Black Women in STEAM

Happy first week of Black History Month! I finally saw Hidden Figures with my mother and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should. Where so often mainstream media depicts Black culture solely as struggle, as powerlessness, and the slavery narrative, Hidden Figures provides a more nuanced understanding . The story is grounded in the evils of segregation and discrimination, but it’s a movie about triumph over discrimination. It’s about reconciliation and understanding people across racial divides. It’s about women standing up for each other.

But I don’t always have time to give each person I meet a detailed analysis of the film. Instead, I’ve been describing the film to everyone I’ve come across as Black women rocking it in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Young Black girls (really people of every race) need these positive images of Black women breaking barriers as engineers and mathematicians and refusing to be told ‘that’s just the way things are’ when faced with racism and sexism (the movie is great at calling out those intersections).

Hidden Figures is also a great example of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, ART, and math). As a film, it is art. As a film about Black women achieving in STEM, it becomes STEAM. Get it?

Let me introduce another Black woman in STEAM: Tracy K. Smith.

Smith won the Pulitzer in 2012 for her book of poetry, Life on Mars, (Graywolf Press) where she tackles the death of her father told through her fascination with science, the stars and all things science fiction. The ideas begin to intersect because her father was an engineer and part of the team working on the Hubble Space Telescope, but the cross pollination runs much deeper than that. interviewed Smith in 2012 after she won the Pulitzer and you can check out the full interview here.

To better understand her blend of science and poetry, take a look at her poem “Sci-Fi” from Life on Mars below:

There will be no edges, but curves.
Clean lines pointing only forward.
History, with its hard spine & dog-eared
Corners, will be replaced with nuance,
Just like the dinosaurs gave way
To mounds and mounds of ice.
Women will still be women, but
The distinction will be empty. Sex,
Having outlived every threat, will gratify
Only the mind, which is where it will exist.
For kicks, we’ll dance for ourselves
Before mirrors studded with golden bulbs.
The oldest among us will recognize that glow—
But the word sun will have been re-assigned
To the Standard Uranium-Neutralizing device
Found in households and nursing homes.
And yes, we’ll live to be much older, thanks
To popular consensus. Weightless, unhinged,
Eons from even our own moon, we’ll drift
In the haze of space, which will be, once
And for all, scrutable and safe.

Here’s to looking up at the stars and believing in the impossible. Here’s to Black women in STEAM in 2017. Happy Black History Month from LSQ.