In Minnesota, the high school graduation rate for White-identifying students in 2018-2019 was about 89% and for BIPOC students that percentage is lower no matter which racial group is being analyzed. The racial group with the lowest high school graduate rate are American Indian students at about 51%, a historic high (UnitedHealth Foundation, 2022).
In Minnesota the racial group with the lowest median household income are American Indians at about $35K annually compared to the average median household income of $70K. Compare both numbers further with the median household income for white families of $74K annually and there is a clear racial discrepancy (MN Employment and Economic Development, 2020).
He is very terrifying; he is staring into my soul as he speaks.4
We cannot escape.5
We never will be able to.6
My own people have trapped us here
OUR own kind!7
Little do they know.
I will get my revenge.
We will get our revenge.
Just he waits.9
He will never know what hit him.10
I have learned so much about him,
In so little time.11
Just look at the way he breathes.
Look at those four eyes.
That disgusting beard.
Probably has fleas up in there.
Got the whole smurfs living up in there.12
The way he stands.
Imagine standing like that.13
Brugge D, Goble R. The history of uranium mining and the Navajo people. Am J Public Health. 2002 Sep;92(9):1410-9. doi: 10.2105/ajph.92.9.1410. PMID: 12197966; PMCID: PMC3222290.
MN Employment and Economic Development. (2020, June). Minnesota disparities by race report.
Sterling, R.L. Genetic research among the Havasupai: A cautionary tale. Virtual Mentor. 2011;13(2):113-117. doi: 10.1001/virtualmentor.2011.13.2.hlaw1-1102.
Theobald, B. (2019, November 27). A 1970 law led to the mass sterilization of Native American women. That history still matters. TIME.
UnitedHealth Foundation. (2023). America’s Health Rankings.
Wikipedia contributors. (2023, April 21). Uranium mining and the Navajo people. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
I have an invited guest speaker, a White male scientist, from a private company, who leads a DEI initiative designed to expose BIPOC youth to their STEM field. My student, A.L. begins her poem by vilifying the white male scientist as something to be afraid of. While conversations about STEM and inclusivity are generally centered around the advancement of BIPOC scientists themselves, one of the earliest barriers for women of color entering STEM is based in historical and generational trauma.
Putting aside the BIPOC scientist for a moment, consider the BIPOC individual: Black and Indigenous people in the United States have faced atrocities and violence at the hands of medical professionals, researchers and scientists, all in the name of scientific advancement since initial conquest. That is not to say this is a problem for the history books as this violence persists to this day. In my living grandparents’ lifetime the Dine people on the Navajo reservation were used by scientists as experimental subjects without their consent in government funded research on the effects of uranium exposure on humans. The Dine were hired to mine uranium for the Manhattan Project at a time when the government knew full well there would be horrifying health consequences (“Uranium mining and the Navajo people,” n.d.). In my parents lifetime the reservations were exposed to mass sterilizations without consent at the hands of physicians funded by the United States government after they passed the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act of 1970 (Theobald, 2019).
Black and Latinx individuals were also targeted by this act. In my lifetime, scientists at Arizona State University used donated blood samples from the Havasupai people to perform genetic research without the tribal members’ consent. Researchers went on to publish work, using the blood samples, to propose speculations on the tribe’s relationship with alcoholism, inbreeding and to refute tribal creation stories (Sterling, 2011). These stories are just the ones published for the world to read. As we have seen with the Black Lives Matter movement and readily available recording devices: the violence is not new, we are simply being listened to for the first time.
