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Showing posts from November, 2014

My Response to Andrew Sullivan's Thoughts on Affirmative Action

Dear Andrew,
In your recent post Thoughts on Affirmative Action, early on you claimed that the G.I. Bill "was a huge step forward for meritocracy in America." You should be very careful with your history here. As pointed out by Ira Katznelson in his book When Affirmative Action Was White (see also this NY Times book review),  Jim Crow laws and practices were baked into the G.I. Bill. The congressional "Dixiecrats" at the time ensured that the administration of G.I. Bill benefits (and Federal Housing Administration loan insurance, and WPA jobs) was left up to each state individually. This meant that Black soldiers in the South returning from WWII were often denied government benefits from these so-called meritocratic programs. Black veterans in the North were barred from buying houses in white neighborhoods, and couldn't obtain loans in Black neighborhoods due to housing shortages and the practice of redlining. 
From the NY Times book review (which is easier to …

Updates from the Exolab: Characterizing a Brown Dwarf Found with Kepler

This is a guest post from my graduate student, Ben Montet. In it, he describes his work studying a brown dwarf in the Kepler field, which is documented in a recently submitted paper available on astro-ph at
Ben is a fourth-year graduate student in the Exolab studying M dwarfs and their companions. He is also interested in using dynamical effects in multiple-planet systems to better understand both the planets in these systems and their host stars. He has previously written for Astrobites and FiveThirtyEight. You can find him on Twitter @benmontet.
The longtime follower of this blog has no doubt read a considerable amount about exoplanets. But in my opinion readers have been underserved when it comes to their more massive cousins, the brown dwarfs. Brown dwarfs have masses to low to ignite hydrogen fusion in their cores, yet too massive to be planets (they are capable of fusing deuterium, unlike less massive gas giant planets). However, the truth is, brow…

Some questions from readers

A Black scientist wrote to me in response to my list of white privileges:I prefer to stay out of discussions about race for personal reasons, but in reading your most recent blog post, I keep feeling that there is an undercurrent of "class-ism" that is generally overlooked.  For example, I would add to Dr. McIntosh's list something along the lines of "I can enjoy a meal in a wealthier part of town without having my presence questioned because of my race," the assumption being that I must be too poor or uneducated to be in such an establishment given my race.  I imagine that this would be an unlikely occurrence for a member of a majority group.  Is this something you have come across?My answer:I agree with your addition to Dr. McIntosh's list. This highlights how class and race are intertwined. I strongly encourage you to read Seeing White. Chapter 5 covers the intersection of socioeconomic class and white privilege. In that chapter, the authors point out th…

Owning my privilege - one white woman's perspective

Guest post by Erin

A couple Saturdays ago I attended an anti-racism meet-up in Boston.  I was struck by a number of things, but the first thing that made me pause was the meeting space itself.  The Yvonne Pappenheim Library on Racism is hidden gem tucked just off of Boston Common, with walls lined from floor to ceiling with books about our country’s history of racism.  Thousands of books written on a topic that even I, a self-described liberal, progressive woman, will only discuss in highly guarded environments.  Here’s a topic that I’m able to dance around because of my privilege.  I’ve tried my damnedest to shift discussions that veer too close to race to subjects of class, socioeconomic status, under-privileged, underrepresented minorities without addressing the role that white privilege plays in our society. Yet, there I was, surrounded by thousands of published accounts of the reality in which we live.
I believe it’s guilt that has kept me from exploring this for so long.  The not…

Race and Racism: Listing White Privileges

A friend of mine trained in psychology rolls his eyes at the mention of Peggy McIntosh's Invisible Knapsack. "She's been on that analogy for more than 20 years now. Does anyone even own a knapsack anymore?" He's saying this tongue-in-cheek since he's well aware of white privilege, even his own. But while the analogy of a backpack filled with invisible tools and benefits is possibly overused in psychology circles, I think it's far less familiar to astronomers. So I figured I'd reproduce Dr. McIntosh's list here for reference since it is so germane to the discussion of white privilege, race and racism in our field. After perusing it, I challenge you to name some of your own privileges if you are white. If you are non-white, yet heterosexual (heteronormative) then I challenge you to list your privileges as a straight person, or like me, your male privilege. 
Keeping our privilege out of our pockets (or knapsacks) and in the foreground is one of the …

Race and Racism: Seriously? Another post about privilege?

I've felt simultaneously heartened and saddened by the recent introduction of the word "privilege" into the lexicon of astronomy diversity discussions. I'm heartened because awareness about one's privilege is a vital step in actually doing something about inequality in astronomy and the world in general. On the other hand, I'm saddened by the most common reaction from privileged individuals, namely a short period of feeling disoriented, confused and/or guilty, followed by a shrug and a return to business as usual (Well, that sucks, but what can be done?). With the use of the word followed by those shrugs, I fear that the word "privilege" is slowly losing power because people aren't changing. I feel the word already slipping into the realm of buzzwords. This would be tragic, because privilege is one of the primary manifestations of racism (and sexism, and heterosexism, and ablism) in our society today.

By saddened I don't mean to imply any s…

Einstein's antiracism activism

From Amazon:
Nearly fifty years after his death, Albert Einstein remains one of America’s foremost cultural icons. A thicket of materials, ranging from scholarly to popular, have been written, compiled, produced, and published about his life and his teachings. Among the ocean of Einsteinia—scientific monographs, biographies, anthologies, bibliographies, calendars, postcards, posters, and Hollywood films—however, there is a peculiar void when it comes to the connection that the brilliant scientist had with the African American community. Virtually nowhere is there any mention of his relationship with Paul Robeson, despite Einstein’s close friendship with him, or W.E.B. Du Bois, despite Einstein’s support for him.  This unique book is the first to bring together a wealth of writings by Einstein on the topic of race. Although his activism in this area is less well known than his efforts on behalf of international peace and scientific cooperation, he spoke out vigorously against racism b…