Biologist Dr D. N. Lee has been doing an amazing job educating on how enthusiastic narratives of “colonising” Mars are problematic. On her Twitter, Lee notes that the dominant ways of talking about colonisation add to the marginalisation of under-represented minorities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). If we want to make science more inclusive, we need to better understand how the stories we tell about STEM may exclude and damage under-represented groups we are trying to support.
Not Just Semantics
Lee notes that talking about Mars in terms of colonisation is not simply an issue of semantics – for example using “settlement” instead of colonising. Rather, media narratives unquestioningly champion rich White men’s ideas about what Mars travel should mean: “we don’t have to be stuck on Earth!” The narrative is being framed around “saving” humanity. (See a Storify of Lee’s discussion for further context.)
Lee asks: saving from what, whom, and why? And in this re-imagining of humanity’s salvation, who is left behind? Who does the dangerous, under-paid work of building new colonised spaces? In short, what have we learned from history about colonisation? It is rooted in exploitation and inequality. On Twitter, Lee writes:
“When I hear scientists discuss “for the good of humanity” I check who is talking and if they listen to “others.” History AND Contemporary events have demonstrated how often people will exploit and harm ‘others’ when diverse ppl cant inform policy… If Mars will be better place (where the wealthy are clamoring to) & earth is the place to be “stuck”, then WHO is stuck & w/ what resources… In human history there’s a profound diff in exploration, recon, even trading with other peoples vs Imperialism, conquering & colonization…Thing is, when Some of us hear Colonization, Enterprise Expansion, New wealth acquisition, we have a VERY different Movie trailer playing”
Lee is clear that space exploration is not the problem; she is questioning the context of talking about Mars as a place to colonise, as a way to escape problems on Earth, which have arisen as a result of colonial practices in the first place.
White Male Privilege in STEM Narratives
Lee demonstrates that White male entrepreneurs encourage the public to give up on our responsibilities on Earth, both environmentally and socially. They do so in ways that mirror the colonisation of Indigenous cultures.
Lee shows that this Mars narrative is exclusionary. The reaction to her discussion amplifies this exclusion.
White male space enthusiasts have been arguing back at Lee on Twitter, saying that Mars represents an opportunity to start over; to get social justice right. They tell her that if she continues to be “negative,” she will miss out on the opportunity to engage with the future of space science, because the public will turn off her. One White man even said to Lee the equivalent of: We need women like you on Mars to procreate! (As if women’s special place in this brave new world is solely to reproduce, rather than her scientific practice and the leadership she is demonstrating.)
Former NASA engineer Homer Hickam was one of the men who dismissed Lee’s conversation as “silly.” Hickam is someone Lee says she looked up to (Hickam’s life story inspired the movie October Sky starring Jake Gyllenhaal). She tried to engage him in a discussion about why the points of view of people of colour (POC) matter. She discussed colonialism and White male privilege. For example, his views as a White man dominate STEM, but her views as woman of colour are dismissed.
Hickam responded that he is proud that his ancestors had social privilege because that means they were successful and earned their place in colonised spaces. He applauds manifest destiny more than once. He evoked a Native American ancestor to justify his racist comments (whilst celebrating the tenacity of his White ancestors to colonise). Hickam derided Lee’s concerns as a fellow scientist because she is a woman of colour. He then blocked her, effectively shutting down the conversation about inclusion. As a senior figure in STEM with greater social power, Hickam proves Lee’s argument, that only White men’s views are allowed respect in STEM.
Lee notes that if we can’t get the conversation about diversity and inclusion right, here and now – then how can we ever hope to restart afresh elsewhere?
Why Understanding Colonialism Matters in STEM
Exploration can happen in many ways, and these do not necessarily have to involve exploitation, enslavement, dispossession, rape, genocide, removal of children from their communities, being forced into missionary settlements, forced to convert religion and violently made to assimilate. Colonialism only happens through violence – including all the methods mentioned, which have happened to Indigenous groups around the world. This colonial violence continues in the present day.
Indigenous Australians were the first to migrate out of Africa 75,000 years ago. Their population was decimated when Europeans arrived in Australia in 1788. The colonisers declared Australia “terra nullius” (uninhabited land). Indigenous Australians, like all other Indigenous groups, have suffered violence and inequalities ever since. In fact, right now, the Australian Government is forcing 150 Indigenous communities off their ancestral lands in Western Australia. This will make 12,000 Aboriginal people refugees in their own country.
Why is this happening? Because the Government says living in these lands is not economically viable and wanting to live there is a “lifestyle choice” the Government does not support. More to the point, these communities are set up on land that is rich in natural resources. Other parts of Western Australia are just as remote, yet business and Government made them viable so mining towns could be set up.
