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Ok, ok. Deep breath. @sam_kean wrote a piece for @sciencemagazine about how European science was largely made possible by the #slavetrade. Sure. But the LANGUAGE IN THIS PIECE is irresponsible and it hurts!!! A thread...sciencemag.org/news/2019/04/h…
"At the dawn of the 1700s, European science seemed poised to conquer all of nature." Opening sentence. What?! All of nature? 1700s? What about all of the science that had been done for the thousands of years before that by non-Europeans? What does "conquer all of nature" mean?
"Fantastic new plants and animals were pouring in from Asia and the Americas." WHAT? No mention of HOW this was happening? BECAUSE OF RAMPANT BLOODY WHITE-SUPREMACY-BASED VIOLENCE. oh, but we're supposed to call it "exploration"
"But one of the most important scientists alive then was someone few people have ever heard of, an apothecary and naturalist named James Petiver" - one of the most important to whom? The majority of the world who are non-european? no. the most important scientist to EUROPEANS
"Between one-quarter and one-third of Petiver's collectors worked in the slave trade, largely because he had no other options" - nope. No. trust me, he had plenty of options. One option is to not participate or support the slave trade. Try that idea on.
"Petiver eventually amassed the largest natural history collection in the world, and it never would have happened without slavery." This is NOT the way to write these words. It implies a sigh of relief that slavery, in fact, did some good amongst the harm.
NO! If Europeans couldn't get their hands on plants and animals from non-European places THAT IS FINE BECAUSE IT IS NOT NECESSARY FOR EUROPEANS IN THE 1700S TO BE THE DICTATORS OF NATURAL HISTORY. Guess what existed before Europeans "found" African plants - AFRICAN PLANTS
"historians are now seeing new connections between science and slavery and piecing together just how deeply intertwined they were" - oh, and as a result they are rejecting the validity of all science that has been created from slavery bc it was done at the expense of black lives?
I HARDLY DOUBT IT!!!! Are we talking about reparations? Are we talking about anyone who is the descendent of a slave now gets a full scholarship to study science because WE ENABLED EUROPEAN SCIENCE IN THE FIRST PLACE? No, instead "historians are SEEING connections" and that's it
"There's a tendency to think about the history of science in this—I don't want to say triumphant, but—progressive way, that it's always a force for good. We tend to forget the ways in which that isn't the case." WHO IS "WE"? Blk and brn ppl never "forgot" & WE ARE SCIENTISTS TOO
"This is a hard story for us to deal with" - AGAIN WHO IS THIS "US" you write of? Why are people of color - the people whose ancestors lived through the slave trade erased from this picture of who scientists are today? This "us" refers to Europeans and descendents of Europeans!
"Thousands of specimens collected through the slave trade still reside in places such as the Natural History Museum in London..." don't even get me started on museum collections - are even ANY of them built from inclusionary, non-violent, equitable, and participatory methods?
"All of which casts an uncomfortable shadow on what's often viewed as a heroic era in science" - it takes A LOT OF PRIVILEGE to think of this as "uncomfortable." A lot. I can only imagine being able to opt-in or opt-out of feeling "uncomfortable." How about generational trauma?
Who views this as a heroic era in science? You know what I view as a heroic era of science? THE FUTURE, when black and brown people are well funded and leaders in scientific thought and exploration. When anti-racist & decolonized science is at the core of our fields
"We do not often think of the wretched, miserable, and inhuman spaces of slave ships as simultaneously being spaces of natural history" - YIKES. This sentence is attempting to create a balancing act between human suffering and euro-scientific advancement. THIS IS OFFENSIVE
"Slavery is as old as civilization, but the transatlantic slave trade between the 1500s and 1800s was particularly brutal" - history lesson: racially-based forced labor systems are not as old as civilization/the American slave trade was different and you MUST acknowledge race
"Why did scientists align themselves with that horror? Access" - I might actually just die before I even finish this thread. WHO ARE SCIENTISTS TO YOU? White people only? Ever occur to you that scientists were also the people being enslaved? WHITE PEOPLE ALIGNED THEMSELVES...
