Black History Month – Time for Change: Action Not Words
Professor Robert Mokaya, from our Board of Trustees, joins our CEO, Dr Helen Pain, in reflecting on the theme for Black History Month 2022 – Time for Change: Action Not Words.
Professor Robert Mokaya
As Black History Month begins, I am proud to say that at the Royal Society of Chemistry, where I serve as a trustee, we have taken the responsibility to shine a light on racism and racial inequalities in our profession. We are engaging in a wide range of positive action initiatives to ensure that the chemistry community works together to foster belonging and remove systemic barriers for Black scientists.
Although we do celebrate each other all year long, I am pleased that each October, during Black History Month, we can draw our awareness in a more directed way to the experiences – and celebrate the contributions and achievements – of Black people. At the same time, I am acutely aware that available data shows that of the 575 chemistry professors in the UK, I am the only one who identifies as Black.
Much of my own journey resonates with the findings of the RSC’s recent ‘Missing Elements’ report that highlights multiple obstacles for Black people who wish to pursue a career in the chemical sciences. The 'Missing Elements' report has shone a light on the obstacles that include limited access to networks, lack of relatable role models, and a pervasive culture where Black and minority ethnic people often receive the message that they are worth less and ‘do not fit in’.
We need to act now to ensure that future generations of Black chemists are not faced with these systemic barriers. For that to happen, we need to collectively recognise that racism and racial inequality is a reality and undertake bold and systemic interventions leading to deep changes – rather than cosmetic shifts – in how we think, work and act as a society.
Dr Helen Pain
It is time for action. Black History Month reminds us each year that the global chemistry community should be an environment where the contributions of Black chemists are recognised and celebrated. It should be a space where Black chemists feel they belong and can reach their full potential, and the exciting, varied career paths that chemistry offers must be accessible, welcoming and supported.
Yet we know from our Missing Elements report launched earlier this year – and from other trusted sources – that this is far from reality. The data and evidence of lived experiences clearly shows that systemic racism and racial inequality is pervasive and persistent in the chemical sciences community.
That is why we have taken positive action across a number of initiatives – coordinated by our new Race and Ethnicity Unit. We are collaborating with the Windsor Fellowship, and with the financial support of the Chemists’ Community Fund, to deliver Destination STEMM, a chemical sciences mentoring programme for Year 12 chemistry students. We are also bringing together leading companies for the Broadening Horizons in the Chemical Sciences programme, which will increase opportunities through industry-focused career paths for early-career chemists from Black and minoritised ethnic backgrounds.
While I am proud that we are leading on these important initiatives, this is just the beginning. We need to continue to take positive action to effectively challenge racism and racial inequality.
I believe that alongside others who, like me, identify as White, we need to develop greater understanding and awareness of our often-implicit role in perpetuating racism and continually strive to be better allies. We need to be honest and bold in calling out racism and racial inequalities and take the responsibility to challenge them in everything we do, in collaboration with partners across all sectors.
Find out more:
Missing Elements: Racial and ethnic inequalities in the chemical sciences. Royal Society of Chemistry.
Race for equality: A report on the experiences of Black students in further and higher education. National Union of Students.
Staying power: The career experiences and strategiesof UK Black female professors. University and College Union.
Over-exposed and under-protected – the devastating impact of COVID-19 on Black and minority ethnic communities in Great Britain. Runnymede Trust