So the point Lee makes about colonial narratives is valid and pressing: rich White men make decisions that adversely affect minorities. They talk about these decisions in ways that replicate historical violence, and in so doing, they compound inequalities happening on Earth. Lee is saying: why would Mars be any different if Indigenous and POC perspectives are being forced out of discussions and policy making?
Imagine you are a young Indigenous child intrigued about space. Indigenous groups, including in Australia, already have many sacred stories about the stars that have influenced science. Indigenous Australians may be “the world’s oldest astronomers.” What a great way to connect Indigenous youth with STEM careers! But now imagine they see these media stories, where White men conceive of space travel in colonial terms, while at the same time they are living through their communities being pushed off their lands. They also see only a few brave people of colour, like Lee, standing up to big-name White men in STEM, while these leaders and other so-called “allies” are calling this Black scientist “silly.”
We have so few Indigenous groups in STEM as it is; the numbers in astronomy can be counted in one hand when we look at gender breakdowns in different locations.* So why would these minorities want to join a STEM profession if White scientists want to assert their right to ignore historical violence? STEM pushes out minorities in many ways; this is just one example.
Language is not benign. Language matters for diversity and inclusion, as do the ideas informing our choice of words, and the stories we choose to weave, and those we ignore.
Making STEM Inclusive
Lee’s Storify only covers the first day of comments; Lee fended off racist push-back for a couple of days. I encourage you to go to Lee’s Twitter feed to read how she further connects her argument to discussions about diversity in STEM.
Lee’s key point is on the importance of framing STEM stories in a more inclusive manner. It’s not just words; it’s the thinking behind these words that also influences how we teach and learn science; it’s how existing policies are maintained; it’s how some voices continue to shout down Others.
For a complementary perspective, see science artist Glendon Mellow’s tweets, where he uses an art metaphor. The culture, training and perspective of the first artists and architects sent to Mars will shape how the new world is designed. If that view is White, male and framed around colonialism, that will be reflected in the infrastructure.
The conversation we need to have: how can we learn from Lee’s arguments to make science more inclusive? How might we use this perspective in our teaching and advocacy? How can we use post-colonial theory (study of how history of colonial oppression shapes modern-day inequalities) to support diversity and inclusion?
On inclusion of Indigenous groups in STEM:
- Visit Lee’s Twitter feed for more discussion.
- Learn more on Indigenous Australian astronomy and a career in cultural astronomy
- *I’ll soon publish data on minority astronomers in the USA (including Indigenous men and women) on the Women in Astronomy blog.
Read my other posts on Indigenous Australians:
- #SOSBlakAustralia: Colonialism of Indigenous Australians in 2015
- Paternalism, Colonialism and Indigenous Education
- “This Is Another Invasion”: 99 Year Township Leases
- More resources on my Tumblr
About the ongoing impact of colonialism in Australia:
- Top image: Original by NASA, via Wikimedia. Adapted by Zuleyka Zevallos.
- Centre image: [White woman showing a story that reads “Mission to Mars.” She says: “Yay! Mars. Let’s go!” Group gathered around her frowns. Man of colour thinks “This is some bull.” Another woman of colour thinks “I don’t see it. Do you see it? You got to be rich to see it.”] Source: via Lee.
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49 thoughts on “Rethinking the Narrative of Mars Colonisation”
Am I inconvenient if I am a white male and think that the Mars colonization narrative is BS (for reasons that I don’t relate to white male privilege)?
Hi Boris Borcic Not sure what you mean about being inconvenient. I’m sure there are many reasons why trying to migrate humans to Mars is a huge challenge. But on this thread I’m interested in how the colonial narrative affects diversity in STEM and how we can tell better stories that are inclusive of minorities. If you have ideas on this, please share!
Once upon a time … but has he actually looked around the top of the scientific community lately. The problem of “White Male Domination” if not gone, is certainly nothing like it was in the 50s.
Anyway any worries about equally on Mars is a discussion to be held several generations from now, if our pathetic progress into space continues as now. We’ll be lucky if we see another human on the Moon of any colour.
Recruitment and promotion of White women to senior levels in STEM, including in astronomy, are woeful Brian Catnut, and the numbers of people of colour are even worse, with Indigenous people being the smallest group, as I mentioned in my post. These issues are well documented on my G+ stream as I write about this research often, as well as on my blog.
For others interested, see also the posts on STEM Women on G+ or start here (http://goo.gl/IptRQD), or see the Women in Astronomy Blog (http://goo.gl/B5Fqrf). I won’t be debating the inequalities faced by under-represented groups as the data are clear that White men outnumber all Other groups STEM.
My post is on better understanding the perspectives of women of colour and other minorities, which are ignored in discussions about Mars “colonisation.” I welcome comments on improving the inclusion of minority views in that debate, but other comments that don’t add to this discussion will be deleted. I keep my threads focused for a reason. There are other places to debate the merits and challenges of space travel. This thread is about lack of diversity in STEM narratives.
