The STEM field has a long history of excluding and colonizing Black and Indigenous people of color, as well as other under-represented minorities. Acknowledging past injustices perpetrated in the name of scientific advancement and higher learning is one step in moving towards a more equitable and inclusive field. Additionally, historical perspective provides insight into the deep history of systemic racism still in operation today.
Colonization of indigenous and tribal land by academic institutions stems from the Morrill Act of 1862, which granted colleges and universities billions of acres of land to be used for scientific purposes. Originally belonging to indigenous tribal nations of the US, once the Morrill Act became law, land was forced out of the possession of indegenous people often through violent and non-compensatory means. This colonization of land by US academic institutions aided in their early financial success and still continues to generate revenue that indigenous people are not able to access as they remain largely absent and underrepresented in academia.(R. Lee & T. Ahtone.(2020). ‘Land-grab universities’. High Country News. retrieved from:https://www.hcn.org/).
Predominantly composed of white folk, marine sciences and geosciences are no such exception from the historical exclusion of minority groups, especially in light of climate change. Often regulatory agencies and policy-makers rely on technocratic solutions to climate change and sea-level rise informed by science and enacted in policy. However, these solutions lack explicit inclusion of people, usually underrepresented communities (such as the Geechee people of the Georgia Coast), who are most affected and most knowledgeable of the systems they inhabit.This colorblind adaptation planning is a form of environmental racism that benefits some populations while abandoning others. Technocratic solutions to climate change assess physical, ecological, and economic impacts but ignore culture and social aspects embedded in the lives of those most affected, creating a racialized climate-gap. Combating this history of exclusion that leads to uneven vulnerabilities due to climate change requires scientists and policymakers to partner with and explicitly include underrepresented groups during research and planning phases to stymie racial inequalities and the persistence of systemic racism.(Hardy, R. D., Milligan, R. A., & Heynen, N. (2017). Racial coastal formation: The environmental injustice of colorblind adaptation planning for sea-level rise. Geoforum, 87, 62-72.)
While we are unable to alter the past, we remain motivated that we can move towards a more equitable and inclusive future, wherein past injustices can be ameliorated by actions in the present. Below are select links discussing the history of systemic racism in the STEM field, with multiple readings specific to the geosciences:
- Land-grab universities by Robert Lee and Tristan Ahtone. How land-grant universities have built their foundation upon expropriated Indigenous land.
- Decolonising science reading list by Chanda Prescod Weinstein 2015. Extensive list of resources depicting colonialism, imperialism, and domination for the purpose of resource extraction used over the last 500 years by Euro-American scientists. The only way to decolonize science is to understand historical context that resulted in our ‘modern science’. Originally written in the context of protests against the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawai’i by native Hawaiians.
- Racial coastal formation: The environmental injustice of colorblind adaptation planning for sea level rise by Hardy et al 2017. Examines vulnerability to sea-level rise through the process of racial coastal formation on Sapelo Island by analyzing its deep history, the uneven racial development of land ownership and employment, and barriers to African American participation and inclusion in adaptation planning. How ignoring history and using ‘colorblind’ adaptation planning perpetuates the ‘slow violence’ of environmental racism.
- Reckoning with a racist legacy in ocean science by Penelope K. Hardy and Helen M. Rozwadowski. Discussing how Matthew Fontaine Maury, the ‘father of oceanography’ and ‘pathfinder of the seas’ has been lauded without being acknowledge for his status as a proponent for chattel slavery and his racist attitudes.
- Dutt, K. "Race and racism in the geosciences," ‘Geoscientists in the United States are predominantly white. Progress towards diversification can only come with a concerted shift in mindsets and a deeper understanding of the complexities of race.’