Physicists are off the job as they ‘Strike for Black Lives’

(Strike for Black Lives/Twitter)

(Strike for Black Lives/Twitter)

Thousands of scientists across the globe, including a number of researchers at area colleges and universities, are on strike Wednesday. Black astronomers, cosmologists and physicists organized the global Strike for Black Lives, along with “Shut-down STEM,” as a day to stop doing science and start addressing racism within academia.

“We want science to work,” said Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a member of the group Particles for Justice. “So we’re turning it off so that we can turn it back on again properly.”

Prescod-Weinstein is a particle physicist, theoretical cosmologist and professor at the University of New Hampshire. She dreamed of becoming a physicist since she was 10 years old growing up in East Los Angeles, where she was able to see only the moon and a few bright stars like the planet Venus.

“Really deep down, it’s because I love thinking about the universe so much,” said Prescod-Weinstein. “And I truly believe that everyone has a right to know and love the night sky, and right now those rights are being denied. I have a role to play in addressing that.”

As a scientist she spends her days thinking about theoretical subatomic particles like quarks and axions. She’s a dark matter detective, and didn’t expect to be organizing a strike.

But Prescod-Weinstein said she experienced racism, sexism and homophobia while studying to get her Ph.D. and as a postdoctoral fellow, which motivated her to organize Wednesday’s action as a way to make the path easier for future black scientists.

“I’m not just walking through the door for myself, I’m holding it open for other people to go through as well,” she said. “The movement for Black lives is not a separate one from science, because as long as there are Black people in science, then any issue that affects black people affects scientists. So we were really trying to draw those two things together and say, to the scientific community, will you stand with us as we fight for our lives and for the lives of our families and for the lives of the people in our communities?”

Federica Bianco, who teaches physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware and is white, said she was joining the strike and planned to “learn and listen and plan for action within my circles” of academia.

Prescod-Weinstein said in the competitive field of science, Black people are at a disadvantage.

“Every day, you’re keeping up with people who aren’t afraid to walk from their house to the lab, as some of my colleagues are. [White scientists] don’t have to worry about being pulled over by the police on their way between the lab and their home,” she said.

Fewer than 100 black women in the United States have their doctorates in physics, while American universities award about 2,000 physics Ph.D.s each year.

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