DNLee: Real-Life Identity and The Internet

DNLee’s blog is “The Urban Scientist“; she can be found on Twitter as @DNLee5
DNLee writes …

My name is DNLee, I am Science Blogger and I approve this message

There aren’t very many Black/Brown science bloggers, tweeters and social media commentators. As a result, we as a group and individually have a comparatively low profile. Popular or not, many of us blog/tweet pseudonymously.  Pseudonyms protect individuals, especially scholars of junior rank. Plus, individuals from underrepresented groups carry burdens of heightened scrutiny of our work and our behavior. We are burdened with other people’s lower expectations of our abilities and their surprise when we experience successes.  These are very real barriers to diversity, retention, and inclusion in the sciences. Our first obligation is to our own preservation and professional success. Completing that degree, getting a job, getting that career grant, or getting tenure comes first. And make no mistake, that alone is a serious and oft-times exhausting experience. That is enough, but still many of us share our voices with the public.

For a short time I did voice my concerns pseudonymously. It was a brash, unapologetic and scathing voice.  It was the polar opposite of the sweet voiced, family-friendly science blogger who didn’t touch controversy at all. This was important. I didn’t want people to get my voices conflated, plus the audiences were very different. As a member of an underrepresented minority (URM) group I did not need any extra, especially negative, attention on me. The scrutiny that URM scholars get is already high and I did not need anyone gunning for me before I had professional security to shield any shots aimed at me. This.Is.Real.Life.

I have always been a bit of a pill.  I have a host of people willing to write recommendations of my sassy smart mouth self – my mother, aunts, and teachers as far back as elementary school.  I got it honest. I come from a family of clever beautiful people. Mouthing off is a sport for us. Backing it up and taking hits comes with the territory. You learn this and roll with it. You don’t throw stones and hide your hands; and you certainly don’t whine when you’ve been got.

However, I also attribute some of my attitude in and within academia to my mentors – many of whom have been white men.  I speak boldly. I call people out about shaky presentations. Along the way I got a few side eyes and corrections, reminding me that I can’t get away with what they get away with.  Those people who pulled me to the side were right, after all, science is not a utopia. I corrected course, but as I matured I came to realize how much the hypocrisy enraged me.  Now, whenever someone makes a point to correct me for my tone or volume or my general ‘presence’ I call attention to how my behavior isn’t really out of order or all that different from others. Other scholars come on the scene – firm and clear. Some are way over the top. Where is the tone police for them? I ask. Most people respond with a series of umms and uhhhs. It seems quite obvious to me that it’s the first time anyone has challenged them to consider the selectiveness of their attention to so-called negative behavior and who they are more likely to call out for it. When the behavior and tone commonly exhibited by my professors is mirrored in this first-generation college graduate, brown, young-looking, chubby-faced female package suddenly there is a problem. Why?? I ask this of people in order to force everyone to consider how deep and present these double standards are in the sciences and in academia.  I want people to acknowledge (even if just quietly to themselves) how being white and male and having the ‘right background’ gives individuals benefits of the doubts and so many undeserved passes for all kinds of behavior.

I share my personal experiences with students, educators, academic policy makers, and the general public as my fully identified self to shine a light on how the meritocracy doesn’t quite work the way it should. Right now, my real name carries no weight, but my use of it is about conspicuousness. But, like those with pseudonymous voices, I’m interested in protecting myself. For me visibility means that I am controlling the narrative of my experiences. I draw shady cultural norms and players of academic science out of the shadows. I expose not only what is happening to me and other scholars from traditionally disenfranchised groups, but I also expose the instigators and perpetrators of this sometimes unfair system.

The impact, pain and the joy is real, not abstract. By making what I observe and what happens to me a part of the public record, I am able to host a dialogue in order to confront the (unconscious) discriminatory practices in academia and science that interfere with diversity and retention efforts.  Pull up a chair. Let’s talk.

Read more by DNLee! Her recent posts include “Free the News, Share the Science – Campaign to create the Sex Politics & Religion Network“, “Waking up from a bad dream – Fear of academic writing“, “#NPRBlacksinTech – a conversation about African American participation in American Innovation fields.”

An into to this post can also be found here, on DNLee’s blog.

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