STEM Fields Lack Diversity: Background information when reading Washington Black

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Washington Black

by Esi Edugyan

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan X
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2018, 352 pages

    Apr 2019, 400 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Natalie Vaynberg
Buy This Book

About this Book

STEM Fields Lack Diversity

This article relates to Washington Black

Print Review

Esi Edugyan's Washington Black becomes an apprentice to a man of science and cultivates a far-reaching understanding of scientific and mathematical concepts – something that would never have been expected of a child born into slavery. He contributes his great mind to the aeronautical pursuits of his teacher as well as to the idea of an aquarium for the people of London. (See more about the Publica Aquaria)

Benjamin BannekerNobody would be surprised to learn that, until very recently, science was the realm of the white male. Even now, STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) struggle to diversify. Yet it is clear that diversity is key to a robust and effective world of science. The most basic example of a lack of diversity, according to an article in Nature: International Journal of Science, is the fact that much of the tissue used in screening drugs and medical therapies in the Western world comes from white subjects. This makes no sense given that a variance in ethnicity can result in very different reactions to medication.

Diversity specifically impacts the science category of STEM. Science strives to be objective – for example, blind peer reviews are sometimes done on a research study, presumably so that good ideas come out on top regardless of who submits them. Yet there are still limits on the people who are actually able to submit those ideas. According to the Office of the Chief Economist of the US Department of Commerce, as of 2017, only 24% of STEM jobs were held by women in the United States. The percentage drops sharply when you look at women of color – only 2% for Hispanic women and 2% for African American women.

Katherine JohnsonIf science is meant to serve the entire world through building greater knowledge and understanding, then the scientific community should look like the people it seeks to know and understand. When an issue is approached with a variety of contributors, a solution tends to be reached faster, obstacles are better anticipated and addressed, and the end result will serve a greater population. Yet the National Academy of Sciences itself admits that minority populations are "a vastly underused resource and a lost opportunity for meeting our nation's technology needs." Achieving greater diversity in the scientific community is a large and complex undertaking. It is not enough to simply hire with a specific quota in mind. Increasing diversity means making STEM programs more accessible to groups that are currently underrepresented, it means building empowered communities within the workplace, and providing appropriate resources.

There are countless examples of non-majority scientists who have contributed vital and unique work to the field of science. Consider Benjamin Banneker, a self-educated black man, who penned extraordinary medical, mathematical and astronomic almanacs. Or what about Katherine Johnson (who very few people knew about until the movie Hidden Figures came out in 2016), a black woman known as a "human computer" because she was able to do complex calculations in her head? She was deeply involved with some of NASA's most important missions in the 1960s.

Woodcut portrait of Benjamin Banneker, in title page of a Baltimore edition of his 1795 Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia Almanac.
Katherine Johnson at NASA in 1966.

Filed under Medicine, Science and Tech

Article by Natalie Vaynberg

This "beyond the book article" relates to Washington Black. It originally ran in October 2018 and has been updated for the April 2019 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Hello Beautiful
    Hello Beautiful
    by Ann Napolitano
    Ann Napolitano's much-anticipated Hello Beautiful pulls the reader into a warm, loving familial ...
  • Book Jacket: The West
    The West
    by Naoíse Mac Sweeney
    It's become common for history books and courses to reconsider the emphasis on "Western Civilization...
  • Book Jacket
    A Death in Denmark
    by Amulya Malladi
    Can a mystery novel be informative, intriguing and deeply comforting all at once? Amulya Malladi ...
  • Book Jacket
    Shrines of Gaiety
    by Kate Atkinson
    A few years ago, magazines ran pieces about how the 2020s were likely to be the 1920s all over again...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The First Conspiracy
by Brad Meltzer & Josh Mensch
A remarkable and previously untold piece of American history—the secret plot to kill George Washington

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Pieces of Blue
    by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    A hilarious and heartfelt novel for fans of Maria Semple and Emma Straub.

  • Book Jacket

    by Costanza Casati

    Madeline Miller's Circe meets Cersei Lannister in this propulsive and richly drawn debut.

Win This Book
Win Such Kindness

30 Copies to Give Away!

Few writers paint three-dimensional characters with such verve and humanism.
Booklist (starred review)



Solve this clue:

S I F A R Day

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.