Over the past weeks, we have experienced repeated events that are painful to watch, and that cannot be condoned with silence. It is all too obvious that people who look like me hurt people who do not look like me with the tacit assumption that there is no retribution. These events make me feel ashamed and guilty, feelings that are painful to be with and that my brain would prefer to suppress. These events have made me aware that there are many people who are struggling on a daily basis and are facing bodily harm, oppression, injustice, and disrespect. Violence against Black people has brought this struggle in focus, but these events are not limited to Blacks alone. There is an unfortunate history of violence and injustice against American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic American, and other minorities. Moreover, this struggle extends to one’s sexual orientations or one’s belief systems in contrast with the mainstream. One common element is the intolerance of what is different and the anger, aggression, and hate that emerges from this intolerance.
In science, we aim to observe, experiment, and draw conclusions from the facts. However, science does not happen in a vacuum. It is done by people and – when it involves the human condition – it focuses on people. We have to ask ourselves, have the events that occurred on our streets also occurred in more subtle ways in our laboratories? Have people that look like me hurt people that do not look like me? The answer is yes, and this admission demands further evaluation. First, given certain circumstances, we are all capable of biased or racist thoughts, feelings, and actions. This is the source of pain experienced by those who see people of their group hurting those that are not part of their group. Second, we have to make an ongoing effort to openly work with these sentiments and to arrive at choices that will reduce the chance that we will hurt people who are different from us in the future. Third, we have to provide an opportunity for those who are the target of these injustices. However, that also means we have to learn about their struggle, understand the particulars of the pain they are experiencing, and develop paths that will reduce those painful events within the context of science in the future. Fourth, curiosity and understanding have to win over ignorance and intolerance. We need to learn about our differences, understand how they influence our feelings, thoughts, and actions, and develop better explanations of the human conditions that we are interested in.
Outrage and anger over the events on our streets, laboratories, and other public or private places are not enough. It may even be a cage that will not allow us to understand why we are inflicting pain on others and how this increases all human suffering. Instead, open engagement with respect, interest, and love will help to develop the understanding that can be used to build new systems to reduce the pain of those in the minority. The situation is serious and calls for urgent and sustained engagement in finding new solutions. Scientists are problem solvers; we need to be thinking about our contribution to finding solutions to overcoming intolerance, anger, and aggression on the one hand and discover ways of healing the pain of those that have been the target of racism. We must work to build each other up and empower minorities in science rather than tearing people down.
To that end, we have started a workgroup that consists of individuals who work at LIBR to enhance the recognition that race and ethnicity play an important role to improve our scientific approach to solving mental health problems:
Aim 1: Increase the consideration of race/ethnicity when developing research questions, analysis plans, and assessments (e.g., including biological, sociocultural, economic variables).
Aim 2: Increase the representation of under-represented minorities in the neuroscience and mental health research workforce.
Aim 3: Enhance outreach efforts to and partnership with communities and organizations with diverse race/ethnicity representation.