...with slavery because they believed in white supremacy and were delighted to perpetuate racism. FULL STOP. They didn't just say "well, it's worth it for access to plants and animals," they said "We are superior to black people." THESE SCIENTISTS WERE RACIST - SAY IT
@sam_kean this sentence is particularly offensive "To gain access to Africa and the Americas, scientists had to hitch rides on slave ships." HAD TO? did they now? They had to support slave ships in order to do their science. It's just a normal everyday trade-off?
This writing makes me cry, shake, and want to scream. The THOUSANDS of black scientists whose ancestors survived slavery (long enough to give birth) are owed better. The perspective that scientists are white and were the apologetic observers of how slavery could go right is awful
"some naturalists also instructed their contacts abroad to train slaves as collectors" - this is a note for museums globally: CREDIT THE SOURCES OF THE COLLECTIONS (also, provide reparations)
"Slaves often knew about specimens that Europeans didn't" - oh, you don't say! If this is to be written, it needs to be followed by some sort of acknowledgement that white people were out of line - if you want to know about a fucking plant, just ask the person who knows.
This is written as if it is a benefit of slavery. Saying "but the slaves came with a lot of knowledge" is such staunch white-supremacist prose I can't even stand it.
"Petiver never collected overseas himself, but some scientists did, and they often found themselves in morally compromising positions" NO THEY DID NOT. There is only one right way to do this - DON'T PARTICIPATE IN THE SLAVE TRADE. Don't try to evoke sympathy for the people who...
...became rich and famous scientists at the expense of black life and dignity. Don't you f-ing dare
"Bit by bit, compromise by compromise, Smeathman became part of the system he once despised" - I rewrote this part for you: "Smeathman never believed in human equality, and was racist and violent from the beginning to the end"
"given how they treated their human cargo, the ships' crews had a spotty record in caring for fragile bugs, plants, and animal skins" - DO NOT PUT BLACK PEOPLE ON THE SAME PLANE AS INSECTS. NO! This is offensive! This is harsh! This is dehumanizing!
"Of the items that arrived safely in England, naturalists were most excited about exotic finds such as ostrich eggs, Goliath beetles, butterflies, sloths, and armadillos" - and naturalists were least concerned about black human beings. Still are, apparently.
"Quinine and other drugs gleaned from tropical locales, Murphy notes, also helped Europeans survive there" - responsible journalism would add to this "so they could continue with colonial rule, violence, rape, and enslavement"
"And the safer and more profitable a colony was, the more its commercial activity, including slavery, thrived, creating new demand for slaves" YOU MUST BE KIDDING ME!!! SAFE FOR WHOM? Slaves = enslaved black people. SAFE FOR WHOM?!?
"Scientific research, then, not only depended on colonial slavery, but enabled it and helped expand its reach" NO! Scientific research was not dependent on slavery. NO! White scientists saw an easy, lazy way to get what they wanted and no white people were hurt in the process
This is a horrible excuse for the participation of white scientists in the slave trade. THERE WAS NO DEPENDENCY. It seems like the other option at the time was for white people to do natural history work only in Europe without hurting people, and apparently that wasn't acceptable
"Of all the scientific fields, natural history benefited most from the slave trade, especially botany and entomology" - AND WHAT TF ARE folks gonna do about this injustice? WE ARE ALL EARS (see what i did there? with "we")
" One disciple of Linnaeus reported collecting three species new to science within 15 minutes on his first excursion in Sierra Leone" - again with responsible journalism..."new to science" is not even close to accurate. You mean "new to scientists from europe"
"Examples of interesting items included polyps cut from the hands of slaves, patches of dried skin, a fetus taken after a miscarriage, and, according to one old catalog, "stones extracted from the vagina of a negro African girle."
Why was this quote not followed DIRECTLY with something, ANYTHING, that could lesson the blow? THE TRAUMA READING THIS
"Those bugs and plants and bits of human beings often ended up in wealthy gentlemen's "cabinets of curiosity," ALSO THIS sentence needs to be followed up with ANYTHING that acknowledges the absolute horror of this experience for the thousands of people who suffered it
"Some historians now refer to those private and institutional collections as the "big science" of their day" - DO NOT WRITE THIS, IT IS HARMFUL. Who are these historians? Why are they not booted out of their institutions for dismissing this violence as "big science"
I, personally, do not want to be a scientist if *WE* accept "big science" as just this upsetting thing from the past. IT IS NOT SCIENCE, IT IS MURDER
"Astronomers such as Edmond Halley solicited observations of the moon and stars from slave ports" - AH! And another place for which I expect to see some SERIOUS reparations flowing from!
