Make no mistake – the origin phase is critical. Properly allocated, resources (especially financial) provide the infrastructure needed to address long -standing problems. That is, the origins would not have been the end of the conversation, but the beginning. Little can be done without them.
The question is, what do we do with them when we already have them?
A year later George Floyd assassinated, phase 3 continues to grow in scope: New job titles are created, new employees are greenlit, and job announcements show clear language about antiracism commitments and diversity. But past these significant developments-and I want to point out that all matter-we are now walking in uncharted territory.
The implicit question in this new episode 4 is, Are we there yet? What exactly do we need to do, and how do we know if we are making progress? Will we do a good job if we hire a number of native computer scientists over the next five years? Few would doubt that this was a good sign. If the enrollment of students with self-identified disabilities doubles in the next two cohorts of graduating students, we should be encouraged.
Even here we must be careful and consider the lesson of Goodhart’s Law: If a standard becomes a goal, it is no longer a useful measure.
If a short number of Black or brown scientists have shown that an institutional culture is biased or disliked, then the numbers are pointed. single no way to change that culture. Going further, if you changed the number to Black and brown faces in the crowd, you probably didn’t change much.
But this is not entirely true. Actually increasing the diversity of most faces is a sneezing on purpose. Because there are so many problems, shock therapy that immediately increases the count can create a critical mass. And a critical mass will at least make early -career scientists from isolated communities feel less isolated in their respective programs and professions. And with progress, the culture will then change.
Perhaps phase 4 should include a rigorous review of our progress. Every sophisticated initiative aimed at tackling a social ills requires an equally (or more) sophisticated tool to measure whether that initiative is effective. Roads leading anywhere have not been paved with even the most basic purpose (from stages 1 to 3).
Even our power of scrutiny is useless if we have not yet decided what exactly the purpose is. Even more forbidden: Do we experience, at any stage, what problem we are trying to solve? And to the problem, I mean something more specific than “solving systematic racism.”
This and all subsequent phases will only succeed if we are clean with an uncomfortable fact: Institutional racism is very damaging because it protects the margins of society, always along lines that are difficult to trace and legislate. That they are hard to find does not mean that they are not very meaningful. The opposite may be true: That racism on the side is hard to know exactly how it infiltrates itself into the entire universe and ruined society from the inside out.
This decay shows how some startup pitches are receptive when they come out of some mouths relative to others.
It lives on who will be the expert, and why we need credentials from some but not others.
It sits on editorial boards and on dissertation and promotion committees.
It tells us why students with similar talents or interests have different teaching, how others are encouraged to pursue many challenging projects with great potential for growth.
This explains why one scientist is marked as a polymath and the other a dilettante for the same job.
It resides in the context of how to build professional networks, often in social and informal settings. (I may not like IPAs, but I could benefit from a colleague telling after work.)
It can also live on in how Black teachers treat the students they seek to encourage, or how health care workers treat the black patients they try to treat.