From within the astronomy/STEM community: Thoughts on racism towards Mauna Kea protecters and #decolonizeSTEM


Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein has been the leading anti-TMT ally within the astronomy community. She and other scientists have spoken out against racist statements made about the protectors and the systemic racism towards indigenous and people of color in the sciences. #decolonizeSTEM

Storify from Twitter: Astronomy “Progress” Is Not Universal

Discourse about astronomy in Hawai’i is very alienating. So many reminders that any of us who don’t fit European def of progress: unwelcome

Maybe “progress” doesn’t actually mean “doing everything as quickly as possible with no regard for cultural consequences”

My mom did not suffer through colonialism and American racism for me to stay silent!

Astronomy has been benefiting from the fact that US has had control over the land #aoleTMT

No telescope or science is more important than people #aoleTMT

A racist e-mail by astronomer Sandy Faber from UC Santa Cruz asking others to sign the pro-TMT petition was forwarded to the UC Berkeley Astronomy listserv by Alexei Filippenko:


Storify from Twitter: Desirous of a telescope, Team Science struggles with the practical details of sharing a world

Email circ in astro comm from big name on TMT project refers to “Hawaiian hordes” as “lying” –I have expletives for this.  #ProtectMaunaKea

Pro-tip: If goal is really to apologize for racist framing of call for support of your project, focus on racist framing, not on your project

Now circular discussion about whether the embarrassment caused by racism is worse or the racism is worse. THE RACISM IS WORSE.

Do people care that there might be Hawaiian astronomers, young ones, who are feeling totally alienated by the community right now?

Why should we talk about the email? Because it came from a community leader who felt comfortable saying it. Bc ppl endorsed it.

if you said something abt how the protestors “just don’t understand” and “need education” and “are anti-science” you helped make this happen

Storify from Twitter: Team Science apologizes badly, widens rift with Mauna Kea protectors

 scientists keep saying “I’m pro-TMT bc I am for truth” and then I see dishonesty

Lady walks into someone’s house “Oh my I just love this space. My couch would look perfect Over There. You don’t mind, of course you don’t.”

Also, more offensively—”But your Hawaiian ancestors were astronomers too! It’s a continuation of your own traditions!”

Filippenko’s non-apology and Faber’s non-apology

Faber’s comment in the pro-TMT petition:

Astronomy in general, and TMT in particular, are good for Hawaiians. Astronomy has brought good jobs to the islands and has made major efforts to employ native Hawaiians. The protesters do not represent the opinions of the vast majority of native Hawaiians, who value good jobs and a good education. The failure of these other voices to speak up stems from heavy-handed threats by the protesting community, ranging from political pressure to peer pressure and even physical violence. Several people are now fearing for their personal safety.

The ruthless and unrepresentative nature of the protest movement should be better appreciated

Dr. Prescod-Weinstein’s statement signed by other scientists against systemic racism in the sciences: Short statement about the use of racist language in astronomy and physics

It is 100% unacceptable, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. There is never an excuse for it. If you find that you have used it, you should:

A. first acknowledge that you have participated in racism and apologize for participating in racism and

B. try to understand why, under any time or emotionally pressured circumstances, you used racist language to make a point about anything.

Her own conflict about being a person of color in the STEM field throughout the anti-TMT debate: Let Physics Be the Dream It Used To Be: Or, how to make physics fun

White astro/physicists need to understand and take to heart that this is in fact a real issue that doesn’t magically go away with admissions and diversity initiatives that fail to address underlying cultural, structural issues.

Her views on the non-apologies and claims of reverse racism: Oops, you did racism a favor

And speaking of consequences, here are some: when a POC calls a white person’s actions racist, the white person might feel bad and also people might look at them negatively. When a white person encourages and/or directly participates in racism, they are contributing to a large set of social structures that are not only psychologically dangerous for POC but are also physically dangerous, especially for those of us who are Black, Native and Latin@.

Another follow-up by Dr. Prescod-Weinstein on double standards: On Astronomers & Acceptable Anger: Hordes of Natives & Angry White Women

Is “hordes of natives” as urgent? Apparently not really because white women are not clearly in the line of fire. When it came out that such a comment had been made, the undergraduates of color who brought it up were told by their classmates that they had embarrassed astronomy by saying the phrase wasn’t okay. White scientist after white scientist after white scientist e-mailed, texted, Facebook messaged and Twitter messaged to ask me (and surely others) if it was really appropriate for any of us to be discussing publicly that this had happened at all.

An unanswered question raised by another astronomer on the TMT: When should we stop listening to oppressed people?

Am I right that the dispute among astronomers is basically between those who argue, “Let’s listen more to the colonized people who are objecting to our plans to build the world’s largest optical telescope on their sacred mountain, find out whether compromise solutions are available, and, if not, take a whole lot more time to figure out whether ignoring the complaints of victims of colonialism in order to build a big telescope is the right course of action,” and those who are arguing, “Let’s go ahead and build right now because our process already involved 7 years of listening and we’d rather build the telescope than listen more.”?

(post updated 6/1/2015)

2 responses to “From within the astronomy/STEM community: Thoughts on racism towards Mauna Kea protecters and #decolonizeSTEM

  1. Pingback: TRANSCEND MEDIA SERVICE » The 30-Meter Telescope Project on Top of Mauna Kea, Hawai’i Sacred Mountain·

  2. Pingback: Confronting the haole attitude towards aloha ‘āina | Sacred Mauna Kea·

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