Confronting racism while elevating Black voices in science

When Dr. Tiara Moore opened her phone in June she was inundated with pictures of Black birders from around the country on her Twitter feed.

“There were all these Black people outside birding – doing all kinds of different things,” said Moore. “The goal was to change the narrative. Black people bird. Black people go outside. We aren’t a threat – the police shouldn’t be called on us simply because we’re there.”

#BlackBirdersWeek was a reaction to the incident in Central Park during the summer when a white woman called the police on a Black man while he was bird watching in New York. It was a week-long series of online events to highlight Black nature enthusiasts.

#BlackBirdersWeek led to other events, each with the goal to raise the profile of Black men and women and their overlooked hobbies and careers.

Dr. Moore felt an immediate reaction. Often the only Black scientist in labs, lectures or field studies, she knew how it felt to be alone in a room.

“But there’s a lot of rooms,” said Dr. Moore. “What if we found each other and highlighted that Black people exist.”

When she fired off a tweet to announce she, and some friends, were organizing #BlackInMarineScienceWeek she couldn’t have imagined the response. It started small, but after M.C. Hammer saw it and retweeted it to his followers it gained traction. A few hours later Dr. Moore opened her phone to see Black scientists from around the country reacting.

The week itself garnered more than 1 million social media engagements with hundreds of participants ranging from young aspiring scientists, to seasoned professionals hosting panel discussions. Talks ranged from marine careers to real-life experiences Black scientists have faced, Dr. Moore herself can rattle off situations ranging from being mistaken for the janitor at science conferences, to colleagues shutting doors in her face while walking into labs.

“I am seen as if I don’t belong,” said Dr. Moore recounting one specific night that she was walking into a building on campus. “I just pulled out my card key and he looks behind, like, ‘Oh.’ It’s hard to say it’s because I’m Black, but I’ve seen them hold the door wide open for my colleague. So when you have that as an example, it’s like, it must be because of me.”

She’s hardly alone in that sentiment. Listening into the panel discussions the experiences are shared by many – something that the youngest attendees learned from.

“It was really heartwarming, and heartbreaking,” said Addison White, a 12-year-old from Texas who tuned into the talks. “What if this happens to me? How can I process through it, because I might process it differently.”

White took a Zoom call from KIRO 7 with Dr. Moore to discuss what she took away from the event. The conversations about systemic racism stood out to her.

“It was shocking, but it was also nice to hear what they did during those situations,” said White.

“Oh my goodness you’re going to make me cry!” said Moore, wiping away tears. “Just know that we are out here working for you so you don’t have to deal with the stuff that I had to work on. So you can focus on being a scientist.”

White is already dreaming big on that front. She wants to learn to dive and has already begun to learn about cephalopods – focusing on cuttlefish and coral – things most students don’t focus on until they’re in college or beyond.

If they’re going to get there, Dr. Moore’s work will likely play a role in that.

The week of events was such a success that it’s now being spun into a nonprofit. Dr. Moore and a number of Black marine scientists have begun a weekly web series called BIMS Bytes – short web videos of scientists giving an overview of their expertise.

“The whole goal is to change the narrative,” said Dr. Moore. “Change the face of who does marine science and show that we do marine science.”

If you’d like to learn more about marine science, you can check out the latest episodes of BIMS bites, including Dr. Moore’s work on climate change: https://bit.ly/3cMc3OC