Science, Now + Beyond

I’m tired of being your token black student

How can I not feel my blackness when I'm the only black person in the room?

Only in my childhood and adolescence did I feel welcomed by science. That was before I was stunted with the harsh reality that black people are neither represented nor present in it. Maybe you’re thinking “well, Neil deGrasse is a black man in physics so black people are fine”, but no, my friend, that is what you call a ‘token negro’ and it is not by any means proper representation of the number of blacks who should be in science. Nothing rings more true to a girl from Brooklyn now living in Chicago than a line from Jay Z and Kanye’s Murder to Excellence album: “only spotting a few blacks the higher I go”.

And because of this, I can feel my blackness. Did you hear me? I can feel the blackness of my flesh. I feel that sensation of intellectual inferiority, that somehow being born black meant I was less. I feel the ‘token negro’ of my black flesh when I sit in a lecture with a white instructor in a classroom where I am the only black student. I feel my blackness when I am looking at the list of faculty members in my program and realize that not only am I the only black student, but I am also the only black person. I feel my blackness in an environment that speaks so definitively about how much “representation matters” but somehow forgets to implement black people in their programs. I mean, how could I not feel my blackness when I am the only black person in a room? How could I not believe that I am some sick university experiment where they let one Negro in to see how it does? I do not feel like a person. I feel like an experiment. I do not know who I can become because I am not seeing who I can become because black people are not represented in the sciences.

Did you know that the co-founder of DNA, James Watson, refused to believe blacks are intellectually equally to whites based on genetic differences? I hear university programs speak so vehemently about their commitment to diversity and inclusion… it shoots anger through my spine. Anger and frustration because I was taught in school who James Watson was, anger because he was a student at my current institution, frustration because that same institution has managed to only admit one black student into its Ph.D. program while there are undoubtedly hundreds more black applicants who are qualified.

This white washed ideological of intelligence is nowhere near over. It takes away my privilege of just being a student. It is my unfortunate reality to be an anomaly in science carrying the burden of an ambassador for the black community. I do not have the luxury of just being a student conducting scientific research like my white counterparts do. Instead, I remember while studying or performing science that my failures do not only reflect me, but all aspiring black scientists. Because of this I am on a personal mission to succeed so more blacks can find a path into science. So that the next generation doesn’t have to feel like the ambassador of the black community or feel isolated and alone in a sea of white faces or feel a sense of inferiority because of the color of their skin. So that the next generation can just be students like everyone else.