Not to mention Their rush to get there. Almost like They’re running…
Zuleyka Zevallos The colony building and colonizing effort must be a state-centered project, and not a private, corporate one. Rather than building “Club Med on Mars,” the narrative need be “Save humanity from depleted fossil fuels and global warming by building orbital solar power facilities,” or something similar. As a long term multi-$trillion operation, such a project would enable the establishment of permanently inhabited facilities, most likely orbital and/or lunar. As a state enterprise, the personnel working on the project would be public employees, and the standard hiring criteria for public employees would apply. That is to say that all those employed in the project (including the permanent off-world residents… “colonists”, if you will) will have to pass civil service exams, but more importantly, they will have to be the best in their fields of study. Inclusion in the “colonizing effort” will then be based exclusively upon merit and achievement, not upon wealth. The society that evolves in such colonies would be very interesting to see indeed.
I do wonder what you could be referring to by “diversity in STEM”, though. As a math instructor in college, my hard science/engineering-track students were far more diverse than the business or “XYZ Studies” majors. I had students from every populated continent, and only slightly more males than females. I am concerned that you might be using “diversity” as code for certain demographics whose cultures assign low (or even negative) value to academic achievement, and so, unsurprisingly, fail to achieve academically.
Is it your concern that these demographics might be under-represented in off-planet colonizing efforts? I see the fact that anti-academic demographics will be left behind by such colonizing efforts as a distinct advantage, and I view the resulting cultures as one of the principal benefits of building off-world colonies, whether on Mars, the moon, or in orbit. If demonstrated academic merit in hard sciences and engineering is the primary criterion for inclusion (government/public sector project), then I am confident that minorities will be well represented in those colonies. In fact, white males who, within in the USA at least, tend to pursue business degrees will be the major demographic that is somewhat less represented than might otherwise be expected.
William Henry Your subjective observations are not borne out by the data. See my post above. Your views that under-represented groups are “anti-academic” are both counter-productive and racist.
Colonising Mars would only make any sense if Earth had previously lost 99% of its atmosphere. It is used just as a pretext to drain resources from private hands. The ISS is another example, it’s astronomically expensive and pretty much useless. No wonder that the only tycoons who are promoting Mars colonisation are Government’s shills like Elon Musk who have profited from Government’s contracts and aspire to do it in the future.
Tired sexist “jokes” only belie your fear of women and racial minorities, xZ ya. Education is the best way to address this; it’s good that you now have a list of references to read, should you be inclined to learn.
PatrioticFront or how about making sure things are good HERE before we go effin up another planet. That’s what’s keeping us from taking our next Evolutionary step…
People who don’t stick to the topic at hand will not be returning to this thread. What Kenji Washington says is more in line with what Lee is suggesting. Lee notes there’s inequality in the way this Mars narrative is being discussed. Elsewhere I was telling others that one way to improve inclusion is to invite Indigenous groups who already have astronomical knowledge into astronomy classrooms and into policy groups to better shape discussions.
Interesting. I’ve long supported travel to Mars and I’ve used the “colonization” language and I never thought anything of it.
But them again, the nature of privilege is that those who enjoy it don’t notice it. Thanks to Dr. DN Lee for speaking out and to you, Zuleyka Zevallos for sharing the story here.
People often justify travel to Mars as a safeguard for humanity: not putting all your eggs on one planet, so to speak. Is that narrative inherently privileged, as it is tainted by the idea of escaping responsibility on Earth or is there some way or should survive in a discussion where minorities have more say?
And should there be any motivation other than curiosity and the human need to explore?
Thanks for your comments Jonah Miller! Lee is not saying Mars travel/exploration should not happen, she’s questioning the narrative and the idea behind it, as it is being currently presented. Rich White men talk about Mars travel as an escape route. Why should we abscond our responsibilities here? As Lee asks: who will be left behind with less resources if the rich are able to settle on Mars, redirecting precious resources to set up their own private “colonies”? Moreover, they don’t see anything wrong with the damaging language they use. When questioned about how building infrastructure on Mars will happen in ways that are not exploitative, which is the entire history of colonial nations and many forms of capitalism, male science leaders don’t want to have this discussion.
The idea that we can start over without reproducing the same problems is a very real possibility given that our most powerful White male scientists do not want to even discuss the impact of history. It would be better to bring Indigenous and other POC into these discussions. Let’s learn about these concerns, and how we might better question, and critically discuss, Mars travel and potential migration in a way that doesn’t erase POC. Hope this helps!
Thanks, Zuleyka Zevallos. I understand that Lee is not saying mars exploration should not happen.
My question is more about how we should reframe the motivation for going to mars. As Lee points out, we often frame mars exploration as an escape/salvation. This is what we say in outreach when asking the public for funding.
