Black scientists highlight racism in the lab and the field

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WASHINGTON (AP) — University of Washington ecologist Christopher Schell is studying how coronavirus shutdowns have affected wildlife in Seattle and other cities. But when planning fieldwork, he also thinks about how he’s perceived in neighborhoods where he installs wildlife cameras.

“I wear the nerdiest glasses I have and often a jacket that has my college logo, so that people don’t mistake me for what they think is a thug or hooligan,” said Schell, who is African American.

The recent episode of a white woman calling the police on a Black birder in New York’s Central Park shocked many people. But for Black environmental scientists, worrying about whether they are likely to be harassed or asked to justify their presence while doing fieldwork is a familiar concern.

Tanisha Williams, a botanist at Bucknell University, knows exactly which plants she’s looking for. But after being questioned by strangers in public parks, Williams, who is Black, has started carrying her field guides with her.

“I’ve been quizzed by random strangers,” she said. “Now I bring my wildflower books and botanical field guides, trying to look like a scientist. It’s for other people. I wouldn’t otherwise lug these books.”

Overt harassment …

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