Book Review
Tyrone Taborn - Celebrating Inspiration

One of Tyrone Taborn’s tactics to remedy the lack of self-identifiable role models amongst women and people of color is promoting Black, Hispanic, Native American men and women Science Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) professionals. This is his life-long work, and now with the publication of Separating Race from Technology: Finding Tomorrow’s IT Progress, you can read his powerful analysis of the problems and potential solutions as Taborn joins an illustrious group of authors whose share the:

“... goal of pushing consideration of a vexing but important subject from margin to center”(1)

Taborn’s thesis is that this lack of self-identifiable role models combined with a sinister [sic] censoring of the minority community’s contributions results in students being discouraged from embarking on career paths in which they see no future for themselves. And it’s not just difficulty in recruiting prospective scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians as students from minority populations that results from this discouragement. The disproportionate attrition of women and minorities from STEM academe and industry is due to the same phenomena. That theme echoes the work of Donna Nelson and this author:

“When female professors are not hired, treated fairly, and retained, female students perceive that they will be treated similarly. This dissuades them from persisting in that discipline.”(2)

“Similar to academe, when female and under represented minority aerospace executive leaders are not hired, treated fairly, promoted or retained, prospective women and under represented minority aerospace professionals perceive that they will be treated similarly. This dissuades them from persisting in that industry."(3)

Most importantly, he states: “…longstanding racial issues continue to be formidable obstacles to minority pipeline development for future science and technology workers and educators.” With the phrase longstanding racial issues, Taborn alludes to the phenomena others whisper with the code words: chilly climate. This is none other than structural racism and sexism in the STEM workforce and academia.

Structural racism and sexism is not intentional or overt discrimination, but refers to how the disadvantages of “color” and “womanhood” endure, adapt and accumulate over time; how public policies and institutional practices intersect to produce disproportionate gender and racial participation in the STEM workforce and academia, legitimizing and popularizing gender and racial disparities; and how the assumptions and stereotypes embedded in the dominant culture of the STEM workforce and academia serve to legitimize and popularize gender and racial disparities.

In Separating Race from Technology Taborn enumerates many factors that contribute to low participation rates of women and people of color in the STEM workforce and academia. He points out that the negative experiences of the untapped participants result in: “lack of self confidence, feelings of isolation and finally a loss of interest.” He observes the unwillingness of the academic community to acknowledge the deleterious impact of structural racism and sexism on recruitment and retention.

After performing a survey of some inspirational examples of minority and women leaders in STEM, Taborn provides the rational basis for anticipating a change in the status quo:

“With the worldwide competition for talent, will America at last come to appreciate the vast untapped pool of talent in minority communities, and finally muster the will and financial resources to encourage and train underrepresented youth to enter and excel in science and technology fields?

Taborn’s approach to change-making is not through advocating different attitudes. His method is the creation of self identifiable role models and positive environments. As Thomas Pettigrew said:

“You change people's attitudes by changing their behavior first. And you change behavior by changing institutions… that require us to behave in racist ways.”(4)

Separating Race from Technology is available at no cost on-line at:
http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1162/dmal.9780262550673.039

I do not give gratuitous praise or make recommendations lightly.

Taborn’s cogent analysis is worth the read.

Read it and share it. Spread the word. Who knows? A young person might self-identify with one of his examples – and decide to join those trail blazers who by their very presence help to end structural racism and sexism in the STEM workforce and academia.

(1) From the inside front cover of : Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media. Edited by Anna Everett. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008

(2) Nelson, Donna J., (2004). A National Analysis of Diversity in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universities. Retrieved August 14, 2009, from: http://cheminfo.ou.edu/~djn/diversity/briefings/Diversity%20Report%20Final.pdf

(3) Levin, M.A: 20/20 Vision: Recapturing the gains in STEM education and workforce made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Seminar for the 2008 National Conference on Aviation and Space Education, Arlington, VA

(4) Thomas F. Pettigrew, May 17, 1968, TIME Magazine, Essay: WHAT CAN I DO?

Return From Tyrone Taborn to Masterflight Campaign to End Structural Racism and Sexism.