Thursday, June 23, 2016

Black...AND an Astrophysicist!

I caught Neil DeGrasse Tyson's latest big time TV appearance, on Colbert last night. I always enjoy seeing Dr. Tyson, because I'm an astronomy nerd (here's me ranting about the NY Times' recent piece on the Drake Equation, and here are previous Slog postings on astronomy), and he's eloquent and expert.

But the subtext of all his mass media appearances seems to be "Hey, this guy's an astronomer...and he's black!"

Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that African-Americans are figuring eminently in science. But that's been happening for quite some time. And it's great that lots of people feel so great that African-Americans are figuring eminently in science. But that's also getting old, and the fact that this excitement's still a "thing" is striking me as bizarre and a little bit icky.

I certainly don't blame Tyson for allowing this to be played up, year after year. I'm certain he feels it's all just sugar* to help the science medicine go down, and it's worked out well; he's been a powerful force, ala Sagan (who also plied certain shtick), for generating popular interest in the topic.

* No, not sassy brown sugar....

But, really, he's been the director of the Hayden Planetarium for twenty years now, and has appeared regularly on TV ever since. We have a black president, and most black people I meet are better dressed and drive nicer cars than me. So when do we stop being surprised and delighted?

Anyone thrilled at the prospect of a woman being elected president is stuck in an earlier era. We may not have had a woman president yet, but it's been years since anyone but the fringe would have seriously objected on a gender basis. Who out there would be thrilled and amazed (or shocked and appalled) to learn that the president of Brazil is Dilma Rousseff...who's a woman? Yawn, no?

I don't think racial/gender/etc issues ever "resolve," they just get more and more boring. I might have been psyched at the prospect of a Jewish president a few decades ago. Now? Well, is the candidate any good?

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