Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: “I’m one part of the universe, trying to figure out another part of the universe.”

Posted in Articles, Interviews, Media Archive on 2021-08-18 01:56Z by Steven

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein: “I’m one part of the universe, trying to figure out another part of the universe.”


Lacy M. Johnson

On quarks, leptons, and the patriarchy.

​“Articulating scientific questions is social,” Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein writes in The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey Into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, a fascinating and hard-to-classify book that blends clear and cogent writing about the science of theoretical physics with piercing critiques of the cultures in which that science occurs. In her work as a theoretical physicist, Prescod-Weinstein articulates scientific questions about dark matter and space-time, as well as social ones about who gets to do physics and the power relations involved in how it’s done. In The Disordered Cosmos, Prescod-Weinstein brings these scientific and social questions together. Informed by Black feminism, she moves from discussions of quarks and leptons to explanations of the roots and history of patriarchy, from hidden figures to the insights of observational astronomy.

One of the few Black women in her field, Prescod-Weinstein has had a remarkable career. Originally from East Los Angeles, she is an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of New Hampshire, where she is also core faculty in women’s and gender studies. She has held research positions at the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics & Space Research and the Center for Theoretical Physics at MIT, as well as a postdoctoral fellowship at the Observational Cosmology Lab at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. For a time, she was editor-in-chief at the online experimental literary magazine The Offing.

She brings this varied and multifaceted background to bear on The Disordered Cosmos, which is part science book, part personal narrative, part cultural critique. But this work is more than the sum of its parts. The Disordered Cosmos calls on us to consider the harmful power relations far too many of us are far too willing to accept, and — through its probing inquiries into who gets to ask scientific questions and do scientific work — offers a compelling vision of a more expansive and inclusive universe. Early in the book she offers two big dreams for Black children: “to know and experience Blackness as beauty and power” and “to know and experience curiosity about the night sky, to know it belonged to their ancestors.” She writes, “That, too, is freedom.”

Chanda and I talked over Zoom in early June about dark matter, the season of Star Trek that’s “queer as fuck,” and why it’s important to be aware of whom you’re writing “not just for but to.”…

Read the entire interview here.

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Elizabeth Miki Brina: “The historical and the personal are intertwined.”

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Autobiography, Biography, Interviews, Media Archive, United States on 2021-07-17 00:10Z by Steven

Elizabeth Miki Brina: “The historical and the personal are intertwined.”


Elizabeth Lothian, Digital Director

Photo credit: Thad Lee

The author of Speak, Okinawa talks about learning her family history, writing from guilt, and questioning her father’s values.

Elizabeth Miki Brina’s debut memoir Speak, Okinawa is a nuanced investigation of self, lineage, and inheritance. Born in the 1980s to an Okinawan mother and a white, American, ex-military father, Brina struggled with the duality of her identity. She connected more with her father—the dominant force in her family triad—often in an attempt to fit in with the 99 percent white suburb in which she grew up, and this made her feel distant from her already isolated mother.

It is only years later, after moving out of her parents’ enveloping orbit, that Brina comes to question why she feels so disconnected from her mother and Okinawan ancestry. She then sets out to explore her heritage—half that of the colonized and half that of the colonizer. We take this journey with her as she recounts the history of Okinawa. These chapters, voiced brilliantly in the first person plural “we,” tells the reader of Okinawa’s conquest by China and Japan, the horrors it faced in World War II—nearly a third of its population was killed in one battle alone—and the subsequent US military occupation of the island, which continues to this day.

As Brina learns the history of her maternal lineage, she comes to better understand not just her mother but herself. She is then forced to reckon with the role her father played in dictating her worldview and to try and unknot how America, as both a political entity and a cluster of ideals, has marginalized other ways of being…

Read the entire article here.

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So what we’re left with is race as this very crude proxy for difference that has all the power to explain issues that relate very directly to social justice. We need to really move beyond race.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2017-03-26 01:53Z by Steven

Race takes on a particular relevance in the United States, given our history and also the political climate now. In science, we see the way race has become this enduring variable that explains things like oppression. It’s very powerful and it resonates, so there’s even more responsibility to use it carefully and to really uncouple and deconstruct what it’s a proxy for. While most people would argue that we need to break down what race is standing in for in those studies, that research doesn’t actually happen. So what we’re left with is race as this very crude proxy for difference that has all the power to explain issues that relate very directly to social justice. We need to really move beyond race. —Sandra Soo-Jin Lee

Lynette Chiu, “Dr. Sandra Soo-Jin Lee: Toward a More Precise Genetics,” Guernica / a magazine of global arts & politics, February 27, 2017.

