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Neil DeGrasse Tyson on gender and race in science, transcribed

There’s a video making the rounds where Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks about the gender and racial disparity in race and science. It’s a great talk and I thought I’d transcribe it for the video-impaired.

It’s worth pointing out that this was a response to a question that in turn was prompted by Larry Summers talking about something he doesn’t understand (in this case the gender disparity in science). Summers was somewhat misquoted, but honestly there’s no subject Summers doesn’t get wrong; the man just has to shut his big stupid yap already.

Anyway, here, by contrast, is Tyson:

I have never been female. But I have been black my whole life. And so, let me perhaps offer some insight from that perspective. Because there are many similar social issues related to access to equal opportunity that we find in the black community, as well as the community of women, in a male-dominated—a white-male-dominated—society. . . .

“When I look at, throughout my life—I’ve known that I wanted to do astrophysics since I was nine years old, my first visit to the Hayden planetarium. . . . So I got to see how the world around me reacted to my expression of these ambitions. And all I can say is, the fact that I wanted to be a scientist and astrophysicist was, hands down, the path of most resistance through the forces of society.

“Any time I expressed this interest teachers would say, “Don’t you want to be an athlete?” I looked to become something that was outside the paradigms of expectation of the people in power. Fortunately, my depth of interest was so deep, and so fuel-enriched, that every one of these curveballs I was thrown, and fences built in front of me, and hills that I had to climb, I just reached for more fuel and I kept going.

“Now here I am, one—I think—one of the most visible scientists in the land, and I look behind me and say, “where are the others who might have been this?” And they’re not there. And I wonder how— who— what is the blood on the tracks that I happened to survive that others did not? Simply because of the forces of society that prevented, at every turn, at every turn, to the point that I have security guards following me as I go through department stores, presuming that I am a thief. I walked out of a store one time and the alarm went off, so they came running to me. I walked through the gate at the same time a white male walked through the gate. And that guy just walked off with the stolen goods, knowing that they would stop me and not him. That’s an interesting sort of exploitation of this; what a scam that was. I think people should do that more often. [Laughter]

So, my life experience tells me that when you don’t find blacks in the sciences, when you don’t find women in the sciences, I know that these forces are real, and I had to survive them in order to get where I am today.

So before we start talking about genetic differences, you gotta come up with a system where there’s equal opportunity. Then we can have that conversation.

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