I often get asked, “what did you do to get where you are?”, “why are you so different from, you know, other black people?” (no joke, I actually get this), or “you are evidence that if you just work hard and pull yourself up, anything is possible.”
So many of my classmates from back when I was in the Gifted and Talented Education (G.A.T.E.) programs in Inglewood and Compton worked harder, tested higher, studied longer, and were far more talented than me. Some of them went on to do incredible things. Some did not. Me, I got lucky.
One day we learned of A Better Chance—a program that provides educational opportunities for young people of color by helping place them in prep schools. I applied, got into the program, and found myself bussing to Brentwood everyday for school. There, I had a guidance counselor who not only gave a crap, but really knew the ins and outs of college admissions. She knew the admissions directors on a first-name basis. She had a student body so small she had time to track me down everyday and practically twist my arm to apply to Princeton. She signed my financial aid and scholarship application forms because my parents would not, guaranteeing that if I were to be accepted, I could make it work financially. I can say with the utmost confidence that without her efforts, it is unlikely that I would have even considered applying.
I got in. And while it was certainly not easy, simply being at a place like Princeton meant there’d be people providing strong new leather for my bootstraps, and lending extra arms to help pull them up. Having trouble in multivariable calculus? No worries, there’s a free tutor for that. When I showed up to school with nothing but a hideous comforter, a couple hundred bucks, and a few outfits, the Dean’s Emergency Fund was there, and provided me with money to buy towels, toiletries, and bed sheets. My hall-mates leant the pillows.
Soon followed access to CEOs, world class researchers, and government officials—usually no more than a degree of separation away. Who’s at the career fair? All the top banks, consulting firms, agencies, and centers of power in America. I could sit in office hours with the greatest minds in economics, poetry, and history. I could go sailing with classmates who would go on to write bestselling novels, become senators, and run the biggest corporations in America.
You could get straight C-’s at a place like Princeton and still benefit tremendously from all of this. It’s not only about smart. It’s not only about hard work.
Who’s to say that I would not have found myself at Princeton without the series of fortunate events that stemmed from randomly finding the A Better Chance ad? I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to know that while it’s not impossible, it is unlikely.
It doesn’t mean I’m not smart, or that I didn’t work hard, or that I didn’t earn my success. It just means that I got a helluva boost. And that boost came to me via many means that were not in my control.
This is privilege. It’s a form that disproportionately fails to fall into the hands of people who look like me and come from where I do, but I’ve still got it. I acknowledge it, I confront how it affects my position in the world, and I check it on the regular.
The National Science Board — which governs the National Science Foundation — released its 2014 Science and Engineering Indicators, highlighting major developments in International and US science and engineering. In Chapter 7, Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding, the NSB outlines recent trend over time with the population’s comprehension of and engagement with S&T issues ranging from climate change to evolution. Here are some highlights:
- Levels of factual knowledge in the United States are comparable to those in Europe and are generally higher than levels in countries in other parts of the world.
- Four out of five Americans say they are interested in “new scientific discoveries.”
- About 4 in 10 Americans cited the Internet as their primary source of S&T information in 2012 compared with about one-third in 2010.
- The percentage of Americans saying they relied on television as their primary source of S&T information dropped between 2010 and 2012.
On confidence in the sciences and scientists and engineers themselves:
“Never read the comments!”
Yes, in unadulterated quantities, reading the comments at the bottom of blog posts, New York Times articles, and “’like’ if you think Obama should go back to Kenya!” Facebook memes is indeed bad for your health. But if read with some distance, purpose, and intention, they can also be really valuable data.
Now if you’d prefer to exist in a self-centric silo, looking for messages that simply reaffirm your views, then nothing I say here will be relevant to you. (That’s harsh, I know.) But if you have even some small sense of purpose for better understanding an issue in your community in hopes of generating progress on it, then hear me out. It may be time to renegotiate your relationship to the comments section, your Twitter Timelines, and the oh so out-of-control multi-paragraph Facebook arguments. Here’s why:
Another year of the Internet has come to a close, which can only mean one thing: time for more lists! The science magazines will undoubtedly create exciting top 10’s of the most awesome things to happen in space in 2013. But some of the stories that most need telling are not the big-ticket tales of human spaceflight and new exoplanet discoveries. For most people, it’s the less flashy things that can mean the most in the lives of people right down here on Earth. And these benefits are not limited to spinoffs like microelectronics and high-tech medical technologies that people from rich countries enjoy; from human rights to food security, space assets provide incredibly meaningful humanitarian contributions to the planet. Here are five of the many ways in which space touched us down here on Earth in 2013:
So in addition to being obsessed with writing about space, science, and the humanness of things, I am also a huge fan of horror films. If you are too, then read on to this utterly random post!
Maybe you are like me and you have an unfortunate tendency to spend ungodly amounts of your free time relentlessly searching Netflix until you find something…anything to watch that you haven’t already seen (but you are still tasteful enough to never succumb to watching Paranormal Activity 29). If so, you may notice that it is nearly impossible to tell the myriad of C- movies apart given how sadly similar all the movie posters are. The Ring 2 or Seance? The Eye or Would You Rather? After failing to find something to blow a couple hours on during my latest bout of procrastination, I figured I’d compile some of these posters together into their corresponding hackneyed themes:
1. The Shut your mouth!
We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are, when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed, and beneath every sadness is a fear that there will not be enough time.
When we hesitate in being direct, we unknowingly slip something on, some added layer of protection that keeps us from feeling the world, and often that thin covering is the beginning of a loneliness which, if not put down, diminishes our chances for joy. It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting that we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real.
In this way, our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world, but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold, and the car handle feels wet, and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being soft and unrepeatable.