'We will not be silent'
Members of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Minority Affairs Committee released the following statement today in response to police killings of unarmed black civilians.
Dear ASBMB members,
We, as members of the ASBMB Minority Affairs Committee, believe in the dignity of all human beings and have chosen to shine a light on injustice, advocate for diversity and equity, and ensure that all voices are heard.
We are sickened. Hundreds of years of wealth, housing, and healthcare inequality and environmental racism have resulted in Black and other communities of color being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet these workers have disproportionately been the ones picking and processing the foods, delivering the household staples, and providing the services that allow the rest of the nation to stay home and be safe.
We are grieving. Last fall, Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman, was shot by police in her home while playing video games with her nephew. Earlier this month, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was killed by white men while jogging. Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who wanted to become a nurse, was shot by police in her own home while sleeping. Last week, the graphic killing of George Floyd by police and his haunting final words echoed those of Eric Garner in 2014: “I can’t breathe.”
We are exhausted. Institutionalized racism, housing discrimination and educational inequality have prevented African Americans, Latinx, Native Americans and other minority groups from joining our ranks in scientific research and medicine. As a scientific society, we create events and programs to remove barriers and attract minority students to our ranks. We try to educate, advocate and serve as role models.
We are angry. The systemic biases, racial profiling and inequalities in access make our goals almost unattainable. The events of the past several months have shaken our belief that the better angels of our nature will prevail. As we watch and participate in the protests against police killings of Black people, we understand that hundreds of years of racism and oppression, starting with the sin of slavery, have culminated in what is currently gripping our nation. In this country, we still struggle to show that Black lives indeed matter.
We are united. Together, as scientists and leaders in our communities, we cannot sit silently. We need to channel our despair and anger. If you are not a member of a minority community, become an ally. Offer support, listen, amplify their voices, and educate your peers. In the words of Angela Davis: “In a racist society, it is not enough to be nonracist, we must be antiracist.” We call on all members of the ASBMB to step up, speak out and intervene, even if our voices shake, for it is only in just actions that we will start correcting some of the historical wrongs that our nation has imposed upon communities of color.
We will not be silent. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is often quoted* as having said: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. Only in the darkness can you see the stars."
We must work together. The force of American history has crushed the lives and hopes of the Black community. We should not act surprised that finally the cauldron has boiled over, as, for too many years, our nation’s top leaders have not only ignored our plight but have added more fuel to the fire. We look to our elected leaders to provide the beacon that lights the path to an equitable future. For the first time in many years, the lights of the White House are dark.
We must walk together. Abraham Lincoln, quoting the Bible, said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” As a scientific society, let us not wait for a beacon, but, through our engagement and actions, shine a light on inequities and light a path for everyone to walk on toward a just and equitable future. We must light up the darkness together.
Sonia C. Flores, Chair, ASBMB Minority Affairs Committee
*These likely were not MLK’s actual words but rather a synthesis of parts of his speeches.
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René Fuanta, a second-year assistant professor at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania, tries to support his students through a semester of unexpected challenges.