Board Statement on Racism in Physics

Archived Board Statement

July 24, 2020; Amended September 21, 2020

The current outrage over the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others has awakened the conviction that without sustained effective action, systemic racism in America will continue to impede full participation of Black people in many walks of American life, including the field of physics.

Racism has no place in physics. The APS condemns racism in all its forms. But stating this is not sufficient. The percentage of physics bachelor’s degrees earned by Black Americans has, if anything, decreased from around 5% in the late 1990’s to under 4% now. Only about 1-2% of APS members identify as members of the African diaspora. These appalling statistics cannot be attributed solely to the pipeline and inequities in K-12 education. We ask everyone in the physics community to join us in reflecting on the words of writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference.” We have not done enough to fix a culture in physics that has created and perpetuated practices that fail to support Black participants sufficiently. This failure is longstanding: the first PhD degree conferred in any field to a Black American was in physics, to Edward Bouchet in 1876, yet he was subsequently denied a university position due to his race. We can change the culture and do better.

The APS is committed to transforming the culture and practices of our field to welcome and support the participation of Black people. Our insistence on intellectual rigor, innovative thinking, and excellence demands this transformation. We are working to revise practices with physicists at all levels, ranging from undergraduates to teachers and researchers, who study or work in environments ranging from academic departments and large collaborations to research and industrial laboratories. The reason why this work is critical is simple: Equal opportunity regardless of race is a basic human right.