Diversifying the Geosciences

There’s a pretty terrible fact about the geosciences: degrees and careers are overwhelmingly got by white people. Go look at these stats. Look at the fact that in America, in 2010, just 1% of the people employed in earth science careers were black. One. Percent.

No group other than whites made it past the single digits. Not one.

We’ve got to do better than this. And we can, even us pasty-pale folk such as myself. We can amplify the voices of geoscientists of color. We can work with minority students to bring more of them into the STEM fold. We can fund scholarships. We can ask minority students what they need us to do, and do it. We can listen to our professionals of color. We can make our spaces welcoming to people of color. We can start right now by visiting Black Geoscientists, and taking their suggestions to heart. [Read more…]

“The One Thing No One Seems to Want to Remember is How Much Opposition There Was to King”

David Futrelle reminds us that Martin Luther King, Jr. faced plenty of violence, frenzied opposition, and attacks by police and public. Sometimes, we recall the speeches without recalling the chaos. We hear “civil disobedience” and “non-violent opposition,” and forget that those opposed to civil rights used the power of state and terror in an effort to maintain white supremacy.

We should never forget that he didn’t back down in the face of those arrests and attacks. We should never forget his work isn’t finished.

It takes a lot of courage to change the world.

Image shows MLK Jr. in a pale suit and hat, sitting at a counter, surrounded by police.

AP photo of Martin Luther King Jr. getting arrested for loitering, Montgomery, AL, 1958.

Martin Luther King, Jr.: “A Riot is the Language of the Unheard”

Sixty years ago, the color of your skin determined your treatment on Montgomery, Alabama busses:

Under the system of segregation used on Montgomery buses, white people who boarded the bus took seats in the front rows, filling the bus toward the back. Black people who boarded the bus took seats in the back rows, filling the bus toward the front. Eventually, the two sections would meet, and the bus would be full. If other black people boarded the bus, they were required to stand. If another white person boarded the bus, then everyone in the black row nearest the front had to get up and stand, so that a new row for white people could be created. Often when boarding the buses, black people were required to pay at the front, get off, and reenter the bus through a separate door at the back. On some occasions bus drivers would drive away before black passengers were able to reboard.

Rosa Parks wasn’t the first person to challenge that treatment. Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t the only community leader who fought for an end to Jim Crow. But they rightfully become icons of the Civil Rights movement. We remember them for their peaceful protest. MLK Jr., especially, we remember for nonviolence and civil disobedience. So much so that he’s now thrown in the faces of angry and upset protestors in an effort to shut them up.

On this day, let’s remember more than “I Have a Dream.” Let’s remember that King also said that “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Let’s remember “The Other America.” [Read more…]

Racism and Society Week: The Unequal Opportunity Race

This past year saw a warranted wave of anger at white oppression, as the people of Ferguson, Missouri demanded justice for yet another unarmed black teenager murdered by police. Mike Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and far too many others didn’t get justice last year. But I hope history records 2014 as the changing of the tide.

It won’t happen unless we take a stand.

Image is the British crown on a red background atop the words "Stand up and fight racism."

[Read more…]

Liberty University Pumping Creationists Into Public Schools

Sometimes, I wonder if my obsession with debunking Christianist textbooks is rather ridiculous. After all, how many truly committed creationists are there, really? Aren’t there more important causes I should be investing my time in? Surely I could be doing more on the feminist front, f’r instance. I could be pouring my time and energy into meatier posts about the magnificent science of geology. And I feel vaguely guilty that I let myself get distracted by the latest creationist outrages in textbooks that are foisted upon a mere fraction of the world’s children.

But then, I read survivors’ stories, and yes, I do think of the children: all those bright and curious minds stunted by the ignorant adults around them. I hope at least a few of them stumble upon this series, and find themselves jolted out of the confining creationist box and launched on an epic adventure in the science of their choice (even if it’s not one of the geosciences, although of course I think those are the best).

And there’s the fact we all learn some things about the earth sciences along the way, in what I hope is an entertaining fashion.

