Race, Class, Gender, Punk, and the Double Bind for Minority Women in Science

I recently watched the documentary afro-punk about the experiences of black punks. In the film, black men and women recount how they got into the scene, confronted its near-total whiteness, and used it to both exist in a fucked up system and push back on the erasure of their blackness. At the same time that it perfectly captures the punk/hardcore scene I grew up in during the 90s, it exposes the major blind spots that whiteness produces even when it places anti-racism and social justice near its center. One of the best shows I saw during that time was Yaphet Kotto at an apartment in Santa Cruz, and my experience of that show changes when I hear Mag Delena describe being black in the punk scene. At the same time we produced a punk community through sound and movement crushed into a tiny space, we produced whiteness.

I don’t recall whether or not Mag Delena was the only black person at the show, but he probably was. This was a central theme of the documentary. Nearly all of the people interviewed recalled being the only black person in the scene. When I heard this, I was reminded of a talk I was fortunate to see a couple of months ago given by Shirley Malcom and her daughter Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux. Dr. Malcom was co-author of The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science, and recently she has recently revisited the topic of women of color in science in several articles co-authored with Dr. Malcom-Piqueux. In their talk, Dr. Malcom began with what would become the organizing idea: being the only one. Throughout her incredible career, she found that she was often the only black scientist wherever she went and almost always the only black woman. When Dr. Malcom Piqueux embarked on a career in science several decades later, she experienced the same thing.

Together, these accomplished scientists are working to bring more people of color into science through an ecological understanding of how scientists and scientific knowledge are produced. While looking at the structures that produce these people and knowledges (e.g., schools, granting agencies, legal regulations, etc.) it may be worthwhile to look outside of these structures, too. The punk scene has a rich history of producing scientists, from Greg Graffin of Bad Religion/UCLA to Anna Joy Springer of Blatz/UCSD. Perhaps a better understanding of the way that punk, blackness, class, gender, and science intersect to produce smart and creative human beings we can imagine new ways of restructuring white science and, in the process, white America.

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