My mother says, “You are the strongest. You are the product of the people who survived.” But that survival was guaranteed by teaching our children to navigate the world that would meet them when they left the arms of our community. That survival was guaranteed by teaching our children that White male scientist were not to be trusted. And, given just the known history, who would be so cruel to tell them otherwise. ↩
- A.L. is a Native American high school student in Minneapolis who is also a MIGIZI youth. MIGIZI is a non-profit organization that supports tribal youth in accomplishing their academic, cultural and professional goals in South Minneapolis. MIGIZI has spent decades in the community trying to increase academic achievement for our tribal youth. MIGIZI offers professional academic high school credit bearing internship opportunities through their Indigenous Pathways program. Native youth are taught and mentored by Native American field experts as well as offered assistance in goal setting and tutoring. Curriculum is developed by tribal field experts and approved by certified public school teachers. In this way, MIGIZI offers a safe and supportive environment for youth to engage with academia and career opportunities in a way that is shielded from that constant fear of exploitation. ↩
- At the time A.L. wrote this poem, A.L. was a student in the Green Tech Intern program where I was teaching. Growing up, I was never exposed to the sciences in a way that felt relatable. I had seen a handful of women in STEM but never any BIPOC people. Looking back I can see how poverty played a larger role in my life than I realized as a child as it limited the scope of experiences I was able to take advantage of. When I heard that MIGIZI was looking for a STEM instructor I immediately knew I wanted to take on the role in order to help others overcome barriers I experienced as a young Native person in South Minneapolis. ↩
The speaker was presenting to all Green Tech Interns about internship opportunities in their STEM field. The Green Tech Internship program is meant to be an experiential learning environment and bringing in field experts to discuss their experiences or opportunities available to youth in their field is part of that. I have struggled to find individuals in STEM fields who have the flexibility and self-management privilege to volunteer their time who are also BIPOC. When a partnership is established, it would be awkward and unprofessional for me to ask about the ethnic make-up of a potential volunteer base, especially since that has the potential to also be offensive to those interested in volunteering. As a non-profit, we rely heavily on volunteers and do not want to “bite-the-hand-that-feeds,” but a lack of diversity in STEM fields has resulted in a lack of diversity in the pool of individuals willing and able to reach back to community and youth in these types of platforms. So as an educator trying to equalize representation in my own programming, I am stuck in this space where I have to decide whether to disallow this aspect of programming for fear of lack of racial or gender representation or allow those who, putting it heavily, sometimes represent oppressive histories to have access to the youth that I serve.
It is important to note that many youth enjoyed the presentation and felt they gained something positive from the interaction, most of them male-identifying. But for A.L. and a handful of others, this was not the case. So, was it worth it? In order to engage some, am I actively pushing others from pursuing a career in STEM? ↩
- A.L. feels trapped. I have felt this way as well. No matter where I go or turn, the sting of colonization follows me, even in Native-specific spaces. Our young people live in this weird space where, as teenagers, they are old enough to be out in the world on their own, but they are still children. ↩
- Because our resources, cultural and intergenerational support systems were stolen from us, there is a sense that in order to succeed in this colonized world we have to navigate colonized spaces and engage European-Americans whether we want to or not, whether we are ready to or not. ↩
- MIGIZI youth are all Native American, as are all of our program staff, myself included. ↩
- This is a Native space, so I can understand why A.L. feels betrayed by having to host non-Native guests in a space she loves. ↩
- I love the play on the phrase, “Just you wait.”, it acknowledges that A.L. is not communicating with the speaker, but rather another Native person, indicated by use of the word “we.” Further, this line begins to flirt with power by acknowledging that the Scary White Man has historically held power, but that revenge will be had for past and present wrong-doings on a societal scale. ↩
- As a Native girl, I felt I was always underestimated. I feel this line shares some of those feelings as A.L. does not think the speaker would ever expect to face any social consequences for making her feel uncomfortable. ↩
- A.L. shifts power, initially held by the Scary White Man in the beginning of the poem as an infiltrator, to themselves by having stealthy powers of perception. ↩
- This is becoming personal now. A.L. is offended by their entire presence including their facial hair. The insults become absurd and hilarious. ↩
- Absurdist humor again. However this hits home to me as well. The way someone holds themselves in a space can be telling. Sometimes the way we take up space has cultural contexts as well. Whiteness is sometimes culturally synonymous with entitlement. A.L. is displeased with how the speaker takes up space and could never imagine taking up space in a similar, entitled, manner. A.L. does not think the Scary White Man should be allowed to feel so comfortable in a Native space. ↩