Not an inconsiderable consideration for me is that I’ve found so few women* debunking creationist nonsense, so it helps me feel like I’m doing my bit for diversity in the creationist nonsense debunking community.

Besides, Jonny Scaramanga recently said why creationism and the debunking thereof matters, so that’s told me this quest is not quixotic.

But when it really comes down to it, the main reason why I feel it’s bloody damned important to keep you guys informed as to what creationists are teaching their kiddies is because their kiddies are growing up ignorant, and then spewing that ignorance all over our public schools: [Read more…]

The Charlie Hebdo Massacre and Free Speech

I want everyone to consider what Giliell said:

No, folks, please, we’re usually better than that.

No, the cartoonists didn’t “have it coming”. Nobody should be murdered for publishing their shit and suggesting that this is to be expected does nothing but paint muslims as irrational beasts who just cannpt control themselves. It’s just two sides of the same coin.
But this “you don’t have the right not to be offended nanana freeze peach” is the same bullshit we’re constantly getting when discussing feminism. And people here are usually better than that.

We usually understand quite clearly that “equal opportunity offense” usually means kicking down the ladder.

I stand for the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish their cartoons, I stand against the people who murdered them. I also stand to my opinion that their cartoons were racist and misogynist. This is not incompatible. My enemy’s enemy is NOT my friend.

She summed up a lot of my thinking over these past several days.

In looking for Charlie Hebdo covers for my post on the massacre the other day, I noticed themes that I don’t support. There’s a definite taste of racism. There’s homophobia, and some things swerving awfully close to rape. I think that’s lazy, using knee-jerk cultural distastes in order to outrage people. I don’t know what the magazine itself is like – I don’t read enough French to have followed any of its issues. Quite possibly, in different times, I might have criticized them, not for publishing offensive cartoons, but for hitting down rather than up.

But no matter what tropes they employed, even if they were utterly despicable, those artists and journalists didn’t deserve to die. [Read more…]

It’s Time to Make a Barbaric Practice Illegal

Hello, heterosexual person! We love you! We just hate your sin. Look, we know you’re very strongly attracted to people of the opposite sex, and many of your kind say there’s nothing wrong with it, but as you know, it’s an abomination unto Glod for a man to lie with a woman. Interestingly, the Big Holy Book™ doesn’t say anything about women lying with men… but we here at (Make You) Fit the Mold Therapy Group figure it goes both ways. [Read more…]

Rape Apologia in Agatha Christie’s Nemesis

It’s that time o’ year again when seasonal depression settles over me like the thick gray clouds of a Seattle winter, and for some reason, this causes an irresistible urge to read old British detective fiction. There’s nothing more comforting than to curl up in bed with a warm, purring kitty and revisit these familiar tales. Every time, I notice a detail I missed in the other ten thousand readings.

Of course, now that I’ve become one of the dreaded Social Justice Warriors™, I also notice problematic elements that escaped me during prior, rather more unenlightened, readings. There’s a lot of casual racism, xenophobia, classism, and sexism infesting these stories, although their authors often weren’t as obnoxious about it as some of their contemporaries. Still. They’re definitely a product of their times, and their times saw nothing wrong with many of the things that horrify us today.

I’m in the midst of Nemesis, one of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novels. She’s often rather hard on women, a tendency I suspect comes from being a public woman in a man’s world, in addition to the intense cultural sexism. Nemesis reflects an elderly woman’s view of changing times, when younger women were freeing themselves from certain shackles and beginning to explore things like having careers and enjoying casual sex. I’m not expert enough in Agatha Christie’s personal biography to discern how much of the attitudes within the book stem from her own views, and how much is her being faithful to the character. So we’ll just treat the character as a reflection of cultural attitudes and leave the author’s deeply-held convictions for another day.

