White Supremacy in Science

Unlike many other fields in today’s world, science incorporates the ideologies of many experts. Science is often “discovered” mainly through the inputs of many scientists coming from different walks of life. These people may have differing backgrounds, genders, family lives, ethnicities, races, etc. However, it is this culmination of knowledge coming from all of these different views that makes science so intriguing and important in our lives. Take for example the current COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists from a multitude of different countries are working towards the same end goal — discovering a vaccine for the fatal virus. This shows that science is not only paramount to the advancement of our society but also powerful. However, like many of the things in our world that go wrong, the field of science has its own flaws, including an innate sense of white supremacy that goes back many decades.

In his piece, Okun makes it evident that white supremacy is deeply rooted within the field of science through an example from World War II — the atomic bomb that the United States dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan to ultimately end the war. Looking back, it’s obvious that this bomb has the power to alter the course of history and severely affect the lives of people even today. The atomic bomb is an example of such extreme power that allows countries to simply decimate the populations of their rivals, ultimately ending in mass destruction. It’s important to understand that when dealing with a weapon of such command, it’s necessary to implement ethics and strive for perfection; however, it’s evident in our history that this simply did not happen.

In K.C. Cole’s Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the world he made up, it’s clear that the process of actually creating the atomic bomb was nothing short of “highly chaotic and frequently dangerous” (Cole, 2009). In his book, Cole details how the bombing of Pearl Harbor forced the United States to join World War II and go into a state of urgency where scientists in the country were severely stressed and mistreated in some ways. There was extreme pressure for physicists to successfully extract the element Uranium that ultimately was an integral piece in the creation of the atomic bomb. As Cole stated, this process was distressing for the scientists, who were placed under immense strain and a sense of pressure to be successful.

According to Okun, white supremacy is integrated into the field of science, and it’s evident in this example of the atomic bomb project. Okun believes that the pressure on American scientists to immediately be successful is a harmful trait of white supremacy when he says that the sense of urgency “frequently results in sacrificing potential allies for quick or highly visible results” (Okun, 2020). He also says that the “continued sense of urgency that makes it difficult to take time to be inclusive, encourage democratic and/or thoughtful decision making, to think long-term, to consider consequences (Okun, 2020). Because many scientists were forced a hand and were pressured into changing their lives for the sake of the bomb, this innate sense of white supremacy in the field of science is evident. Many of these scientists were severely stressed and exhausted with very little time to rest.

This example showcases how white supremacy is clearly embedded within our culture, especially in the field of science. While this is unfortunate, it is simply the truth, and it’s important for our generation to fix this issue.

Okun, T. (n.d.). White supremacy culture. Retrieved October 02, 2020,from https://www.dismantlingracism.org/uploads/4/3/5/7/43579015/okun_-_white_sup_culture.pdf

Selections (pages 50–65) from Cole, K. C. (2009). Something Incredibly Wonderful Happens: Frank Oppenheimer and the world he made up. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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