I know I’m not alone in feeling like there’s far too much wibbily-wobbly timey-wimey lately. We just passed 100 days of working from home because of Covid-19, the bubbling undercurrent of anti-Black racism and police brutality has (finally?) has broader recognition (though not without tragedy), and Pride Month has largely been replaced by Wrath Month (traditionally celebrated in July, but brought forward by unanimous consent after a Big Queer Meeting in which it was the first item on our agenda). For lots of folks, it’s like the hits just keep coming, as so wonderfully illustrated by this calendar my friend Izzy Jayasinghe put together for a talk:
Some self-promotion: I’m going to talk about my Pride Month of Protest this afternoon 👇🏾. I’ll also talk specifically why there is blindspot in the LGBTQ+ community in UK STEMM towards the experiences of queer folk of colour. You need to register to get a link for the seminar. https://t.co/DpJddaDX5v pic.twitter.com/MZmFmAuMY5
— Izzy Jayasinghe (@i_jayas) June 24, 2020
And even since Izzy’s calendar, we’ve had the release of a report from the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity in STEM highlighting yet more disparity, and UKRI, the main research funding mechanism in the UK, releasing data on applicant diversity showing just how, well, awful it is.
Throw in some internal institutional battles and frustrations, profound disagreements with the UK government’s Covid-19 response, and our first heat-wave of the year, and it’s been tough. It seems like every week for the last 2 months I’ve felt utterly drained, and each week I seem to find more scope for further draining with even less respite. And no sign of respite in the immediate future (in the UK we still shouldn’t be travelling great distances for overnight stays, hotels etc are still closed, and work demands mean a week of leave isn’t really an option). Pride Month is also often quite tiring, as requests for guest blogs, seminars, and media ramp up in a way that suggests many of us don’t exist the other 11 months of the year.
As a friend and I discussed, it’s soul-level tired, to-the-core-of-my-being tired. All I want to do is cocoon myself in a crofter’s hut in the Highlands for a week with good books, tea, and food and a couple of good friends that I haven’t seen in months. But that will have to wait.
I started to write this post early this morning, and promptly abandoned it until I read Ben Britton’s piece that touched on so many of the same thoughts and added some much needed fuel. In particular the utter frustration so many of us have when trying to address systemic inequities in science resonated quite deeply:
If you present at the hospital with a severed arm, your Doctor does not immediately start drafting legislation about the safe use of chainsaws, or even how best to trim a hedge. They fix you up, address your needs, and move on from there.
It’s an analogy I’ve used when talking about how we can address plastic pollution, another global systemic issue – it presenting at A&E with a bleeding head wound, one doesn’t start by thinking about how to clean up the floor.
And doing this – “causing trouble” as Ben puts it – is necessary. Progress will always be slower than we want, and I genuinely don’t know if “true” equity will exist in my career, or my lifetime (I suspect not seeing as we’ve made it this far and, well…). I’m a cis white man, and if *I* find it this exhausting, think about how my trans BIPOC friends & colleagues must be feeling (hint: it’s probably more tired, and for longer). But we keep pushing because it’s the one thing we must do.
That pushing, though, takes effort. You can’t expect Sisyphus to run a marathon between each ascent of the mountain up which he pushes his boulder. When research/academia already feels like a Sisyphean task, fighting to make it a more inclusive, equitable, diverse and accessible part of society can feel like running the marathon. And then another, and then another. This is where other folks can help.
I have a fraught relationship with the term “ally”, especially when self-applied. It’s a transitive state that’s defined by one’s actions, not one’s desire to be so labelled. Allegiances can change, diverge, or be revealed to be something else. Ben Britton (can you tell I’m a fan?) has adopted the term “co-conspirator” or “accomplice” because this means the person has some skin in the game (i.e., if you get cornered & need to fight out, they’re also there), and it’s rooted in action, the doing of things rather than just cheerleading from the sidelines that leads to so many empty statements (hello organizations with rainbow social media avatars in June), promises of further study and working groups and committees that will have no genuine power, influence, or resources to achieve anything.
We don’t need allies. We need accomplices.
In The Guardian this morning is coverage of a EU Fundamental Rights Agency report on LGBTQ+ experiences across Europe. It paints a pretty bleak picture. It contains many sobering statistics, but the one I find most straight folks find the most confronting is whether someone would avoid holding hands with a same-sex partner in public for fear of being assaulted, threatened or harassed. Looking at at my own demographic (gay/queer man in the UK) tends to bring this home. 37% say “always”.
And when we toss in those who answered “always” or “often”, it’s 70%.
It’s not about abstractions, or fighting for the sake of fighting or equality “league tables”, or causing “trouble”, but real tangible impacts on people’s lives that many just can’t even fathom.
And that’s in science, in academia, in research, and in our broader society. It’s not easy, it’s bloody exhausting, but when it matters this much, we have no choice but to keep fighting. I often say that “science is people” – and people will always come before “science” in my books. That’s part of the unseen and/or unrecognized community mentorship and support that many marginalized groups do, and will continue to do.
I can’t say it’s been a “happy Pride Month” (not that last year’s was much better). But (he said, wanting to end on a marginally positive note), the fight goes on.