A paragraph leapt out at me, one which had escaped my notice during other readings. One gets immersed in the story world, and takes certain things for granted, quite often awful things (such as the many things we’ll forgive in the protagonists that we’d abhor in the villains). Characters can say things we’d find outrageous in our normal settings, but which fit with the time and mores of their story so well that they don’t stand out particularly, especially not when we’re reading for the mystery. But when the mystery’s solved, and we’re familiar with the characters and the world the author’s placed them in, and when we’re a little older and possibly wiser and have lots more practice seeing certain patterns, aspects pop suddenly, garish and unavoidable.

I hadn’t seen all the rape culture apologia when I first read this book, but now, it’s unmistakable. See, for instance, this paragraph, as Professor Wanstead is telling Miss Marple why he thinks a man imprisoned for murder isn’t the killer, despite the fact he’s a rapist:

“That told against him, of course. Not in the jury’s mind, because of course they did not hear about that until after the judge’s summing up, but certainly in the judge’s mind. It told against him, but I made a few enquiries myself afterwards. He had assaulted a girl. He had conceivably raped her, but he had not attempted to strangle her and in my opinion–I have seen a great many cases which come before the Assizes–it seemed to me highly unlikely that there was a very definite case of rape. Girls, you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be. Their mothers insist, very often, that they should call it rape. The girl in question had had several boyfriends who had gone further than friendship. I did not think it counted very greatly as evidence against him.” [emphasis mine]

Here we have rape culture in action in what I’m assuming is roughly mid-20th century Britain. There’s the idea that if a woman enjoys sex, you can’t rape her. There’s the insistence that rape is really just regretted sex. There’s the idea that most reports of rape are false, and that consensual sex is reported as rape just to get the woman out of trouble. Throughout the book, rape is treated as a myth, a tale told by girls to get boys in trouble.

Image is a cover of Nemesis with the words RAPE CULTURE INSIDE imprinted in red.

It’s not jarring to me to run into that attitude in a book from the perspective of an elderly person during the sexual revolution, written by a woman who was elderly herself. I expect that sort of thing, and I’m willing to put up with it in older stories. What dismays me is that attitudes haven’t substantially changed. We still hear the same fucking apologia for rapists. We still hear the same slut-shaming shit. We’re still told there’s real rape, which is a terrible crime that is done to virgins mostly by strangers and involves force, but most things ladies call “rape” is just self-serving lies told by total sluts in order to destroy men. A woman’s sexual history is still considered relevant in rape cases. We’re nearly half a century on from when this book was published, and yet we haven’t significantly advanced the mainstream cultural conversation around rape.

I hope, by the time I’m an old woman boring people with back in my day stories, these attitudes about rape will be considered just as horrifying to mainstream folk as casual denigrations of Jews is. I want us to cringe in horror and embarrassment over these rape culture mores, just as much as we wince in disgust every time the n-word pops up in our turn-of-the-last-century fiction. I want people to struggle to get past the casual sexism and misogyny, have a very hard time overlooking the anti-woman attitudes even in fiction written by a woman, rather than blithely accept it or barely notice it because, really, it’s not all that different from the way things are now.

And I think we’ll get there, despite all the menz screaming about feminazis and manginas. Feminism is here to stay, and will eventually get through enough of the thick skulls to allow the revolutionary idea that all rape is wrong, no matter the victim’s sexual history or fashion choices or state of intoxication or any other favorite excuse of rapists and their allies, to go mainstream. It’s just that I wish we’d got there a lot bloody sooner.

Bias: It’s a Scientific Fact

I don’t trust anyone who says they’re unbiased. The longer I’ve been around, the more it’s become clear that anyone crowing about how unbiased they are has bias oozing from every orifice. I’ve learned to invest more trust in the people and orgs that admit bias happens, yes even to them, and they’re constantly working to overcome it. I’ve had to face up to the fact I’ve got biases, too, just like we all do. I know I’m missing some of my biases, but I work to identify them, and work to compensate for the ones I know I’ve got.

Bias, it turns out, isn’t just an impression some of us social justice types got: it’s a cold, hard, scientific fact. Olivia James took a look at some of the studies, and has a pair of excellent posts up on what science shows about bias. They make for some pretty revealing reading. [Read more…]