Though we fully inhabit the 21st Century, we continue to struggle in our journey to find common ground with others who we perceive as different from ourselves. Stereotypes provide some with comfort that they can have insight into the lives of others without making an investment to learn who they are as individuals and community members. Numerous examples present themselves each day indicating we are not color-blind or gender-blind, but rather we are intimately tied to identities based on socially constructed categories. Television shows, music videos, film, newspapers, magazines, and the internet provide daily images and commentary perpetuating biases and reinforcing stereotypes in order to sell stories, products, or belief systems.
As a science educator, I am shocked by the slow rate of progress to turn these stereotypes inside out. Science and math are frequently viewed as white male endeavors. Science textbooks and other media resources used in classrooms typically place white males in the center of our collective history crediting them with the major scientific and technological innovations of our past and current reality. White males continue to outnumber others as the experts in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) even though established initiatives are in place to actively encourage a diverse enrollment of students in these programs their perspectives have greater weight. A recent engineering disaster in the gulf coast has focused our attention on the biases of corporate engineers working in this industry. Media surrounding the British Petroleum oil spill in the gulf coast features online articles, video, and pictures of the effort to clean up this environmental disaster which have engaged diverse perspectives to open new dialogue as communities demand action. The current environmental disaster has drawn our attention to the dangerous nature of oil exploration and drilling and the risks we take to secure these resources. Media sources have brought the impacts of this event on the natural world and threats to man’s connection with nature into our daily lives. And while white male scientists, military leaders, and executives continue to offer explanations and ineffective plans for reducing the impact of the event and undertaking the clean-up; diverse communities across the country are stepping up to contribute resources, support, and demand a remedy.
Although the current environmental crisis is difficult to view in a positive light, we have made great progress as a national community. Can the media maintain the national connection which has developed during this crisis and continue to motivate our citizens to question corporate practice and demand action to preserve the best interests of our collective citizenry when this crisis is resolved? If so, we may be able to leave a specific course which addresses race and gender in the media behind. The true test of our growth as global, color-blind, gender-blind citizens may be to examine our actions and motivations when we no longer confront disaster on our doorstep.