If this is problematic, what should we say instead? Indeed, it may be that when we remove our problematic reasons for mars exploration from the discussion, we will find we can no longer justify the goal of sending humans to the red planet.
It’s an ethics question, Jonah Miller and I suspect you’re right. The question really is: why would we need to send people over there to live? How are we imagining this playing out and why? As you say, strip it back and if it’s about leaving Earth behind because we think we’ve stuffed it up (as these rich folk put it), this goal is not aligned with ethical conservation, sustainability and equality.
Travel to see what’s there, to collect scientific samples, to analyse, to learn, these are all within the realms of scientific endeavour. There is doubtless much to learn about Mars and our solar system; this knowledge may better help us understand our own planet and may push innovation further to address problems here.
Given that we haven’t fully studied the planet as it is, the idea that rich men are championing manifest destiny and their right to “save” humanity by sending themselves over there is selfish and rooted in the very colonial outlook that Lee critiques. Our planet faces many environmental and social problems, but this does not mean that the richest should skip ahead and leave the rest of us to deal with the problems they helped create here. George Santayana’s phrase “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” carries tremendous relevance here.
One thing we can learn from Indigenous cultures is how they connect astronomy to culture and to looking after the land. This is a unique way to think about sustainability, and a point of view that is missing from mainstream STEM. In Indigenous astronomy the aim is not to imagine us leaving this Earth, but to better understand it, to learn from the stars, and to look after the land and preserve culture. That’s completely the opposite of how Mars travel is currently framed.
Thanks for your insight, Zuleyka Zevallos . Yes this was what I was trying to get at and understand with my question.
When confronted with this discussion, I feel a powerful sense of melancholy. I’ve always felt very strongly that humankind should go to Mars, to settle there and to live there. Deep down, I think this is because I read a lot of science fiction and I want to live in a future like the ones described in the more optimistic stories, like the ones written by Isaac Aasimov or Arthur C. Clarke.
But over time, I’d convinced myself that there was a higher need, beyond just coolness, or the curiosity inherent in the human condition. And I wrapped that need in the narrative offered to me by my culture—which is rich and white.
But now it looks like that narrative is problematic, and likely false…and very probably the thing I want is not justified… I feel hurt.
Jonah Miller Thank you for your candid self-reflection. You’ve noted that the idea of going to Mars has been part of your STEM imagination, probably due to science fiction stories that you heard growing up. Taking seriously the argument that colonialism is rooted in inequality is challenging. I see this in other discussions I’ve been having with astronomers and physicists about Dr Lee’s work. While some astronomers have been open to learning from Lee, others have voiced their confusion and disappointment when thinking through the Mars colonialism narrative. Others still have been very angry; they see that it is their right as astronomers to imagine themselves colonising Mars (this attitude is clear on reactions by White men on Lee’s Twitter).
There’s something deeper here about how we imagine science. All scientific disciplines are about expanding our knowledge, and trying to push the boundaries of where we might apply this knowledge. All disciplines have stories we tell one another about our ultimate goals. In sociology for example, it is a more just world. Different schools of thought have different ideas on how this might be achieved and what this would look like. Mainstream sociology does not imagine that we would need to leave Earth in order to achieve equality; our stories are about improving this planet. It seems that within some parts of astronomy, space travel is not just about collecting data and learning about other terrains. For some, one of the ultimate goals of astronomy may be about resettling on another planet. So the idea that we may have to question how such a resettlement project happens, including the exploitation of POC, is confronting.
You’ve touched on an important aspect here about the role of sci fi and the scientific imagination. There are interesting studies about how media and fictional stories are one major avenue of early socialisation within STEM. Research shows that some women in STEM find the sci fi element alienating (e.g. http://goo.gl/FMwOub and http://goo.gl/6rFxgh). While many women in general may love sci fi, some women science students find it hard to engage with STEM when class exercises depend on the exclusionary aspects of sci fi. Sci fi stories often pose White men as saviours of humanity. This helps White men find their place in STEM and gets them excited that they too may make a strong contribution. It does not help White women nor POC imagine their place in STEM, as most of us are missing in these stories, or cast in passive roles. For every Star Trek or Aliens example, there are hundreds of stories that do not centre POC. Having POC dressed up as blue/multi-coloured aliens doesn’t count. POC write awesome sci fi stories, but these are largely kept out of the mainstream, and they are not actively used to recruit or support POC along their STEM journeys.
When minorities are actively discriminated against in everyday life; while also being discouraged from entering STEM throughout their education and during their job-seeking, the stories we tell about who will be “saved” in a new world matters.
So what you say about reconsidering the story you grew up with is part of what Lee is getting at with the narratives we tell about STEM. The stories we hear and tell about science absolutely matter in the recruitment and retention of minorities. Imagining a new Utopia on Mars free of racial inequality is tough when we can’t even do this in the way we tell stories about STEM on Earth. How do we tell better stories about Mars and space travel? It starts by re-examining the “end goal” of space travel and addressing inclusion here and now.
