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Tyson on DWB

March 28, 2010

Neil DeGrasse Tyson recounts an evening with friends at a conference.  They had gotten to telling stories about being confronted by police:

I had a dozen different encounters to draw from.  There was the time I was stopped late at night at an underpass on an empty road in New Jersey for having changed lanes without signaling.  The officer told me to get out of my car and questioned me for ten minutes around back with the headlights of his squad car brightly illuminating my face.  Is this your car?  Yes.  Who is the woman in the passenger seat?  My wife.  Where are you coming from?  My parents’ house.  Where are you going?  Home.  What do you do for a living?  I am an astrophysicist at Princeton University.  What’s in your trunk?  A spare tire, and a lot of other greasy junk.  He went on to say that the “real reason” he stopped me was because my car’s license plates were much newer and shinier than the seventeen-year-old Ford that I was driving.  The officer was just making sure that neither the car nor the plates were stolen.

From Neil DeGrasse Tyson, The Sky Is Not The Limit: adventures of an urban astrophysicist.  I’ve linked the Kindle version, though my copy is an actual book on paper.  It’s kind of cool that even though the book is out of print, you can still get it in some form, no?  Though used copies are available; I got mine for a buck on the discount table of the college bookstore.

The quote is from a moving chapter, Dark Matters in which he recounts his path to gaining his PhD in astrophysics, bringing “the national total of Black astrophysicists from six to seven (out of four thousand nationwide)”.  I had wondered why, though a top athlete, he had declined an invitation to appear in the “sexiest scientists” calendar but the chapter explains it completely.  And also the reason why, though frequently challenged to become some kind of civil rights spokesman, he chose to become an astrophysicist instead. 

I’d love to think we live in a post-racial era in our country.  I once did think that, in fact.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 30, 2010 at 12:04 | #1

    I’d better make sure that my license plate never looks too new, I guess. No, I’m not black, but I’m coming to the conclusion that the way we’ll achieve equality on this issue is that the rest of us will soon be treated the way black people are, not vice versa.

    As for NDT not being a civil rights activist, I think he’s doing something that is at least as important. As he mentions, black people are underrepresented in many professions, including mine. NDT is a highly visible example that blacks can be scientists, engineers, and computer scientists. Role models are important, too.

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