Monday, July 11, 2016

Cross-post of WGAD Statement: Black Lives Matter

Cross-posted with permission of Nick Murphy, on behalf of the members of the AAS Working Group on Accessibility and Disability (WGAD).

See also this recent unofficial statement signed by members of the CSMA, this other unofficial statement of solidarity signed by members of peer "diversity" committees (CSWA, SGMA and WGAD), and this other one from members of APS COM and AAPT COD. None of these statements have been officially endorsed by their corresponding professional societies. 


Dear AAS Council and Executive Committee,

As members of the Working Group on Accessibility and Disability, we implore you to release an AAS Council Resolution that Black lives do matter, in language as strong and unambiguous as possible. The AAS sets the standard for professional behavior within our field and aspires to broaden participation in astronomy by people from underrepresented groups. As such, we believe that failing to publicly denounce recent racist events that strongly affect Black scientists constitutes an abdication of the Society’s responsibility to actively create a supportive community for its members of color.

For the sake of our generation and for the upcoming talent that we are losing, the AAS must unify with its internal committees to stand in support of people of color. The disregard of the humanity of Black people is a national calamity that affects astronomers on a daily basis.  By stating our support, we are refusing to dismiss the suffering of our Black brothers and sisters as if it were unrelated to us.  We must take action so that the astronomical community knows that we care about and will work to ensure the happiness and safety of our Black colleagues and students, and all others who are touched by our scientific endeavors.

The AAS has a history of supporting marginalized groups through issuing responses to ongoing crises. For example, after the revelation of pervasive sexism and sexual harassment within the community, the AAS executive committee approved a statement condemning these actions and affirming the right of every astronomer to a work environment free of harassment and sexism. ( This statement was released during a time when it became apparent that sexism was directly impacting the lives of members of the astronomical community. It is imperative that the Council recognize that the continual (and recent) events involving the deaths of Black people also directly impact the lives of members of the astronomical community.

Therefore, WGAD acknowledges the particular challenges faced by people, including many astronomers, who are members of more than one marginalized group. We understand that among the astronomers with disabilities that our working group serves are Black scientists who face additional daily challenges imposed on them by the continual violence directed at their community. We affirm their right to be the focus of our attention at this critical moment, and we reiterate our commitment to keeping their needs at the forefront of our efforts to make astronomy accessible to all.

We, as a professional society, need to show that we mean what we say at our public outreach events--that we seek to inspire all to become astronomers and that we support all who become astronomers because they are what make our field and this organization great. If we truly wish to create a field that is made stronger by its bonds and networks in the world, then the physical and emotional well-being of the members of our community is the fundamental and necessary starting point.

By refusing to acknowledge that Black lives matter specifically, the AAS implicitly treats the most elementary statement of human worth as controversial or unworthy of response. Whether intentional or not, this omission sends a clear signal that the acute suffering of non-white astronomers simply does not carry enough weight to overcome the inertia of institutional racism. A professional community that cannot make the most basic stand against systemic racism is a community which views a diverse talent pool as a goal but not a priority. It is therefore vital that the AAS demonstrate its commitment by releasing a resolution affirming the value of the Black lives it represents.

We, the undersigned members of WGAD, urge the AAS to continue its efforts on behalf of civil rights by issuing a strong response to the ongoing violence against people of color in the United States.

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