“Imagine if I, as a child, had accepted my supposed inferior intelligence as truth.” A scientist speaks out on racism and its effects.
As a scientist, I hate the phrasing “real man.” Why? Simple. If a thing can be touched, seen, heard, felt, et cetera, then it is real. So we should begin by getting rid of that annoying terminology from our collective vocabularies.
There are no people that I hate, but there are things that I do hate, and at the very top of the list of things that I hate is injustice. I detest injustice in any form and towards anything or anyone, and to stereotype any person or group of people is an injustice.
I was born poor. I have never had, directly or indirectly, any form of governmental help in terms of “handouts” or welfare of any kind—not as a child, not as an adult.
I am very well educated, with advanced degrees. I am a successful computer scientist and entrepreneur, an accomplished artist, and a world-class athlete who speaks five languages.
My greatest joy comes from helping others, whether I know them or not. I spend a considerable amount of time talking to and laughing with the elderly, and among them, is one very special lady who refers to me as “a great big teddy bear.” As a child, I went on an expedition where I planted trees that are a part of a famous botanical garden. Due to an act of kindness, I once made a woman (a complete stranger) cry, without saying a single word to her. I have been featured on Greenpeace’s Web site as the “Online Warrior of the Week.”
I don’t drink. I am soft-spoken and I don’t even curse.
I have never fathered a child.
I am a black man.
Could it be that I am the exception to the rule? I don’t believe so. Among my diverse group of friends from high school, a close group of them all went on to top universities—Ivy League schools with full scholarships—-and they, too, continued to be successful. They are black men, too, all of us graduates of the same public school. None of us were slackers then, and none of us have ever been labeled with the insufferable caption, “failure to launch.”
What must be done in an effort to curtail these stereotypes, with the hope of perhaps bringing them as close to complete eradication as possible, is to take action. That is the first line of defense. If it is not possible to take action then at the very least we must stand against it by speaking up and out.
Another thing that should be done is this: teach. We must educate not only our children but also our families and friends about these things and why they are wrong and also let them see the damage that they cause when they are said.
As a child, my greatest passion was science. I was so obsessed with all things scientific, that I decided early on that I wanted to study biology. By the time I entered college, my first major—before I switched—was biochemistry.
In 2007, eminent Nobel Prize-winning scientist James Watson made some very foul remarks about the intelligence of blacks by claiming that black people were less intelligent than white people. (James Watson, following his incendiary remarks, ended up retiring from his post as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island.) He was quoted as saying that “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really.” What makes this more interesting for me is this: as a child of about eleven, I read one of his earlier works that he and co-discoverer of DNA, noted molecular biologist Francis Crick, wrote on the double-helix: DNA’s structure. It was one of my favorite books, one which I read often, feeding my obsession with science and more specifically, biology.
As a child, James Watson was a person—a scientist, a man—that I admired. As a scientist, I still regard him as brilliant and nothing he does or says will erase his remarkable contributions to science, but that is where my admiration ends. Imagine if I, as a child, had accepted my supposed inferior intelligence as truth. Imagine if I had decided that since that is “true” of me and my kind, then I should just accept it and become whatever is expected of me to become. If you cannot imagine that, then imagine someone telling your child that he or she will never amount to anything in life, or that they are unintelligent or less intelligent simply because of the color of their skin, or that as a boy he is not supposed to be kind and caring because only girls are supposed to be that way. How would that make you feel? Now imagine your child growing up with these things planted inside them as the truth about themselves.
Stereotypes are not only wrong, they are painful and can be very dangerous, and that includes all the male stereotypes as well. Stereotypes cultivate hate and divisiveness and create chasms between people, leading to greater problems for all of society.
If we repeat a thing often enough, it will eventually become our truth. If done without the intention of it becoming our truth, it will sink in unbeknownst to us, deep into our subconscious minds, where it will reside until found and forcibly evicted. If that eviction does not occur, we will not only believe in this thing, but we will repeat it without batting an eye, teach it to others, and share it with others as if it were fact. We should strive to ensure that the things we say come from a place of truth, integrity, decency, and proof. And whenever we see miscarriages of justice, we must step in and act against them.
Image credit: Tobias Sieben/Flickr