Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Regular swpd reader LaSmartOne left a comment this morning that I'm turning into a guest post. In response to a satirical line in yesterday's post about how "whenever white people congregate these days, high concentrations of racial homogeneity are just pure coincidence," LaSmartOne offers much insight into life as a black graduate student at an elite, largely white research university.
These comments are off-topic, but I really need to vent. I am a graduate student at a major biological "research institution" in New York City. You wouldn't know this is a graduate/research program if you stumbled onto this campus. This exclusive, highly maintained campus feels more like Sandals resort with all of the young upper-middle class white or white male/asian female couples roaming around hand-in-hand during the evenings. Groups of white or white-and-asian students roam with tennis rackets on their way to the on-campus court. Or they congregate in packs at the on-campus student lounge with a personal bartender. Or the white and asian students have parties in the hotel-like student lounge of the dorms.
Most of the groups of people you see dotted around campus are all-white or white-and-asian. The campus is mostly white with a substantial number of asians but has a serious dearth of black or latino students--and I almost never see the other black students.
You wouldn't believe the amounts of implicit racism I've experienced here. Twice while coming on campus I've been stopped in a hostile and condescending manner by newly-hired guards who, having seen my ID, told me that I am 'ok' since I was a groundskeeper or a day worker for the animal facility, whose staff is mostly black and latino.
Coming to my dorm, almost every six months someone gives me a hostile look in the foyer as if I'm some intruder. When I attend lectures, I meet the same hostility until I ask a serious academic question of the lecturer.
When someone new comes to my lab, they'll automatically either intentionally ignore me or attempt to condescend to me. Scientific sales reps will intentionally ignore me and proceed to the white guys who are also just students. Believe it or not, this one white girl who rotated in the lab would speak to me in a passive-aggressive/patronizing manner. And almost everyone in the lab, despite my being there for years and attempting to form working relationships with them, never come to me casually or attempt to have conversations (work or otherwise) with me unless I initiate the conversation, and never at the casual or intelligent level they have with each other.
I noticed the other two black guys, who are accommodationists (and overrepresented with respect to the real dearth of black students on campus), also attempt to have conversations with the white people in the lab, but they are always the ones to initiate the conversation.
After five years of being here, the only thing I've learned is that white and asian people are the only people competent enough to be scientists.
A maintenance staff guy wrote an article in the student rag praising the university's president in light of the great hall of European philosophers like Kant and Hume and the great European scientific tradition. Additionally, the sense of ownership and privilege among other students is just incredible.
I'm beginning to think that biomedical science is almost a white supremacist enterprise by default. Science is supposed to be a collaborative endeavor with a free collegial exchange of information and support, but when people are constantly patronizing or condescending to you, such is a psychological assault informing you that you are inconsequential, "tolerated" or unwelcomed. I read a report somewhere that around half of black graduate science students drop out of their programs. If they meet the same kinds of hostility or implied white supremacy I meet, small wonder.
I've especially felt a sort of patronizing attitude right off the bat from many of the white female students on campus. White women, with the help of affirmative action, have made great gains in both scientific student bodies and faculty, but you would still be wont to find black faculty and only a little more lucky in locating black students in scientific graduate programs across the country. That aside, most of my interactions with white females on campus has been unnecessarily hostile and patronizing.
There are two other black male students who happen to be in my lab; they're very sycophantic towards the white male students, which surprised me. They're always kissing up, laughing nervously, you know that trying to court your attention laugh, around these other white males who are just graduate students like them. They prick up their minds and attempt to engage the white guys with crisp, intelligent conversation. They'll go to the white guys equally whenever they have a problem as if they are the fount of knowledge (I've never seen them approach any of the white girls or the Indian guy when they have problems, but they will approach them for prick-up-your-mind 'casual' conversation, more than they give me [or each other]). When explicitly in the company of the white guys (which never seems to be together with each other), they intentionally ignore me or will attempt to condescend to me. It's irritating to watch white guys no better than the average black guy get their egos stroked day after day by white girls and sycophantic blacks while they also slap themselves on the back. It's not like they're especially brilliant or that this science is just so difficult that only superiorly intelligent white supremacists like James Watson can do it.
I don't even want to get into the student listserve conversation I had to observe in the wake of James Watson's comments back in 2007. Some of them practically endorsed the man with statements like "science is about objective data, not political correctness" or "what does giving a writing prize for his autobiography have to do with him making statements that any old man would make"?
What could white students, staff, and faculty do in everyday situations to be more inclusive of black students? How could they reduce levels of what LaSmartOne labels here "implicit racism"?
Posted by macon d at 5:41 AM