Angry Sunday rant on behalf of my friends in the Minority Academic Ghetto*

Last week, I wrote a bit about the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial session I moderated at ScienceOnline2011 with Danielle N. Lee and Alberto Roca. I know that Alberto is bogged down with grant applications right now so we haven’t heard his reflections. But the incomparable DNLee has now put up her own thoughts, not just on the MLK session but on the common thread that ran through many of the #scio11 sessions: “being a woman in science (online and offline), female sexiness and science, being a minority/ally in science and academia, and even alternative career options for scientists.”

The title of Dr. Lee’s post reflects that common theme – Confronting Marginalization:

You know, the situation where those that are less like the majority feel (or maybe they really are) cast off to the side.  In these cases being a female when most of your colleagues are men, or a female science writer/blogger having less visibility/press than male counterparts, or being simulataneously pretty and smart and wondering for which attribute you get more respect, or wondering if your efforts to diversify your field are making a difference or knowing that if you practice a different form of science you will be respected.

Danielle then links to a great post from a couple of weeks ago – great in an infuriating way – where Scientopia blogger, Hermitage, holds forth on attitudes toward those who score fellowships or research grant funds from programs directed toward members of non-dominant, marginalized groups:

What is the Minority Academia Ghetto, you ask? Why, it is the state of mind that awards, programmes, initiatives, etc are pointless unless a white dude can win it, serve on it, or vote in it. I realize many senior monks’ responses are ‘get yours and tell everyone who thinks otherwise to fuck themselves’, but the reality of the situation is that Everyone Who Thinks Otherwise comprises a substantial amount of my academic peerage.

This attitude – one that I have had to confront from my own peers – disgusts me in that no one should ever be questioned for where they received grant funding. Period.

I tried to post this comment this morning at Hermitage’s post but there’s something flukey going on with their comment system and I got a 403 error. So, here’s my comment to her:

Hermitage, this is a comment from a white dude, tenured at a HBCU, with a lab that has been 75-100% female since 1992 so take it for whatever my background means: it pisses me off that white dudes cannot appreciate that when they apply for a RFA or some speciality grant program, they are taking the very same approach they criticize in women and other marginalized groups.

White dudes know that you take every advantage possible in trying to scam grant funds. I’ve seen white dudes apply to the Flight Attendants Medical Research Institute because the mission of the institute is kinda-sorta related to the work they do and they’re just going to spin it to make it relevant to the review panel because, hell, their money is green (now watch the white dudes click on that link to see if their research is relevant to that agency).

I even remember back to the early 90s when DOD started funding breast cancer research. A bunch of white dudes figured out how to make their oncogene or transcription factor somehow relevant to breast cancer because it was yet another source of funds. And because *they* got the DOD grants, they somehow became as prestigious as NIH grants (even when they were “easier” money than NIH grants in the early days).

I’m sick to death of my compatriots who say this or that about the grant programs that non-white, non-male grantees score. Why can’t they see that 90% of the NIH extramural system is actually affirmative action for white men? How bloody blind can one be to their own privilege?

What can we white dudes allies do? There’s a great DrugMonkey post that he needs to repost at Scientopia has kindly reposted at Scientopia on how it doesn’t hurt to be “that guy” – the one who speaks out in the department about the seminar program being too white or male, who stands up when someone makes a racist or sexist remark, and who actively promotes the awesome work of their non-white and/or female colleagues. As PhysioProf said at another post I can’t seem to find right now: it’s okay guys, your dick won’t fall off.

Take whatever money you can for whatever grant program applies to you, whether it be your niche research area or special attributes of the groups to which you belong.

White dudes have been doing it for years.

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9 Responses to Angry Sunday rant on behalf of my friends in the Minority Academic Ghetto*

  1. DrugMonkey says:

    That part about DoD grants being as prestigious as NIH, because white established, usual suspect men were winning them resonates. How easily those awards could have become marginalized if they were initially viewed as a pool for only X, Y or Z type of researchers.

  2. DrugMonkey says:

    Winning them *when they were less competitive*, I meant to emphasize…

  3. Mary Knudson says:

    Thanks for caring so deeply about others and for caring enough to write, David. Not many white dudes in a university are willing to stand up and speak out.


  4. dante says:

    Thank you David, you are one of the minority in terms of sepaking out.
    I am an asian dude. Been in science for about 30 yrs. Have had my own laboratory for 18 years and am the single non-white male faculty of my institute. When I was a postdoc I was told that I will not get a job because I am “non-white” and this comment was from a white dude. Many times I have given a talk, people tell me that I give such a good talk and that my english is sooooooooo good . Went to a meeting, gave a talk and some people asked me whether I was a postdoc. I guess I should take it as acompliment that I look young or maybe it is hard for prople to beleive that non-white males can be faculty.

  5. DNLee says:

    I really love the “your dick won’t fall off” part. Thanks again. NO BIG thanks! For this post and all you do to raise the bar.

  6. Pingback: Repost: It Doesn’t Hurt a Bit to Be “That Guy” | DrugMonkey

  7. Pingback: Science Online 2011 and My First World Lament « Bridge8

  8. Hermitage says:

    Indeed, that would been a comment epic in magnitude ^^. Thanks for caring, and your post warmed the depths of my nonexistent soul.