Auschwitz-II, 1944. Hungarian Jews being selected for the gas chamber. Not so long ago, Jewish scientists like Albert Einstein, Lise Meitner, and Emmy Noether had to be saved from this fate by people of conscience who saw the writing on the wall when Hitler rose to power. (source: Wikipedia)

Cowardice, Astronomy, & Fascism

Pro-bigotry censorship for cash

Today, the chair of the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, at the behest of “leadership” at the American Astronomical Society, removed a blog post about standing up to President-elect Trump by Professor Sarah Tuttle from the Women in Astronomy blog. (Now available here on Medium.)

In the past, AAS has thrown around concerns about how saying anything “politically charged” is a violation of the rules that govern their 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation status at the IRS. Rumors today suggested that some at the top had this concern about Tuttle’s blog entry. Never mind that Professor Tuttle’s post was not a form of lobbying; the IRS rules actually allow limited amounts of lobbying. Never mind that Professor Tuttle’s post was not an explicit request for the transition team; the IRS rules actually allow non-profits to engage transition teams.

Professor Tuttle’s post was in part intended to be a statement of support for those of us who are literally fearing for our lives right now:

To all my minoritized friends and colleagues. You are not alone. And I don’t mean that in the abstract way. I mean that in the “reach out and I’ll be there, call in the cavalry” sort of way*. To everyone who is scared for their family, scared about losing their rights, scared about the sharp spike in hate crimes over the last few days — You are not alone. We will prepare, and we will fight this.

Of course, the American Astronomical Society has made clear that statements of support for minorities are also a threat to their non-profit status, and therefore their ability to represent the interests of straight white cis non-disabled men who are members of the astronomical community. That’s why they won’t put out a “Black Lives Matter” statement. Never mind that the BLM organization itself is umbrella’d under a 501(c)(3) for the purposes of donations; AAS apparently is governed by magically different IRS rules. Never mind that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which regularly labels people as racists is a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation; AAS is, well, again, magic! Never mind that the statement that Black lives matter is actually a matter of facts; apparently in astronomy political expediency is more important than facts.

Of course we all know — unfortunately especially girls and women who allegedly have been raped and sexually assaulted by him (I, for one, believe them) — that Trump has a tendency to attack people and organizations smaller than him and his business.

So, yes, maybe Trump’s IRS will speciously and unlawfully attack organizations that speak out against his racist, xenophobic, misogynist, transphobic agenda. But, and this I think is maybe the most important thing: I think that defending the most marginalized and opposing fascism is worth losing non-profit status — and therefore money — over.

I value my friends and colleagues and my own goddamn life over having a favorable tax status. And I can think of another time when “civil” society went along with a fascist leader just to get along: eleven million people died, the majority of them Jews like me.

AAS, your favorable tax status is not worth 11 million lives. It’s not even worth one.

And of course, while a Trump attack on AAS could be damaging to the organization financially, I frankly can’t imagine what could possibly be more damaging to its reputation than refusing to acknowledge the significant academic work that explains why Trump’s policies and words are accurately described, as Tuttle wrote, “xenophobic, homophobic, misogynist, transphobic, Islamaphobic, [and] egotistical.” Repeatedly over the last six months we’ve seen comments from the leadership about the need to support our community members who might be feeling distressed. But apparently it’s not okay to say what the cause might be. At the very least, from an organization that requires its members to have a relatively high level of education, this inability to grapple with basic and widely accepted concepts from the social sciences, along with the obfuscation, is embarrassing.

You might even say it affects AAS’s reputation. But perhaps/obviously they don’t care what Black people like me think.

If you can’t label a man who called all Mexicans “rapists” a racist, I’m pretty sure you don’t represent my interests, AAS. Same goes for you, American Physical Society.