An Annotated Bibliography as a Tool for Helping Address Racism in Plant Science

Haley Carter writes for Plantae:

“When police officers murdered George Floyd earlier this year, they were acting within an established pattern of police brutality against Black people, and a larger pattern of white supremacy. But this time, as most of the nation and the world were relying on virtual communications due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, news of the incident and the accompanying outrage spread quickly and became a worldwide movement, one that I hope has real staying power to effect change in our homes, workplaces, and governments.

While many organizations and institutions have released public statements committing themselves to anti-racism, it feels like at the individual level there are still many people asking the question “but what can I actually do?”

There are many resources out there to help you answer that question, but if you’re reading this blogpost, you’re probably a scientist. And you know how to address difficult, complicated topics; you start with the primary literature. Racism is not new, and there is a wealth of knowledge out there for you to read, digest, and incorporate into your own life and work. This is particularly important if you are white and have the privilege to learn about racism instead of experiencing it. While I recommend that everyone take the time to educate themselves about the history of the police force and today’s policing practices and policies, there is another institution much closer to many of us with just as deeply racist roots: science. White scientists need to do the work to ensure our BIPOC colleagues don’t face extra challenges because of the color of their skin.

As we have these discussions in my own department, the lab group I’m a part of is compiling an annotated bibliography on the topic of racism and has included research specifically related to science and academia. This has helped guide and inform our group discussions, and will also inform our practices (hiring, recruitment, mentoring, collaborating, etc.) going forward. This second part is crucial because simply amassing knowledge is not enough to develop our anti-racist community.

Starting from the literature means tapping into knowledge wider than anyone’s own and adding the support of data to broaden the context around personal experiences. While providing a space for discussion of racism and the importance of diversity and equity within our labs, departments, or other groups is vital, uninformed discussions can be harmful. They can unwittingly become spaces where people are forced to relive past traumas and others make hurtful ill-worded claims based on assumptions and personal privileged experiences. Having each person read and contribute to a document such as an annotated bibliography allows discussion to be grounded in more informed and substantiated ideas and might bring up more ideas than would otherwise be covered by the people in the room.

I would suggest this to any lab or other working group. To get you started, I have included just a few of the entries from our lab. As it is a group document, I want to acknowledge that authorship belongs to Dr Norman Wickett, Dr Angela McDonnell, Colby Witherup-Wood, Elena Loke, and Maya Bickner in addition to myself.”

Access the full annoted list of papers Carter has compiled here.

Related content

Statement – CGIAR Condemns and Rejects Racism

Anti-Racism: From Words to a 10-point Action Plan, A GDI Factsheet, July 2020

A GDI Webinar – Combating Racism in the Workplace, June 2020