ACTION ITEM: Sign a petition in support of students who want to change the name of the Entomological Society of America's annual competition, the Linnaean Games, and read their open letter to the ESA board on why it is necessary to do so. The text below offers further encouragment and background information, which is certainly relevant to mycologists as well.
Carl Linnaeus is one of many white historical figures whose legacy has been warped over time to hide away problematic aspects. We learn about Linnaeus at a very early age as the inventor of Latin binomials, a system of naming living organisms that is now highly encoded and regulated process for all life forms, including fungi. But what we don't learn about in school is his deeply racist beliefs of white supremacy, which were preserved in his scientific writings as an ordination of human races and ascription of pejorative moral and behavioral qualities to non-white people. It's awful stuff. As Linnaeus is the father of taxonomy, he is equally the father of scientific racism.
In light of people's renewed reckoning of racism due to the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and too many other Black Americans by White police officers, people are reevaluating longstanding names and imagery to root out racist legacies. As is the case with Confederate statues and flags, we simply cannot turn a blind eye or reinvent history to make the racist legacies of white people and institutions of racism go away. They must be understood and reckoned with in a historical and educational context, but not celebrated or memorialized.
Each year at their annual gathering, the Entomological Society of America (ESA) challenges each other to bug-themed trivia in an event called the Linnaean Games. For a few years now, a group of graduate students have been endeavoring to change the name of the games (the Bug Bowl is a crowd favorite and is also much easier to spell and a catchier, less racist hashtag). Students of color have been outspoken in their discomfort around the celebration of Linneaus at the society's annual meeting. The name is just another reminder of their feelings of exclusion and the disproportionate whiteness of ESA. It seems like a no-brainer that a professional society working in the interests of all its members would listen and recognize the painful and harmful legacy of Linnaeus and change the name of the competition. Furthermore, changing the name seems like an easy and necessary first step towards deeper structural change to further promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Yet, ESA leadership has resisted this effort with tremendous energy, most recently in the silencing of an opinion piece in a scientific journal. Students of color and allies of the effort need your help. Read the students' full letter to the ESA board and sign a petition showing your support.
I am moved to spread the word as an act of solidarity with close friends and loved ones working to change the name of the Linnaean Games, as well as in support of diveristy, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in other fields of natural science. However, I am also driven by legitimate fear and concern. Yes, I have grown very wary of the leadership of the Entomological Society of America, a major professional scientific organization in the United States. Apathy is, unfortunately, the status quo. But when apathy becomes obstinance, and obstinances morphs into resistance, and then resistance mounts into censorship and repression, I become concerned that agents of that resistance harbor deeply racist beliefs. Nothing short can explain the intense pushback and lack of concern for students of color. In making a mountain of a molehill, what will they make of true mountains when deeper structural racism in ESA is addressed?
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