Droppin' science for the struggle: a purposeful profile of professor Sylvester James Gates, Jr. in the era of the "New Jim Crow".

Author:Ani, Amanishakete
Position:Biography
 
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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. What stands out in the minds of most African Americans are the many protests, debates, and other soul stirrings over the videotaped police beating of Rodney King, the subsequent trial and acquittal of the four guilty policemen, the Los Angeles revolt in response to the not guilty verdict, the O.J. Simpson trial and media highlights of that verdict, (8) the continuation of Reagan's so-called war on drugs from the early 1980s with Clinton's "three-strikes" mass incarceration law, (9) and sweeping national policy reforms targeting the control of Mexican migrations, especially in California. (10) Each of these moments in time illustrated the unequivocal polarization of racial-ethnic solidarities in the U.S., with African and Mexican communities out casted.

Memory of international news in the 90s likely recalls longstanding political unrest and governmental coups as vestiges of the French colonial legacy gripping Haiti, the first African nation widely known to have defeated European imperialism. (11) Finally, standing out in the minds of an even greater number of people around the world is Nelson Mandela's release from an appalling 27-year long political imprisonment in his native South Africa at the opening of the decade, on February 11, 1990. (12) It strikes a strange chord now in wizened hindsight to consider that only a very small number of Africans in Africa and the Diaspora were aware of the life and contributions of one such Gates at the time, even as he received national award after national award for encouraging the world to see beyond the narrow confines of social realities not necessarily through political ideology or religious belief, which vary, but through scientific possibility, which does not.

Today is not much different. Most African Americans, for instance, even those grounded in a self-asserting ideology of dignity and community development much like Gates presents himself to be, (13) find themselves feeling tied down by racism, neither able to deny the problem of it in a supposedly democratic society for any extended period of time as many less melanated people may do, nor immediately able to dissolve of it while having to regularly confront its existence.

Unfortunately, the oft result is a dilemma-ed life, literally anchored by the gravitational pull of dark, heavy emotions and confrontations that limit the imagination and range of one's life experience. (14) Fortunately, Gates' supersymmetry research helps to embolden for us the line between unhealthy, reactive resistance to racism and oppression, and the kind that is electrifying, assertive and enduring.

Gates' work relates to the social and political problems facing Africa and the African Diaspora through its capacity to both transform the ways in which we think of and go about war against them, and support how we live and interact with each other. Ultimately, we must amass the rules that dictate how to see through, above, below and around racist people and strategies rather than to always engage them on their base terms, and physics provides a viable rulebook. (15) Base level engagement of racism serves more to drain us of our energy and potential for development than it does to actually extinguish it. We must also gain the vision needed to always see ourselves as connected better than our conditions. This super-vision helps us to maintain our sanity during the struggle. These combined are the discursive tools to be used in the struggle.

It may at first seem difficult to conceive that we are charged to see and move beyond the constraints of oppressive conditions, even when police states and murder are among them. This, however, is what supersymmetry is all about on a human, non-technological level and Gates is primed to prove it. The following sections are meant to make plain the science behind how we will win in the struggle against racism and other forms of oppression without any discussion of recent news headlines or legislative changes, understanding that either would be reactionary at a time when what we need are more scripts for total victory, and endurance. Here and now do we have an African American man conceiving of existence on energetic and physical levels that reorient our inner and outer perceptions away from "standard model" existence and closer to a cosmological view of boundlessness and interconnectivity by marrying supersymmetry principles to those of African origin via the Akan wisdom of Ghana. (16) Though the degree depends on a number of scientific factors, it stands within mathematical reason that what we perceive and emit has a direct correlation to how we survive our experience; and, more importantly as it relates to racism and brutality, a connection to our conceptual embodiment and corresponding influence over others. In effect, we can see and imagine, and through the personification of our inner aesthetics, our methodical arsenal, make it so.

A Physics Lesson on Anti-Imperialism Imperatives

The song Mathematics by Mos Def (a.k.a. Yasiin Bey) now has a whole new meaning in light of recent advances in physics pioneered by Gates and his colleagues. (17) In the song, Bey informs us that passing "short and tall social hurdles" is possible with the understanding that "it's all mathematics." Gates himself calls mathematics our sixth sense, like another set of eyes, made most viable when we appreciate its versatility. (18) Perhaps the biggest problem with the implementation of this wisdom amongst everyday people, however, is less about mathematical appreciation than the fact that some characters are undetectable in plain sight.

To use the nomenclature of physics, some social problems have roots that reside outside of our visual range on the electromagnetic spectrum, even though they still exist within range of our direct sensory management. (19) Indeed, while mathematics may be the processional language of nature, we must do...

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