Thursday, January 18, 2018

Statement supporting astronomers from Global South Countries

[Content Warning: Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Blackness, Deportation, War]

Dear fellow astronomers,

In a meeting at the Oval Office with lawmakers on Thursday, January 11th, during a discussion centered on immigration, the POTUS uttered the phrase “Why are we having all these people from [vulgar expletive] countries come here?”, singling out African Union countries, Haiti (all with predominantly Black populations), as well as El Salvador. He also added that the US should get more people from countries like Norway (a predominantly white North-European country). This was followed by the words “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out." 

These racist remarks did not occur in a vacuum. They were made a few days before Martin Luther King Day in the US, and a day before the eighth anniversary of a devastating earthquake that took the lives of 220,000 to 316,000 Haitians and displaced almost a million more. Haiti, a country founded by African slaves in rebellion over their European oppressors, has resisted capitalism in the midst of crushing debt, forced military coups, and debilitating economic policies imposed upon them by both US and European powers. Haitians have survived these obstacles and persevered with incredible vibrancy, tenacity, and spirit. These remarks also took place just three days after this administration announced the termination of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which will result in the ending of legal status for approximately 195,000 Salvadorians, 46,000 Haitians, 2,550 Nicaraguans and 1,040 Sudanese people - with similar measures being prepared against refugees from Honduras, Nepal, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and South Sudan. For many years, refugees from these countries have set roots in the United States, and have raised children for whom this country is the only country they know. Their deportation would be catastrophic for themselves, their families and their communities. Such actions add to the narrative that refugees are not welcome here, even though they fled their homes because of US-sponsored activities in their countries. These remarks are coupled to this administration’s racist and xenophobic agenda: pushes against the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and all undocumented people, against people from predominantly Muslim countries, and for the construction of a Wall at the US-Mexico border.  These remarks also come during a week when deportation raids at 7-Eleven franchises are causing panic and fear in communities of color, including communities where many members of our astronomical community and their families live.

The signatories vehemently condemn these remarks, and any racist and xenophobic narratives from this administration. We also ask every astronomer to do everything in their power to protect those colleagues who are directly affected by these narratives, within our borders and abroad. To best support our fellow astronomers from the Global South[1], based both in the United States and abroad, we recommend the following actions:
  • Recruit, retain and promote astronomers from Global South countries. This includes actively seeking to attract applicants from those countries, not dismissing applications and requests for mentoring from astronomers in these countries, and interrogating any unconscious biases we might hold against them.
  • Organize conferences in a way that includes astronomers from Global South countries. These could be done by selecting locations accessible to them, or by providing opportunities to present at venues using teleconference technology. 
  • Support organizations that broaden participation in the Global South and that enhance bridges from citizens of those countries to pursue opportunities in the Global North (please see below for a list).
  • Support students and colleagues that have themselves immigrated or are part of families that have immigrated from the Global South to the Global North; this especially includes people who are under threat of forced (and potentially life-threatening) deportation.
  • Educate yourselves about issues on colonialism, imperialism and neoliberalism - which explains how the world is economically structured to benefit the Global North to the detriment of the Global South. Instead of blaming them for being poor, recognize that those of us in wealthy countries benefit from their exploitation (please see below for list).
  • Call your representatives in congress to denounce the xenophobic and racist narratives and policies by this administration, and to propose and support policies that support people from the Global South that align with the international Refugee Convention and Protocol, to which most Global North countries (including the US) are legal signatories [2].
To all astronomers affected by these narratives, and these policies, we support you and we will continue to fight for you. Thank you.

January 18th, 2018 


Profe Jorge Moreno
Dra. Nicole Cabrera Salazar
Dr. Lia Corrales
Professor Jillian Bellovary
Professor Kim Coble
Professor Aparna Venkatesan
Professor Adam Burgasser
Charee Peters
Professor Alyson Brooks
Professor John Asher Johnson
Professor Kathryne Daniel 
Dr. Keith Hawkins

[1] Global South: In reference to countries facing the effects of centuries of colonialism and imperialism by western powers. Haiti, El Salvador, and African Union countries all fall under this umbrella term. 
-- Mitlin, Diana; Satterthwaite, David (2013). Urban Poverty in the Global South: Scale and Nature. Routledge. p. 13. ISBN 9780415624664.

[2] Refugee status is defined in the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees; see the combined 1951 Convetion and 1967 Protocol on the UNHCR website.

Links and resources (additions are welcome)

To Support Scientists in the Global South:

On Colonialism and Science:

We wish to thank Lamiya Ashraf Mowla, Rohan Naidu and Alicia Aarnio for supplying some of the above links. We request additional links from the community. Thank you.

Disclaimer: The above signatories are private citizens exercising their constitutional right to express their personal views. This is not an official statement by the American Astronomical Society nor the Committee on the Status of Minorities in Astronomy and should not be construed as such.

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