Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Droppin' Science for the Struggle: A Purposeful Profile of Professor Sylvester James Gates, Jr. in the Era of the "New Jim Crow"

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Droppin' Science for the Struggle: A Purposeful Profile of Professor Sylvester James Gates, Jr. in the Era of the "New Jim Crow"

Article excerpt

Sylvester James Gates, Jr. (to the left) has a number of "firsts" to his name. His doctoral dissertation at M.I.T. was the first at the university on supersymmetry. In 1994, he became the first recipient of the American Physical Society's Edward A. Bouchet Award, given to a minority physicist who has made significant contributions to his field of physics, in 1998 he was named the first John S. Toll Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland, he became the first African-American to hold an endowed chair in physics at a major U.S. research university as he hopes to see in string theory, the first signs of supersymmetry and perhaps a unification of the four forces of nature. (1)

The list of achievements of Gates are many, he has published more than 120 research articles in his area of theoretical physics, written chapters in several books, and coauthored Superspace, (2) one of few texts covering advanced physics known as supersymmetry (SUSY), the study of cross-sectionality between the four known forces of nature--gravity, electromagnetic, weak nuclear, and strong energy. (3) Before receiving the Bouchet Award in 1994, Gates received the National Technical Association's Technical Achiever and Physicist of the Year awards in 1993. (4) His achievements since then have brought him a membership in President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2009, the National Medal of Science Award in 2013, and a rare seat among the professorial astute as an endowed chair in physics for the University of Maryland that has been his professional home for over 30 years, also in 2013. (5) Hence, he has a curriculum vita of more than 100 pages detailing his teaching, service, publications, speeches, awards, and honors.

Gates is an extremely rare mind and man as he is one of a very few physicists of African descent in America, a population of about 2% in the relatively small physics field, and .01% of the general population. (6) Why he should be of interest to physicists and non-physicists alike today is both simple and complex. Suffice it to say that Gates, as man, professor, and award-winning physicist, represents the best of what may become of human potential when hatred and repression of opportunity are disavowed not only as sociopolitical obstructions to so-called civil rights, but further as a problem of social and scientific retrograde against the cosmos.

At a time when the U.S. once again bares itself as the poster of barbarism and nihilism toward native people and processes, most strikingly concerning the grotesque murdering of African Americans by its police force, (7) Gates rises as the mind and face of possibility for unification in nature at levels far beyond the reach of terrestrial supremacist orientations. Those of us in support of seeing every corner of our planet surpass the cosmic mediocrity of supremacist activities, on racial and all other terms, must be conscious of empowering work like his that move us beyond the asymmetrical, unimaginative living that we as a human race have in too many ways become accustomed to.

Freedom and respect for personhood remains indoctrinated, it seems, in the systemic psychology of racism that the United States and the rest of the West was built upon, one in which the rights of the state to repudiate, brutalize, murder, rape or otherwise violate people of color, and namely African peoples, was given the name 'Jim Crow'. Thus, in the era of the New Jim Crow we must pose new questions and present fresh solutions to old problems that bring us closer to nature. The struggle, referring to the fight against racism and all forms of oppression creating chaos in the lives of African people, must become more discursively and methodically scientific.

Imagining More and Making It So

To make clear the importance of Gates' work to world society, we should cover a bit of historical ground. The 1990s, we should recall, was not only a remarkable time for Gates, but also a particularly volatile era in American race politics and social thought. …

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