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Dr. Sandra Soo-Jin Lee: Toward a More Precise Genetics

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Interviews, Media Archive on 2017-03-25 20:30Z by Steven

Dr. Sandra Soo-Jin Lee: Toward a More Precise Genetics

Guernica / a magazine of global arts & politics

Lynette Chiu
Brooklyn, New York

The medical anthropologist on the imperative to move beyond race in genetic research and the explanatory power of life experience and inequality.

For decades, the idea that excavating the genetic origins of disease could transform treatment of the body has lived in the sea of public imagination, buoyant but as yet unrealized. The Human Genome Project, a landmark initiative undertaken between 1990 and 2003, identified and analyzed all the genes found in humans, and sowed the potential for new understanding of major illnesses. It engendered hope of a future in which genetic makeup could be the primary factor in determining a person’s care. Researchers could make endless shapes out of a sandbox of data that was blind to race—that problematic and omnipresent variable in the biomedical sphere.

But it is not a simple thing to scrub race from human tissue samples or from the minds of the experts seeking answers, and it remains stubbornly inextricable from genetic research. Investigating the history, intricacies, and implications of this is Dr. Sandra Soo-Jin Lee, a medical anthropologist and senior research scholar at the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, who has been studying the role of race in genomic science since the late 1990s. One of her principal interests is biobanks—the various repositories of samples that scientists turn to to test their hypotheses. She identifies them as chronicles of society’s evolving efforts to distinguish between groups; the sorting and labeling of their contents are a collision of the biological and the sociopolitical. The result is the physical matter of thousands upon thousands of individuals demarcated by an inconsistent jumble of terms such as “nationality,” “ethnicity,” and “skin color.”.

In her 2015 paper “The Biobank as Political Artifact: The Struggle Over Race in Categorizing Genetic Difference,” published in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Dr. Lee is forthright about the dangers of genetic studies built around samples identified by race. “The unqualified racial labeling of DNA that strips genes of the social context and experience of those who have donated these materials,” she writes, “allows for a pendulum shift in scientific discourse that racializes genes.” Race can end up standing in for factors, such as diet and environment, that go unaccounted for in gene-focused studies. The subsequent findings can then trickle down to affect how we explain differences in disease burden, create health policy, and progress toward eliminating health disparities between populations. With the term “precision medicine” on the rise, referring to a care model that translates insights around genetic variation into clinical practice, the need to inspect and augment how those insights come about has grown more urgent…

Read the entire article here.

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Jane Marchant: A Century of Progress

Posted in Articles, Biography, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2016-06-15 17:06Z by Steven

Jane Marchant: A Century of Progress

Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics

Jane Marchant

Uncovering the story of a grandmother’s racial passing and its effect on following generations.

It is winter here and there are no leaves in sight. I am standing in front of what was once 684 East 39th Street, once part of Chicago’s Ida B. Wells housing projects. Gray dust swirls to the sides of the roads; it also covers cars. Gray light shines through gray clouds and gray glass litters Bronzeville’s streets, in the South Side. The Chicago Housing Authority demolished my Grandma Barbara’s first home. In place of the two-bedroom apartment that housed my Grandma Barbara, her two siblings, and their mother – and generations after them, as the city’s public housing projects shifted from idyllic dream to dangerous nightmare – are three-story apartment buildings for rent or sale. Demolition of the Ida B. Wells Homes began in 2002 and construction for the Oakwood Shores replacement development is nearly complete. A manufactured park cuts the new housing development in two, Lake Michigan breaks against the shore barely a mile east, and skyscrapers rise in the distance. Barely five months ago, I did not know my Grandma Barbara grew up in Chicago’s first housing projects segregated for black residents. She kept many things hidden from me, and the outside world. Among Grandma Barbara’s secrets was that her mother was black.

I love my Grandma Barbara. I loved her as I grew up in a predominantly-white neighborhood; I loved her when I wasn’t allowed to play with her hair, when she ate peanuts and jelly beans at our dining-room table, and when I understood she and my mother were somehow different from the white mothers around us, but I did not understand why. I loved Grandma Barbara in her hospital bed, as she told the nurses she was from Spain, as she lay dying. I love her as she rests in a jar on my aunt’s mantelpiece. But Grandma Barbara told her children and grandchildren lies about who we are.

I find myself, repeatedly, asking, Why? Slavery’s dangers do not exist anymore. The segregation of Grandma Barbara’s youth does not legally exist anymore. When she was on her deathbed in 2007, she was no longer called a mulatto, my mother no longer called a quadroon; I am not called an octoroon, my children will not be named mustifees and my grandchildren will not be mustifinos. We are not in the French Southern States of the 1800s and my great-grandchildren will never be called quarterons, and their children sang-meles. Our one drop will no longer enslave us all. So what was Grandma Barbara hiding from?…

Read the entire article here.

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