Jonah Miller: “People often justify travel to Mars as a safeguard for humanity: not putting all your eggs on one planet,”
— That’s a fallacious argument. There is no known global catastrophe capable to wipe out the whole human population on Earth, at least in the short/middle term (pandemics, nuclear wars, eruptions of supervolcanoes, massive basalt floods, asteroid/comet impacts, gamma ray bursts). Even at the highest point of any of those catastrophic episodes, there would still exist numerous pockets with more hospitable conditions than those found on any other place of the solar system, and with more resources available.
Zephyr López Cervilla I’m not convinced of that… But in any case, it doesn’t matter if the argument is fallacious. It’s the argument people make. My question was whether or not that argument is problematic for race/privelege reasons
Jonah Miller: “I’m not convinced of that..”
— You may be interested in having a look to the following papers (specially the first one) to realise how easily millions of humans could escape from being annihilated by a global catastrophe like the eruption of a super-volcano or an asteroid impact:
• Robertson DS et al. Survival in the first hours of the Cenozoic. Geological Society of America Bulletin (2004) vol. 116 (5-6) pp. 760-768
Open access: ugcs.caltech.edu/~presto/cenozoic.pdf
• Robertson DS et al. K-Pg Extinction: Re‐evaluation of the Heat-Fire Hypothesis. J. Geophys. Res. Biogeosci. (2013) vol. 18 (1) pp. 329–336
Commented in the following interview:
• Dr. Doug Robertson (guest) and Bob McDonald (host). The Firestorm that Killed the Dinosaurs. Quirks and Quarks. Aired April 6, 2013.
Audio file interview:
Jonah Miller: “it doesn’t matter if the argument is fallacious. It’s the argument people make.”
— I know, I read it dozens of times. Those who campaign to increase NASA budget have even done memes with that same and similar slogans. Its widespread acceptance and popularity doesn’t make it any less fallacious.
And why doesn’t it matter whether it is fallacious or not? Perhaps if many of those people realised that they have been told (or come up with) a fallacious argument they would start thinking in a different way about this issue.
Zephyr López Cervilla Agree that the argument of global catastrophe is over hyped (thanks for the links!) but the current Mars colonialism argument that Dr Lee is addressing is not about an unforeseen catastrophe. The current argument is centred on the idea that the Earth is wrecked and White men need to “save” humanity. Dr Lee is taking a step back from this and saying: why are we facing these ecological problems in the first place and what/who do rich White men think they will “save”? Colonialism has been central to capitalism (Professor Paul Gilroy’s The Black Atlantic and other texts show this). Hence colonialism is also responsible for environmental issues, social inequality and exploitation. This is why Lee is asking us to re-examine this Mars colonial narrative and its presumptions, such as the idea that we can “get it right” on Mars without actually talking about the historical effects of colonialism. I think you understand this; I just want to get this discussion back on track onto using Lee’s framework for supporting anti-racism and inclusion in STEM. 🙂
Zephyr López Cervilla :
Thanks for the links. That’s interesting. I’ll take a look.
All I meant by “it doesn’t matter” was that I was trying to ask about the sociological and ethical repercussions of framing the discussion that way, which is somewhat orthogonal to whether or not the arguments are true.
Even if something is true, it may not be okay to say it.
PatrioticFront actually I think Conquering Space should be MOTIVATION for making sure we’re ready on all planes for that type of endeavor
Mark Efreet, I think a contrarian argument can go this way: Governments shouldn’t be diverting natural and human resources here on Earth to subsidise the colonisation of Mars by a few privileged people. If some people wish to visit or settle on Mars they should fund that project exclusively with their own wealth.
You may be already aware that there’s a campaign in the media to increase NASA’s present budget to fund more ambitious projects such as a manned mission to Mars. But, where would the required resources come from? Who would pay for them? And what is the opportunity cost of such choice?
An intriguing angle on “Marsism” is the symbolics of Mars as the God of war. If the Earth is heading towards painful environmental crisis, we know we need to worry about ourselves drifting towards competition over the remains and war – the memory of the cold war should serve to keep in mind we’ve some propensity towards an undesirable hypersolution to the looming crises… and “Marsism” stands out as the proposal of doing nothing to prevent the scenario, it stands out on the contrary as exploiting the expectation of it as a pretext to (try to) jump ship.
Boris Borcic More word salad. “Marsism” is not a concept and the “God of War” has nothing to do with this thread. My post is about listening to the concerns of people of colour regarding the narrative of colonising Mars. What a shame you don’t see inclusion of minorities in STEM as important. Best of luck to you.
Racist/sexist and colonization/ settlement issues getting caught up in word semantics by all parties involved is the crux of the problem. In order to find equality in action, all need to find equality in thought and feeling. This argument can be framed much better by un-framing it, as in removing the carefully constructed box being put around it.
