In 2014, a woman named Tchiya Amet Neil deGrasse Tyson accused of raping her while they were students at astronomy…
In 2014, a woman named Tchiya Amet Neil deGrasse Tyson accused of raping her while they were students at astronomy at UT Austin, which led to her release of the program. In the aftermath, I encouraged journalists at regular sales outlets to drive it. But they told me they encountered problems that convinced their editors to allow them to publish what tasks they could find, for example, to confirm that Amet was really enrolled in the program. The story was taken by a blog at the patheos religious commentary last October, and I went back to reporters with a similar reply.
Since I first learned about them, I have felt that Tchiya Amet’s claims gave a response, and I waited for years for one. Another post from Patheo last week featured an interview with Amet along with stories about alleged sexual harassment from two other women, astronomy professor and a Cosmos production assistant. (Buzzfeed also had a subsequent article quoting a fourth woman with similar statements.)
Tyson was finally asked to answer this week with a Facebook note (which I suppose based on his celebrity and the nature of these allegations, both a lawyer and a publicist). He acknowledged that he hired behavior that he believed had been misinterpreted inadvertently, in addition to the rape, claimed all sexual contact between him and Amet’s consent.
But he also said “A few years later … I learned that she had dropped out of the program” and I saw what I thought was a lie immediately. When I discussed it with my daily Black Scientist chat group, they agreed. Would he really believe that in the 1
980s, in a field where there are almost no black people, he did not notice once that the only other black doctoral student had left the program? It was not credible.
The truth is that Black Academics (Blackademics) usually know what happens to black people in campus departments, even when they hate each other. It’s also so that Blackademics are often worried about airing our reluctance toward each other in front of white people. We know that the bar to be considered “good” is higher for us than others, and we tend to forgive people who may not be our favorites.
My first memorable lesson about blackademic solidarity was from Tyson himself. At his meeting of the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP) in 2003, he explained during a new lead why it was important to have meetings for black physicists. During a previous NSBP he and a group of black men changed nerdy chit chat about physics until slowly turning the conversation over to drive while Black. One by one, he said, they walked around telling a story of being afraid of their lives during an unnecessary police stoppage. At another conference, Tyson told us that black physicists could find a society where the conversation could stretch so freely over all its intellectual and social experiences.
I recently recalled this important lesson on identity and society during a conversation with colleagues Black Women Academics, which began as a discussion of science and technology history (the subject of the conference we attended) but eventually turned to another , unfortunately common experience: each of us had been sexually harassed and / or attacked by a colleague with black male man. Each of us felt that it was necessary to protect the involved men and / or not think we would think if we told the truth.
Last week’s renewal of the conversation about Tyson’s alleged sexual misconduct against female academics made me think of another memory of him. I had met Tyson the day before his speech at the 2003 conference. I was a star beat 20-year-old college senior who had never stayed in a five-star hotel before trying to make conversation so the best thing I came with was “Wow this conference is so handsome! Who pays for all this?” Neil replied, “Did you not read the conference program? Where is your conference program?” Before I knew it was Neil deGrasse Tyson goes through my backpack, takes out various things and makes me laugh when he tells jokes about the content.
The following year, I was a university student in astronomy and felt a little lost in a small, very white city on a campus where I was not only the only black doctoral student in my department but I was one of only about 10 all over University. I emailed Tyson looking for advice. While I do not remember much about what happened to the subsequent phone call, I remember feeling so encouraged that Neil deGrasse Tyson had taken out of his day to call me and I clearly remember saying what I most needed to hear: that I could make it Tyson once again a encouraging model.
But all men who have harassed or attacked me have said similar encouraging things, so the fact that I have had several positive interactions with Tyson over the years makes it hard to believe he is guilty of serious misconduct. I am extremely aware that the United States has a tendency to punish black people harder than white people accused of the same crime, and I expect Tyson will not be defended as other scientists accused of harassment, such as Geoff Marcy, Christian Ott and Lawrence Krauss where.
Over the years, Tyson’s hatred has become a public pastime that inspired such irrational levels of passion that apparently seemed racist. When the news of the recent accusations came out, people came out of the woodwork to tell me how amazing it was. “He said something sexist once” and “He always gave me the creep.” None of these comments were made to me about white astronomers who have been publicly accused of chronic sexual abuse in the past three years.
But my own experience – behind data – teaches me that the black patriarch is right and the harm specifically for black women is significant. In this case, the damage is multidimensional: I think Amet is the victim, and to a lesser extent, it is also all the black people who found inspiration in Tyson’s visible presence as the world’s most famous black scientist. So, also, Indians were when Tyson referred to an “Indian” handshake in his response to one of the recent allegations, as if Indians all came from a single culture that could be used as a shield against allegations of sexual harassment.  In his Facebook note, Tyson notes that “[Amet] Having Released From Astrophysics School [Amet] sent videos of colored vocal forks with vibrating therapeutic energy that she channeled from the groundbreaking planets. As a researcher, I found this odd” – if her spirituality in any way interferes with her credibility. It is ironic that he does this case while arguing for another sexual harassment. The accusation comes down to a misunderstood attempt to share “second energy”.
While some will celebrate the inevitable damage that these allegations make against Tyson’s public image, I can not. Instead, I’m going to worry about what’s going to happen with Google’s search results for “Black Scientist”. Instead, I will remind you that the United States is a place where there are a variety of visible white men of science stars, but only a black person could get his foot through that door. I will wonder how different things can go in a society where responsibility was encouraged by a basic investment in restorative justice.
I will also feel angry with Neil. It is true that some details of these statements have not yet been confirmed, and both Fox News and National Geographic have launched investigations. But in my opinion, I think the claims are credible, which means that he directly injured several women, most actually by claiming a member of his own already marginalized community. Tchiya Amet is a black woman who will never join the list of African women with a doctorate in physics. She deserved better. Our whole society did.
Editor’s Note: Our house style would normally spell the word “black” with a small letter b. In this essay, however, the author requested that we retain the capital letter that she originally wrote. A blog post she pointed out to explain the reasoning.