The President of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), Christine Jones, released a letter today (18 November 2016) on behalf of the AAS Council, titled “Reaffirming Our Commitment to Inclusiveness”. While purporting to support inclusiveness, this letter calls for bigotry to be tolerated and indulges in victim-blaming and gaslighting of those who feel threatened by Trump's election.
The tone of the letter becomes obvious in the first paragraph, which states that “it is the responsibility of each of us to treat every member of our Society -- and every member of society more generally -- with respect and dignity, regardless of … political opinions.” As we have seen recently, the spectrum of political opinions in the US includes fervent opposition to inclusiveness in all of its forms. This is an unacceptable call to tolerate racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and other oppressive behaviours.
Later in the same paragraph, the letter talks about “cruel incidents” – a euphemism, it would seem, for hate crimes and violence, and one which serves to minimise the impact of these acts. These are blamed on “a polarizing national election”, implying that there was blame on both sides. That was not the case – on one side, Trump and his supporters were actively provoking intolerance, while on the other side groups who have suffered historic and ongoing oppression were asking to be treated equally as human beings. This false equivalence boils down to saying that the victims of Trump's rhetoric are partly to blame for the violence aimed at them. This is an unacceptable act of victim-blaming.
The second paragraph of the letter starts promisingly, with a call for everyone to “be committed to ensuring an astronomy community that is safe and welcoming for all people, especially those who are currently underrepresented in our science and/or marginalized by society at large.” But the idea of how to do this appears to be limited to a call to AAS members “to be mindful of how we treat each other and to support students and colleagues”. There is a complete lack of any commitment, or even notice of intent, from the AAS to actually stand up for its members who might be threatened by proposed actions of the Trump administration – everything is to be done by members being nice to one another (including, let us not forget, being nice to the bigots, misogynists, racists, homophobes, etc.). There appears to be a deliberate ignorance of the fact that the freedom of AAS members to practice astronomy is threatened not just be the violence of Trump supporters but by the campaign promises he himself made and the stated opinions of those he has nominated to serve in his administration.
The second paragraph goes on to talk about “those who may now feel threatened or frightened by recently reported acts” – minimising the violence as merely “reported”, a word that implies by its inclusion that the violence might not actually be happening, and insinuating that people are merely frightened of reports, thus dismissing the possibility that they could have actually been victims themselves. Indeed, nowhere in the letter does it actually acknowledge that any violent acts or hate crimes have actually taken place. This is classic gaslighting.
There no mention in the letter of the fact that Trump and his supporters deliberately provoked the rise of hate and intolerance, let alone any condemnation of this. Nor is there any recognition that people in the targeted groups might be threatened or frightened by the President-elect and his spokespeople having encouraged intolerance of them and engendered an environment where violence, both physical and psychological, is seen as socially acceptable.
Overall, the message of this letter is that the AAS are willing to appease and tolerate oppression. My take home from this, as an immigrant myself, is that when they come for me, I shouldn't expect the AAS to speak. There is one light on the horizon, however – the AAS Council elections are coming up, and a number of the candidates are known as supporters of diversity who might move the society towards representing all of its members.
Text of the AAS letter:
Reaffirming Our Commitment to Inclusiveness
As President of the American Astronomical Society, I wish to remind members and other stakeholders of the Society's resolute commitment to promote inclusiveness. In keeping with the AAS Council's recent adoption of a comprehensive code of ethics, it is the responsibility of each of us to treat every member of our Society -- and every member of society more generally -- with respect and dignity, regardless of race, ethnicity, skin color, national origin, age, disability, religion, faith, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or political opinions. I expressed similar sentiments in my last President's Column, but they bear repeating in the aftermath of a polarizing national election that has been followed by a growing number of cruel incidents.
We must all be committed to ensuring an astronomy community that is safe and welcoming for all people, especially those who are currently underrepresented in our science and/or marginalized by society at large. I urge all AAS members to be mindful of how we treat each other and to support students and colleagues, especially those who may now feel threatened or frightened by recently reported acts of harassment, intimidation, and violence against people of color, women of all backgrounds, immigrants of all statuses, Jews, Muslims, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA+ persons, and those at the intersections of these axes. I am especially troubled by hateful acts occurring on the campuses of educational institutions.
Finally, as our colleagues in the American Geophysical Union (AGU) frequently point out, science plays a central role in America's security, economy, and well-being. Let's do our part to ensure that science continues to make our country more secure, more prosperous, and more comfortable -- for everyone.
-- President Christine Jones for the AAS Council