks and gloves at all times, so that this important act of protest does not result in more sickness and death from the virus.
If you haven’t already, seek out and support local organizers and organizations in your community who are doing critical work on racial equity, environmental justice, voting access, and more. Not sure where to start? Here are some groups that can be a launching point:
- Black Lives Matter
- The Movement for Black Lives
- Until Freedom
- Community Justice Exchange’s National Bail Fund Directory
As an organization, we are also continuously working to advance our own internal racial equity as an integral part of working to achieve our mission. We acknowledge that our progress is slow and that we have more work to do, even within our own organization. Below are some resources that some of our staff have found useful.
You can also explore how bias plays out in your own life, as it does with all of us, by taking this test on implicit bias designed by a cross-disciplinary group of researchers.
If you identify as white and haven’t yet explored issues of privilege, we suggest the podcast series Seeing White from the Center on Documentary Studies at Duke University, or watch this video series on systemic racism from our colleagues at Race Forward.
Online Engagement Manager
Union of Concerned Scientists