Being a Black woman in STEM
This isn’t going to be a tell all tale about how awful and unpleasant being a Black academic/woman in STEM, but more of a glimpse of the internal dialogue I've been having with myself for the past 5 or 6 years. Despite my experiences not being as harsh or overtly affected by my race (as far as I can honestly share), I've struggled with coming to terms that my feelings about my place in STEM are valid and that the construct of racism and institutional discrimination are built to make you second guess yourself at every turn. Have I been negatively impacted by being a Black woman in STEM? From the outset, you'd think I was very fortunate to be in the position I am. As I always say, two things can exist at the same time, so despite being fortunate and grateful for my journey so far, yes I have also undoubtedly been negatively impacted by being a Black woman, both externally and internally.
Being a scientific PhD student is beyond my wildest dreams and I am in this position in spite of my background and race. It isn't the medical or law degree that many family members imagined me obtaining and it certainly wasn't who I imagined I would be because I was inspired by others who looked like me when I was younger. This scenario might be true and might well resonate with a lot of people who do not come from ethnic minority backgrounds, but you have to understand that there is a very clear difference in the situations.
Science as a subject was created with the intention of proving that there was a sound reason to creating racial structures and hierarchy. It claimed that highly melanated humans were subhuman, animal like and far less intelligent and thus their place as slaves and servants in society. A lot of scientific research and discoveries came to light from Black people being treated as test subjects and being stripped of their humanity, think Sarah Baartman, the Tuskegee Trials, Henrietta Lacks to name a few. Science was created to keep people who look like me out and it continues to do so to this day. The statistics don't lie. So when Black and ethnic minority students say that they feel they don’t belong in science, it's far more deep rooted in comparison to their white counterparts.
Being a Black woman in STEM for me has been a constant battle ground in my head playing out all of the scenarios of how following this passion will inevitably go up in flames. That I'll constantly give and give, get higher up the ladder, get a Dr. title, work myself to the bone, all to be told that it's worth nothing. It's wondering if I didn't get a particular internship or job because the hiring manager took one look at my name or LinkedIn profile and decided that I do not belong in their company because of my race and gender. It's an exhaustive list of cons as to why I should be fighting for change, but deciding to persevere because the small list of pros will have a resounding impact. Being Black in STEM is wondering why the lecturer that consistently gives you low grades knows you by name out of almost 200 students in your class (when I complained, future grades 'magically' went up to my average). It's not knowing whether you deserve to complain because you are obviously grateful, but are made to constantly show gratitude. It's knowing that you're not in a meritocratic system and never will be.
At the beginning of my PhD, I decided to sign up for therapy due to a few reasons. A major reason was wanting to shape how I entered such a big part of my life, knowing that it will skew how my PhD fares. I talked extensively with my therapist about how scared I was of how much harder life will be the further into the scientific industry I get. Throughout all of our conversations on the topic, she consistently affirmed my thoughts but asked if it would make me give up. The answer is no. I can't bare to think of young Black girls 20 years from now being inundated with the fear I have. This will take more than just being another Black face in STEM. Tokenism doesn't get us very far and what we require now is to uproot and reorganise the whole system.
This wasn't a tell all tale about my awful experience, but one story that is very real and probably not that unique. It shouldn't be part of the story, and that is what I'm working to change for others. It not going to be an easy road but a worthwhile one and will only be possible with the majority of the people in the system driving the change.
As always, thank you for taking the time to read this. Make sure to subscribe to never miss a post and to receive exclusive content. Catch me over on Instagram where I post more frequent content on my PhD and other lifestyle bits!
Until next time,