Black History Month…

Illustration of Anthony M. Johnson working in an ultrafast laser lab; Ronald McNair playing the saxophone aboard the Challenger; Mercedes Richards in front of a computer.
Illustration by Abigal Malate, American Institute of Physics

Topics: African Americans, Diaspora, Diversity in Science, Women in Science

Former First Lady, Secretary of State, and Presidential Candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said “women’s rights are human rights.” Comparatively, Black History is American History. The insurrection at the Capitol wasn’t just white privilege on-steroids, it was ignorance writ large. Not that the information isn’t in their face for twenty-eight days, twenty-nine on leap years, but an ignorance born of willfulness, arrogance, hubris, and mental deficiencies.

The Middle Passage. December 7, 1941. The Holocaust. September 11, 2001. January 6, 2021. All is a part of our history, days that shall live in infamy. Days we commemorate in ceremony, observance, remembrance, and a commitment within our souls: never again.

You don’t forgive anything by shrugging, and the victims of violence never forget. We’ve all been experiencing posttraumatic stress disorder for four years we would LIKE to forget, but we’d rather heal from, in the light of science, and truth.

The American Psychiatric Association has never officially recognized extreme racism (as opposed to ordinary prejudice) as a mental health problem, although the issue was raised more than 30 years ago. After several racist killings in the civil rights era, a group of black psychiatrists sought to have extreme bigotry classified as a mental disorder. The association’s officials rejected the recommendation, arguing that because so many Americans are racist, even extreme racism in this country is normative—a cultural problem rather than an indication of psychopathology.

The psychiatric profession’s primary index for diagnosing psychiatric symptoms, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), does not include racism, prejudice, or bigotry in its text or index.

Therefore, there is currently no support for including extreme racism under any diagnostic category. This leads psychiatrists to think that it cannot and should not be treated in their patients.

To continue perceiving extreme racism as normative and not pathologic is to lend it legitimacy. Clearly, anyone who scapegoats a whole group of people and seeks to eliminate them to resolve his or her internal conflicts meets criteria for a delusional disorder, a major psychiatric illness.

Is Extreme Racism a Mental Illness? Yes. It can be a delusional symptom of psychotic disorders. Alvin F Poussaint, Professor of psychiatry.

When astronaut Mae Jemison saw actress Nichelle Nichols portray Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, her life was changed forever. Seeing an African-American role model helped steer Jemison toward a goal – she was determined to join NASA and become an astronaut. Years later, Jemison achieved her goal when she made history as the first African-American woman to go into space with the U.S. space program.

Jemison’s accomplishment had positive ripple effects, and now she is cited as a source of inspiration for so many African-American students who are themselves reaching for the stars, but Jemison is not alone. There are many African-American physical scientists, such as Jedidah IslerHakeem OluseyiChandra Precod-WeinsteinSylvester James GatesTabbetha DobbinsJC Holbrook, and so many others, who are doing important scientific work and also influencing countless students.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential components to the success of our fields. In recognition of that fact, the American Institute of Physics adopted a Strategic Framework in 2019 that aims to “advance the physical sciences with a unifying voice of strength from diversity.” Further, we are committed to becoming an institution that “leads the physical sciences community toward an impactful understanding of how to be more welcoming to, and supportive of, the full diversity of physical scientists throughout their [education and] careers.”

Black History Month, American Institute of Physics

Published by reginaldgoodwin

Engineering Physics, Bachelors of Science, December 1984 Microelectronics & Photonics, Graduate Certificate, February 2016 Nanoengineering, Masters, December 2019 Nanoengineering, Ph.D., December 2021

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