Zuleyka Zevallos, buy making this a racial/ male/ female- People of Color vs Rich White Male conflict, many may fail to see some of the same social/racial/sexist ideas fueling both points of view. This is a human issue. Race is a social construct that serves zero positive purpose that I have been able to observe. There is but one species, one “race” Homo Sapiens, and to pretend that one group is somehow the only exploitive, self-serving, abusive and inhumane party,is to put on the blinders and carefully select the few desired grains of truth from the sea of available truths. Pointing at the most successful perpetrators of injustice, does nothing to relieve all others of their own histories.
Humanity will survive and thrive here or on Mars or anywhere else as soon as it pulls its collective head out of its posterior, and begins to tackle the HUMAN issues, instead of allowing what amounts to a relatively small number of obvious sociopaths all around the world, the control our collective societies and the health of our environment.
What is not fixed here and now will just be dragged to Mars and beyond, Ad Nauseum Infinitum.
Edmund Daub It’s difficult to understand your meaning; most of what you’ve written is word salad. Expressing yourself in clear language would have helped, but essentially you’ve attempted a verbose way of justifying racism. Race is a social construction (the way people are ranked in terms of their phenotypic appearance varies from culture to culture and changes over time). But the consequences of race are real, including racism. An example of this is a number of White men showing up on a discussion about colonialism led by a scientist who is woman of colour and trying to dismiss her discussion on exclusion in STEM. It happened to Dr Lee on her Twitter. It’s happening to me now with a number of men squabbling with one another about Mars travel without actually addressing the specific topic I’ve outlined, which is how a narrative of colonialism hampers the social inclusion of minorities. You and a few others commenting may not want to have a discussion on how to listen to the voices of minorities in STEM. I do. Pretending to care about humanity and that racism doesn’t matter is a derailing tactic. Goodbye.
Mark Efreet You clearly did not read this post, Dr Lee’s Storify or her Twitter as she is talking about how a narrative of colonisation, framing Mars travel as a way to leave Earth to save humanity, is damaging to POC here on Earth, especially Indigenous groups who still live with the inequalities of colonialism. As I showed the same colonial narrative is being used to dispossess Indigenous Australians right now. This is not some abstract argument; colonialism is very real and very dangerous to Indigenous people and other POC. Lee also addressed obtuse comments about “Martians”: she’s not talking about oppression of life on another planet, though there may be a possibility that other life forms exist that we don’t yet know about (and should therefore still be part of broader discussions). Lee is clear that the colonial narrative being championed by White men who are celebrating manifest destiny is damaging. It means White men don’t want to understand history and its ongoing impact and how it prevents the inclusion of POC in STEM. You may revel in your White male privilege, but practising scientists who truly care about education and innovation understand that the full potential of STEM will only be realised when we break down barriers that impede all people from participating in science. Marginalising minorities with racist language does not help this purpose.
Everyone else. I’ve stated repeatedly what the topic of discussion is and I’ve been clear that derailment will not be tolerated. I won’t debate my commenting policy; I’m here to educate but I will not allow my threads to go off an anti-racism focus. Given that I’ve said this repeatedly you should know that there is no way for me to stop you from trying to derail my thread unless I block you. Too many places on the internet tolerate abuse and belittle the concerns of POC. This will not happen on my threads.
This conversation is about the impact of colonialism and the inclusion of POC. If you want to talk about anything else please do so on your own threads or I will have to block you. Diversity gets very little attention in mainstream STEM discussions and POC face heavy opposition whenever we want to discuss issues of inequality in science practices. If we don’t discuss these issues they will persist. If you’d like to contribute to making STEM more diverse this thread is open to you.
I loved reading DNLee’s Storify, it really was eye-opening. I didn’t realise how the language of Mars colonisation was linked to the racism involved with past colonisation efforts. Thanks for sharing it along with your insights Zuleyka Zevallos!
Buddhini Samarasinghe Dr Lee is a wonderful ambassador for STEM, isn’t she? That Storify is a very useful teaching tool. I hope more STEM workers will incorporate it into their thinking and practice.
Didn’t quite get why you blocked me on G+, Zuleyka Zevallos, I guess it was a collective punishment that included me together with more noxious commenters for failure of catering to the subtlety of criticizing the Mars colonisation narrative not for its purpose but for its lack of inclusiveness – kind of validates my initial question on whether I’d be inconvenient as a white male thinking that the Mars colonisation narrative is BS but without particularly relating it to issues of privilege. A pity though, I was slowly warming up to your POV, although, to be sure, not – or not yet – to the point of agreeing to the presumption that better inclusiveness would repair its faults; more like in the direction of having privilege explain how it could be that popular despite its absurdities. Whatever, adieu!
