Unsurprising to many Black people, the 2020 protests have done little for Black representation in science conferences—specifically neuroscience conferences. The responses to the protests were expected: white shock, white guilt, and white pledges for reform:
[…] Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, and others, there were numerous statements from scientific societies on diversity, equity, and inclusion that pushed their organizations and memberships to do better. Several of these statements included support of a fundamental fact: racial discrimination is toxic, and should not be tolerated by science or society. This is a logical extension of various laws centered around racial discrimination. These statements also included general support of the Black community specifically, with concerns about institutional racism, systemic racism, and explicit and implicit bias within the scientific ranks. The scientific field appeared highly mobilized to pursue progressive change. For example, the Society for Neuroscience offered a commitment to “promoting diversity and fostering excellence; to recognizing that many talented scientists, especially those from minority groups, have been excluded from our field; and to committing to do better”. The editorial board of Cell put it clearly: “Science has a racism problem”. The editorial board of Science committed to listening, learning, and changing any systemic racist practices it holds. The ‘diversity–innovation paradox’ was quantified, revealing that underrepresented groups produced higher rates of scientific discovery, yet their contributions were more likely to be devalued and discounted.
But after the furore came a quieting of the storm and back to white normality:
Although the overall percentage of Black speakers has gone up modestly following the summer of 2020, the overwhelming majority of conferences had no Black speakers. The percentage of Black speakers at the conferences studied following the summer of 2020 is comparable to the estimated number of Black graduates from Neuroscience PhD programs and Black faculty within the United States. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, of all full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in fall 2018, 40% were white males, 35% were white females, and 3% each were Black males and Black females. These numbers have been acknowledged as unacceptably low.
This story isn’t specific to neuroscience or even science as a whole. There need to be fewer discussions and consultations about what needs to be done and more actions to get them done. The time for talk is over.