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C&EN stands in solidarity with communities of color

by Bibiana Campos-Seijo
June 3, 2020 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 98, ISSUE 22


Credit: We Rep STEM. You can download these graphics on their Twitter page here

In light of the killing of George Floyd, C&EN stands in solidarity with Black Americans, and we condemn the injustice, inequality, and violence that continues to disproportionately affect them.

We’d like to offer our support. This week we asked members of the chemistry community how we can do that and received a number of suggestions, including checking in on colleagues, creating spaces for conversations, and offering allyship. We heard that a first step would be to start conversations with friends and colleagues who feel affected. We heard that we should be ready for these conversations to turn uncomfortable, and all the while we should remain open and honest. And we heard that these conversations give everyone the space to share their feelings, thoughts, emotions, and concerns—and signal that it’s OK to talk about them. As one chemist told us, “Knowing that you aren’t the only one dealing with the situation or responding to a situation is powerful.”

And in some cases, we heard nothing at all. This is understandable: the problems of racism and inequality were not created by our Black colleagues and friends. It’s not their responsibility to fix them, or to tell us how to do better. It’s on us to do the work and research as to how to strengthen our allyship.

Diversity, inclusion, and respect are core values of the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN. But core values mean nothing if we do not take action to make sure they are in practice. And for this, we have a long way to go. Our discipline consistently fails to recruit and retain Black students. We continue to fail to promote and recognize Black chemists. We continue to place an unequal burden on Black faculty and scientific leaders via invisible work. We continue to indulge in harmful tokenism. We must do better.

C&EN can do better. We’ve been consciously working to include diverse voices in our pages, and that work will continue. In the coming months, we will better examine the effects of systemic racism in the chemistry community and give space to those with concrete actions to enact change. We recognize our shortcomings in building a more diverse staff and are taking action to build that pipeline.

We must listen to our Black friends and colleagues; understand where these roadblocks happen and dismantle them; and rebuild our organizations in a way that embraces diversity, inclusion, and respect. One way to build that future is to focus now on building up young leaders in chemistry, the Black students and scientists who see this profession as their lifeblood and who, if we don’t support, mentor, and protect, will leave before they can achieve their goals. Invite them to coauthor a paper or grant, or invite them to give a talk in your next event.

In the coming months, we will reach out to the broader chemistry community for nominations for programs like C&EN’s Talented 12 and 10 Start-ups to Watch, for story ideas around underrepresented people in chemistry, and other projects we hope will exemplify our commitment to inclusion. But don’t wait for us—email with your thoughts.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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Prasad (June 4, 2020 10:53 AM)
Instead of saying C&EN stands in solidarity with Black Americans, we should say C&EN stands in solidarity with human beings. There should not be any difference in black, white, yellow or brown Americans
Bibiana Campos Seijo, C&EN editor in chief (June 5, 2020 2:55 PM)
Thanks for your comment, Prasad. You are right: In a just world there should not be any difference between black, white, yellow or brown people. Unfortunately, the world is not a just place and some of these groups continue to experience inequality and discrimination. The chemistry community must work together to build a future that embraces diversity, inclusion and respect.
Stephen Askew (June 5, 2020 4:10 PM)
I believe that you are mistaken, Ms. Editor. The United States of America is the most JUST society in the history of Mankind. Perhaps you meant that life is not fair, and that is very true. It is not, nor can it be, however common human decency should be held as a standard. No decent person with any moral compass believes that racism is anything less that disgusting and morally corrupt, but re-writing history and demanding apologies from individuals whom are guilty of no wrongs will improve nothing.

Respect is earned, not built, and with it, mutually, is inclusion. Diversity of thought is a catalyst for dynamic relationships and teamwork, but diversity simply for its own sake is ironically discriminatory and exclusive. Diversity of race, religion, sex, creed, etc. should be an incidental of a group of people of good will, not a standard from sort of Master Plan, compulsion, or edict.