You were blocked because I was explicit on my post that the conversation I was leading was specifically about addressing the racism of colonial narratives. Your first comment was that you wanted to talk about something else. I repeated that I was only interested in discussing the topic I had clearly set out. Instead of respecting this, and even though I had to repeat my aims to others trying to derail the discussion, you persisted to go off on a tangent. There are many places where you can talk about the ill conceived aspects of Mars travel without taking seriously the perspective of people of colour. You don’t get to do this on a thread about racism in STEM discussing the anti-racism efforts of a woman scientist of colour written by another woman scientist of colour. Ignoring race in a discussion of racism is derailment. My threads are focused for a reason: people of colour are ignored by mainstream STEM. For that reason, a White man wanting to talk about issues other than race only perpetuates this pattern. Having ignored my repeated direction it’s clear that the inclusion of minorities doesn’t interest you hence you are blocked. I won’t debate this further. Best of luck to you.
I don’t agree with your narrative. I first came to your discussion because (and I mean cause, not reason) – because of your choice of using criticism of the Mars narrative as eg click-bait for discussing (nothing but) privilege, and I feel you very much invert who gets credit and who debit for that initial circumstance. I first did nothing more that ask just the question necessitated by the existence of such unintended bycatch as I represented, of people with strong negative opinions of the Mars colonisation narrative and not prima facie ready to align with your proposition that ostensibly aims at no more than reforming the narrative with “proprietary” ingredients it means to sell to presumed adepts – adepts which it privileges for that reason. To cut things short, your main shortcoming is to not allow for the need particular to such a party as I represent, to rotate the issue around in search of a coordinated perspective, what’s encapsulated by your characterization of the thread as being primarily about race and not the defects of the Mars colonization narrative (despite the over-broad title).
Boris this is the last interaction I’ll have with you; I’m allowing your second comment only to make a point about White male privilege in STEM discussions. You’re trying to use big words here and your meaning is unclear as a result. Sorting through your word salad, you are essentially asserting your White male privilege. Your feelings are hurt that you did not get to continue to derail my thread on Google+. You came to a discussion about racism in colonial narratives about Mars but you did not want to talk about racism. Then you have followed me to my blog to complain, not once but twice. Once again you’ve ignored my express request to respect the fact that, as a STEM WOC running a discussion on STEM WOC and other minorities, it is up to me to decide the direction of that discussion. You illustrate one example of White male privilege here: hounding a WOC for not allowing you to shift a conversation on racism your way. It’s pretty clear you don’t want to learn; you simply demand that POC should let you assert your dominance. Whiteness theory shows how not wanting to talk about race is a strategy of racism. By leaving out race from discussions of Mars travel, White men’s taken-for-granted ideas prevail, and POC are rendered invisible. You perfectly encapsulate Dr Lee’s original argument.
You have an incorrect idea about what click bait is by the way. Click bait in STEM is something I write a lot about. (E.g. BroScience: Sexism in Click Bait Science News and Recognising Sexism: Boobs to ‘Broteomics’).
Glad to hear some criticism of the “colonization” narrative, and especially the appalling “Frontier” narratives.
Mars isn’t “the frontier”. It’s another Antarctica, except with 38% of the gravity and none of the breathable air. It’s certainly not some type of “escape valve”, not matter how much Musk and others want to believe it to be.
But “what I want to talk about IS more important than your topic so I will come to YOUR Space and insert myself, my values and my narrative”.
He is dead serious. That makes his behavior (and whining) frustrating and amusing.
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Unbelievable, huh? Men who say they love science but don’t want to discuss anything that challenges their taken for granted assumptions. I had to ban him from here. He wrote yet another long comment which I’m not allowing then he got himself a new email address and wrote me a letter essay about how upset he is. Aggrieved entitlement in full display! Women’s writing is just that dangerous.
Thank you Dr. Zevallos for this excellent post!
As an anthropologist of space this is especially interesting to me. There are a few anthropologists working on space who have engaged with political economic frameworks in critical ethnographic studies of the connections between space science, nationalism, capitalism, colonialism, and disaster (e.g., Barker 2005; Redfield 2000; Valentine 2012; Vaughan 1996; Zabusky 1995). For a more recent example, see the forthcoming book “Space and Race: The Politics of Inequality at Brazil’s Satellite Launch Center” by Sean T. Mitchell as well as his other publications (e.g., Mitchell 2013).
But this is just a small beginning and I hope to see/learn about more work by women, POC, and queer thinkers on these matters. As well as to continue contributing to the conversation. Thank you for taking time to share your voice and analysis here. It is much needed.
Thank you for your comments Michael and for these wonderful readings! Good to connect with you, I look forward to reading more on your work also.
They would just ruin another planet
It’s not semantics, it’s “harmful” semantics. I vomit in my mouth a little every time I see this kind of infantilizing nonsense infecting STEM fields.
