As a member of the Institute of Medicine/National Academy of Sciences, and chairman of the Academy’s Committee of Toxicology since 1988, I thoroughly agree that more must be done to increase the representation of minorities in the Academies (see Black Issues, Nov. 9).
The critical issue is the lack of nominations. Very few (four or five) African American scientists have been nominated over the past decade. This is not to suggest that there are only a few qualified for Academy membership. Rather it indicates that those of us who are members must be more aggressive in putting forth African American scientists for consideration by the full Academy membership.
Bailus Walker Jr., Ph.D., MPH
Professor of Environmental and
Diversity Among Us
After reading Editor’s Note, Sept. 28, 2000, by Cheryl Fields, I want to thank you for opening both my eyes and my mind. I am overwhelmingly convinced that more space and time needs to be spent describing and understanding the African American landscape as it pertains to the intraracial cultural differences among us.
After studying and working at a predominantly White institution, I know I am not alone. So many others need the benefits of being able to identify and describe their culture, as well as the cultures subscribed to by their colleagues. Too often African Americans want to romanticize a history they believe existed, but fail to be to able to describe and understand what is happening today.
From a historical perspective, I am aware of the distinctions in Booker T. Washington’s and W.E.B. DuBois’ dialogues on political and social affairs for African Americans . . . I understand their dialogues and debates on education. However, I do not find significant variation in the values subscribed to by the intraracial differences among the African Americans of that period.
Today, however, I am lost trying to describe and understand African American culture. I would like to understand what we think our culture is, and regardless of the diversity among us, how do we describe what is African American culture? Perhaps if I ask the question, all students will develop a real and working “cultural competency.”
Let me assure you that I have not lost my mind. I am still a product of the South who knows, understands and appreciates Black history. However, I believe that African Americans in general are as confused as I am about our diversity of cultures, and whether there is coalition or competition among us. I know that too many of us are confronted and harmed by members of our own race; and therefore we must ask, “Do others subscribe to a different culture or set of values?” All African Americans clearly know that we are not homogeneous, but do we know how far apart we are?
We must recognize and acknowledge that gaps between intradifferences and make the necessary adjustments in terms of expectations. Please, let’s talk about this and make sure all of us are awake.
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