“After Ferguson, Some Black Academics Wonder: Does Pursuing a Ph.D. Matter?”

“A postdoctoral fellow in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Prescod-Weinstein — who identifies as black — found herself crying through her calculations as she saw a middle-American suburb turned into a war zone.
Watching and reading about the killing of Michael Brown — followed by the indelible scenes of tear-gas canisters and armored tanks — she looked down at her research on theoretical cosmology and thought to herself: “I can’t do this.”
“Who cares about cosmic inflation during the first seconds of the universe’s existence when black people are getting shot left and right by police officers and vigilantes?” she remembers thinking. “I felt guilty. I wanted to go to Ferguson. I wanted to be a body in the streets and a barrier between the police and my people.””

I think about this sometimes— the doubt and conflicted feelings are very real. It’s asking myself: “Should I be sitting here, trying to be successful in and beneficial to a system that until recently would have intentionally denied me access? Aren’t I basically chasing a dream that was created by a set of people who probably would have been horrified to call me a colleague? Am I complicit in the system that is by turns ignoring and tear-gassing the people who are out there fighting against prejudice?”

And then it’s also about the importance of being in a space where conversations about Ferguson or rape culture can happen openly and typically and don’t have to be whispered and don’t make me feel like I am part of some inappropriate radical sub-culture, and it’s asking myself if that is the kind of space my ambitions are moving me toward, because isn’t that a space I deserve?

And then I wheel around anxiously to the social belongingness angle, where I sometimes feel like I need to put a lot of effort into proving that I am just like everyone else, like everyone you are comfortable with and who you understand to be capable of success, and that isn’t helped by being negatively impacted by super intense news about racism-fueled death and, for some reason, wanting to talk about it.

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