"Even a field as rarefied as celestial mechanics benefited from slavery" - newsflash for the author - the entire western economy was built on slavery, so obviously obscure scientific fields were too
"Newton himself, who's really the paradigm figure of an isolated, nontraveling, sitting-at-his-desk genius, had access to numbers he wouldn't have had access to without the Atlantic slave trade." - YES BECAUSE THESE MEN WERE COMPLICIT!!!
"Representatives for those institutes say it's difficult to put numbers on how many of their specimens have ties to slavery" - that is because we are not DEMANDING they put numbers on how many. Journalists need to call these people out for not cooperating!
"The collections are also invaluable for studying plant domestication, historic climate change, and shifts in geographical distributions of species" - oh, are they now? INVALUABLE?!?!?! WHAT ABOUT THE VALUE OF BLACK LIFE
"Most scientists, however, remain unaware of the origins of the collections" - dear author, do you really believe this? Or are you just uncomfortable writing the truth that many scientists choose to ignore the origins of their collections
"Very few people think about how [specimens] were collected, whether they were collected through slave trade routes or otherwise," says Stephen Harris, a curator at the Oxford University Herbaria, which houses some of Sloane's goods. "They're simply data points."...
really? well, I'll give you ONE GUESS of which type of scientist thinks about the origins of specimens from Africa CONSTANTLY
"institutions such as his have a broader role than just preserving specimens" - does this broader role include advocating for racial justice and equity in science? DOES IT? CAN ANY MUSEUM INSTITUTION CLAIM THATS WHAT THEY DO?
"Museums have been bad" about acknowledging the dubious origins of many items" - WHY IS THE WORD COMPLICIT NOT A PART OF THIS ARTICLE
"Now that the link between early science and slavery has come to light, an important question remains: What should scientists do about it?" -Come to light for whom? This article is written from start to finish as if scientists are only white people who don't know about slavery
"Historians say acknowledgment is a start: In research papers, scientists should mention how specimens were gathered" - i am desperate to know which historians said this. Where is critical thought, action, and a commitment to equity mentioned? Anywhere???
"Murphy mentions that the slave trade can help explain the geographic distributions of certain specimens" - I truly, TRULY, hope that if this work is done, it is done by a black person and fully funded
"The connections between science and the slave trade could also feed into ongoing debates about reparations and the historical legacies of slavery" - the author should have taken the time to find interviewees who could speak to this and provide ideas. It is dropped and left alone
"We've been so negligent in bringing these histories [of slavery and science] together. We've missed that they are in fact the same history" - this is the last sentence of the piece, which brings a feeling of harmony and closure....
...a piece that was about how black bodies were brutalized and we're sad about it, but at least it expanded European science. Oh, and some scientists felt bad the whole time they benefitted from it. THERE ARE SO MANY PARALLELS TODAY
Responsible journalism would have included the descendents of slaves in this piece! Scientists who work every day with collections that were gathered on the backs of our ancestors. It should have suggest we respect these awful, violent scientists LESS OR NOT AT ALL
Slavery wasn't just people on boats in chains, it was murder, rape, torture over and over for 400+ years. It was a European-sponsored black killing machine, with lingering impacts for centuries....
...and if we're going to write about how science benefitted, one must write with EXTREME responsibility and WITHOUT an apologetic tone and an attempt at a balancing act. BETTER IDEA IS TO HAVE A SLAVE DESCENDENT WRITE IT - WE ARE HERE - WE ARE SCIENTISTS - we have survived.
I write this from my desk at @NatGeo, an institution that has acknowledged its role in perpetuating racist stereotypes. Black scientists, especially naturalists, are SURROUNDED by the legacy of white supremacy, and often face social and professional consequences for speaking out
I'm done with this thread. I'm going home to cuddle my sweet black 3 year old daughter and pray she gets to enter her chosen field at a time of TRUE equity and inclusion. Peace, y'all
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