K Gordon Not sure what you mean by your comment about “infantilising nonsense infecting STEM fields” given you have not explained further and are stating an opinion out of context. This post is about the importance of understanding how colonial relations continue to affect the conversations we have in STEMM. In particular, the idea that colonialism is a moot point fails to recognise how such a position denies the ongoing effects of colonialism on Indigenous scientists and students. This view also fails to grasp how the work of colonialism – setting up colonies – is done by the rich for the rich, with poor and minority people doing that backbreaking work with zero benefit. When rich White men say they want to save humanity by setting up colonies on Mars, they do not mean to save the groups who have suffered through past colonial efforts.
You’re not really interested in STEMM given that your personal feed is filled with hatred towards women and rants about feminism. I hope you work out your issues and come to see why inclusion in STEMM is of benefit to all.
The thread is about understanding the impact of colonialism on the conversations we have in STEM, specifically on colonising Mars. It’s a shame making science more inclusive seems like nonsense to you ｱﾀﾌﾞﾙｰｽ, but thankfully science is about education, not simply dismissing entire branches of research for addressing inequality.
Modern science has some very dirty diapers. ( V-2, ICBM,The eugenics movement etc.) but suggest this conversation should be directed toward making people with non-European male ancestry aware of both the mathematical and scientific contributions of female (ex. R. Franklyn) and non-western peoples (ex Indian hindu decimal numeral place systems and the role of “0” ) in same. But it also involves the painful process of looking at how non-European political and I underline the word political cultures did not encourage the development of modern science.
Note numerous articles on Chinese and Portugues parallel exploration of Africa in the 14th/15th centuries with comparable technologies and note what happens afterwards. The painful question for so called white males to face is how great a debt modern technology owes to females ( reference J Chicago Dinner party) and the third world ( ref arithmetic). The painful question for those in the third world to face is what their political leadership did between 1400 to 2100. Neither is a painless story.
Both I believe would be helped by a Mars after Moon sequence. The journey to Mars selected as we become more technically and politically mature about space by doing lunar exploration internationally first. It has always seemed a little out of place to say the place that controls the tides on which both the Portuguese and Chinese ships road and today cover 72% of the earth, the place that taught us we are all astronauts on the “good ship earth” is good for only 5 manned spot missions. I do not think it should have been set aside with the political comment that “5 times is enough”. That comment seeming to imitate the white Merchants seeking gold, spices, and slaves and ignoring the environmental and technical challenges as they went.
An international exploration of the lunar body while using it as a more effective platform for looking at our own planets’ problems seems the place to start on all our own problems. Not imitating the colonial dash to colonize and exploit far reaches. That seems to me to imitate nothing so much as the spice islands of the indies or the plantation horrors of the sugar rum and slave trade in the Caribbean. We need to go where it makes technical and scientific sense to risk going, as we can, and we need to go together internationally with eyes forward on where we are going and backward toward where we have come from. It has been a wonderful and horrible journey and we need to apply its painful lessons carefully as we go.
Pax Vobiscum H. Law
Hi Howard. Your comments are a bit hard to read, but I think you are making three key points. First, you think women’s contributions to science have been undervalued. I agree and write about this often on my blog. Second, you say non-European cultures have not encouraged the development of modern science. This is incorrect. Cultures all over the world have contributed to modern science, including physics.
Third, the rest of your comment is arguing that colonising Mars would be of benefit to humanity and that you do not see this as having the same impact as other forms of colonisation. It also seems that you are arguing that “non-European” forms of colonialism are worse than those involving White people. While many cultures have colonised other societies, what makes European colonialism distinct is its expansive and violent influence on global relations. Specifically, the transatlantic slave trade has far-reaching consequences across the world, especially throughout the Americas, Europe and Africa. European colonisation continues to have multi-generational impact on Indigenous people all over the world, including in Australia, that adversely affects the health and socio-economic opportunities of Indigenous people. This includes their ability to fully participate in science and academia.
Dr Lee argues that the narrative of colonisation is alienating to Indigenous scholars, who have much to contribute to scientific endeavours including in astronomy and astrophysics. Moreover, her point is that an enterprise for Mars colonisation that begins with the premise that the Earth is doomed has inherent problems. For starters, the idea of abandoning Earth because of human-made ecological disaster only ensures we: 1) do not take responsibility for our environment; 2) we go to another planet having learned nothing about environmental conservation. Second, colonising Mars will require building infrastructure; it will be expensive; and it will benefit rich people. Like all other business ventures that ignore environmental sustainability, the work of building another habitat will be undertaken by the most exploited, the most vulnerable, the most marginalised – such as people of colour. Dr Lee is not saying that scientific exploration of Mars is without merit. She questions the logic of Mars colonisation, which will only replicate existing environmental and social inequalities.
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