We The People: Latoya (New York)

Latoya and I used to work together at a wonderful community music school on the east side of Manhattan, Turtle Bay Music School. In between lessons and recitals, we bonded over our mutual interest in dance and science as well as music, and occasionally plotted our alternative bright futures as financial planners for artists (which neither of us ended up doing, but someone else did). When we spoke back in November, Latoya was preparing to start a new job, working in environmental education for an environmental protection agency, giving tours of a waste water treatment plant and developing curriculum and education programming around watershed protection and stewardship. Latoya is currently into Olympic lifting and crossfit, both of which made me feel fitter just hearing her talk about it. We talked about fitness, bodies changing as we get older, our reactions to the election, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson (not necessarily in that order).

How do you follow science news, and news about policy affecting the science community:

For math & physics, Quanta Magazine. For cutting edge research, New Scientist. Generally Scientific American and National Geographic are good. For mainstream news sources – well, the trouble with science news in mainstream news sources is that they take the latest study and base the analysis on just that, not on scientific consensus, not on the pattern of research. News sources no longer have dedicated science journalists, so there’s less questioning and analysis of what it is they’re reporting.

What’s your vision for America?

I envision a place in which everyone has not only the right but the environment to be who they are. Where variation from the white hetero male “norm” is accepted. Where it’s not so surprising that someone who looks like me [Latoya is African American] can be interested in physics and math. 

For instance – [among African American women] straightening your hair was – is -  a survival tactic – if you go into a job interview with straightened hair, you have a better chance of getting hired, because you look more Caucasian than with natural hair.

America should be a place where we’re encouraged to be who we are, whatever way, shape or form, as long as it doesn’t impede on anyone else being who they are.

How to work toward that vision?

One of the difficulties with current civil rights activism is that there’s a lot of nostalgia, people always looking for the “next Civil Rights movement.” Back then the focus was on changing legislation – striking down segregation, fighting for voting rights, women’s rights. Now it seems the goals aren’t as clear and specific and it’s harder to galvanize a movement.

I think in order for there to be progress, people need to put their/our egos aside to take in what the other person is saying.