If you have specific examples of true discrimination currently affecting folks, please identify the institutions by name along with names of the guilty individuals, and as a decent human being, I will stand and denounce them with you. Blanket statements of an "unjust world" improve nothing while fanning the flames of divisiveness, resentment, and hatred based on falsehoods.
Stephen Askew (June 5, 2020 11:19 AM)
I find it offensive and completely inappropriate for C&EN to post a Black Lives Matter banner with the Black Power fist on it then petition solidarity. The Black Power fist is used by the Black Panthers, the domestic terrorist group, as well. That hardly seems "inclusive", rather it implies that it is EXCLUSIVE for all other than Blacks.

I suspect, and surely hope, that the majority of members of American Chemical Society, regardless of the density of melanin in each one's skin, are above the fray of this political rock throwing and believe in judging their fellow human beings by the content of their character and through their actions.

C&EN would serve its members and the public infinitely better by staying out of hot socio-political issues whenever possible.
Bibiana Campos Seijo, C&EN editor in chief (June 5, 2020 4:06 PM)
The clenched fist has a long history and it has been used by marginalized groups around the world to symbolize solidarity and support. It is also used a salute to express unity, strength and resistance. Nelson Mandela, for example, used this salute upon his release from prison in 1990.

These "socio-political issues" have important repercussions on the chemical enterprise and the text above lists just a few: "Our discipline consistently fails to recruit and retain Black students [...] to promote and recognize Black chemists [...] to place an unequal burden on Black faculty and scientific leaders via invisible work."
It is within C&EN's remit to cover these issues and to encourage our community to embrace ACS's core values, which include diversity, inclusion and respect.
Megan Gee (June 6, 2020 7:25 PM)
As the editor has replied, the clenched fist is a symbol of solidarity, support and strength that has been raised by many marginalized groups throughout the world. Additionally, please consider more research on movements like that of the Black Panthers before commenting. It is understandable that when people only listen to the narratives directed by corrupt and unjust systems, they too will adopt ideologies and rhetoric that brand movements in such offensive ways. The Black Panther movement was so much more than violent actions usually publicized, and included many community outreach programs that inclusively sought to better the lives of everyone; in the same way that most of the protests occurring now are peaceful, despite how they are portrayed.
History lesson: today we're celebrating Tommie Smith's birthday. He is a Black man who raised a clenched fist alongside his teammate John Carlos in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. People ignorant to their struggle and cause, but more concerned with stating their assumptions rather than engaging conversations also immediately branded and ridiculed him as being affiliated with a so-called domestic terrorist group. Let's learn from history rather than continue to repeat it.

All lives matter. But that is the message of the Black lives matter movement. Please, feel free to read in the implicit *also if that helps. It is critical that we at the very least willingly engage conversations and acknowledge issues that impact our community at large. The "hot socio-political" issues of today merely remind those who aren't suffering or considering what their colleagues are often silently enduring, that we all still have work to do. I want to thank the editor for this effort at this time to so visibly support this part of our community. Sometimes those behind-the-scenes conversations that keep us feeling safe and don't disrupt our own comfort just aren't enough.
Adrian Brown (June 9, 2020 1:38 PM)
Thank you C&EN for this affirmation of support for communities of color. In response to the detractors of this article, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” - these are the words of Desmond Tutu (Nobel Peace Prize 1984). Racist ideas are deeply entrenched in American culture. I believe it’s worth providing a definition for “racist idea” from Ibram Kendi’s "Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America", the winner of the 2016 National Book Award for non-fiction. Kendi defines a “racist idea” as “any concept that regards one racial group as inferior or superior to another racial group in any way.” History is replete with manifestations of racist ideas and unfortunately such racist ideas persist, even today. For example, why are we celebrating Christopher Columbus as a U.S. holiday after the genocide Columbus led of indigenous people (e.g. the Arawak Indians)? Consider reading Howard Zinn’s "A People’s History of the United States" (1980 non-fiction runner-up for the National Book Award) which starts with Columbus’ arrival in the Caribbean.

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