We’re ready to put this year behind us. Climate change-related disasters like the January wildfires in Australia, COVID-19, murder hornets, worldwide protests against police brutality, and a U.S. election were just some of the headlines we saw this year.

The Black Lives Matter protests that ignited following the murder of George Floyd created a measurable rift. While the fight to end anti-Black racism has been ongoing for centuries, the protests we saw this summer were different.

Companies and academic institutions took note and promised change. Over the past few months, we’ve seen countless diversity and inclusion statements, but some have fallen short.

Still, there has been some positive change.

Here are five examples, but before we get to the list, let us be clear: the fight to end anti-Black racism is far from over.

Black lives matter, and while the following points are small and necessary steps in the right direction, much, much more work is needed to erase generations of deep-rooted, violent, ongoing, systemic racism.

But on that note, here are some developments.

POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT #1 — The American Physical Society pledges to review data on police brutality when selecting future conference venues

In November, the American Physical Society (APS) announced it will now review statistics on police conduct when selecting future venues for its scientific meetings.

Susan Gardner, chair of the APS Committee on Scientific Meetings, said the updated selection criteria was inspired in part by pieces published in Science in June by Philip Phillips and Michael Weissman and another paper by Phillips that appeared in Physics Today in July. Both articles call on the APS and other professional organizations to stop holding conferences in cities that permit police brutality.

Gardner said additional insight was provided during discussions in a June APS webinar called “From Passion to Action.”

“We deliberated at length over the proposal and other input during our recent committee meeting,” Gardner said in a statement.

“I would summarize by saying that we became aware that members of our community are vulnerable in ways we had never imagined, and we resolved to act. We voted unanimously to recommend these changes. We want to conduct every APS meeting in a safe environment for our attendees; this is a natural part of our site selection process. These new criteria are a way of broadening the issues to be considered.”

Per the APS, the new criteria require prospective cities to:

– Have openly available statistics on police-initiated contacts and use of force that include demographic information.

– Have an independent investigative body to respond to serious incidents, including deaths in custody and officer-involved shootings.

– Have a policy in place that forbids the use of carotid holds, strangleholds, or generally, maneuvers by police officers that cut off blood or oxygen.

– Have all police officers trained in de-escalation methods, such as PERF’s ICAT (Integrating Communications, Assessment, and Tactics) training.

– Have a policy in place where each police officer has the duty to intervene and/or to render medical aid if other officers are using excessive force.

– Have performance evaluations/measures that include more criteria than just enforcement statistics (arrests, summonses, stops). The criteria should include officer-involved fatalities or shootings of unarmed persons.

– Have a well-defined plan and timetable for improving local policing practices.


DEVELOPMENT #2: The American Medical Association recognizes racism as a public health threat

We’ve known for years that racism is associated with several negative outcomes including high blood pressure and increased inflammation and that Black women are particularly vulnerable during pregnancy due to racism in the health care system.

According to The National Partnership for Women and Families, Black women are three times more likely to have fibroids that can lead to post-partum hemorrhaging when compared to white women. Black women are also more likely to present signs of preeclampsia earlier in pregnancy than white women, a condition that can be lethal if left untreated.

In November, the American Medical Association (finally) acknowledged racism as a public health threat and committed “to actively work on dismantling racist policies and practices across all of health care.”

The policy update follows a June declaration by the AMA acknowledging the health consequences of police brutality. In that statement, it pledged to confront systemic racism.

“The AMA recognizes that racism negatively impacts and exacerbates health inequities among historically marginalized communities. Without systemic and structural-level change, health inequities will continue to exist, and the overall health of the nation will suffer,” AMA Board Member Willarda V. Edwards, M.D., M.B.A., said in a statement.

RELATED: Here’s how racism damages health

“As physicians and leaders in medicine, we are committed to optimal health for all and are working to ensure all people and communities reach their full health potential. Declaring racism as an urgent public health threat is a step in the right direction toward advancing equity in medicine and public health while creating pathways for truth, healing, and reconciliation.” 

It isn’t the first AMA policy to call for an end to health disparities, but it is the first to acknowledge the role systemic racism plays in creating health inequities.

DEVELOPMENT #3: The 2021 Fortune 500 list will allow users to sort and rank a company based on diversity data

The 2021 Fortune 500 list will include companies’ self-reported diversity, equity, and inclusion data (DEI), which users will be able to sort and rank, the publication announced in an October 26 press release.

As Fortune notes, the DEI findings will likely highlight a lack of corporate diversity. That shouldn’t come as a surprise: despite many companies citing DEI as important, a September 16 report from Forrester finds several organizations have “consistently failed” to make it a priority.

Recently, some industry leaders — including Starbucks, Facebook, and Uber — have begun tying DEI goals to executive performance reviews, a practice that’s currently in place at an estimated 15 to 20 per cent of S&P 500 companies.

“Companies frequently make commitments about diversity and inclusion, and about rethinking who rises and who leads in their workplaces,” Fortune said in a statement.

“But very few companies report metrics on how well they’re executing on these commitments. The corporate world desperately needs public disclosure of such measurements, which will help companies set benchmarks, encourage high-performing companies to reach higher, and prompt companies lagging in these areas to step up.”

Fortune CEO Alan Murray said the initiative is important, because “what gets measured gets managed.”

“Until companies commit to measuring and disclosing their diversity data, it will be hard to make progress,” he added.

DEVELOPMENT #4: The National Realtor Association apologizes for enabling systemic racism

Redlining — the racist practice in which insurance companies, banks, mortgage lenders, and federal and local governments refuse to do business with homeowners in minority-led communities — is a big problem in Canada and the U.S.

It creates a cycle of exclusion by marking minority-led communities as “undesirable” — steering away potential developers, businesses, and other valuable urban resources that provide children with tools that help them to thrive physically, mentally, and academically.

In November, the U.S. National Association of Realtors (NAR) issued a formal apology for its contribution to “racial inequity and segregation in housing.”

In a virtual fair-housing summit hosted by NAR, president Charlie Oppler called redlining and “outrage” and “shameful”.

“What Realtors did was an outrage to our morals and our ideals,” Oppler said.

“We can’t go back to fix the mistakes of the past, but we can look at this problem squarely in the eye. And, on behalf of our industry, we can say that what Realtors did was shameful, and we are sorry.”

According to Bloomberg, the apology represents the first time the 1.4 million-member association has acknowledged the role it played in upholding racist structures.


In 1968, NAR initially opposed the Fair Housing Act and allowed the exclusion of members based on race or gender. 

“This discrimination was part of a systematic policy of residential racial segregation, led by the federal government and supported by America’s banking system and real estate industry, and driven by practices like redlining,” NAR says in a statement.

According to U.S. Census data, about 46.4 per cent of Black Americans owned a home in the U.S. as of September 30, compared to 75.8 per cent of white Americans.

“You can see in our neighborhoods the imprints of redlining from 80 years ago,” NAR Director of Fair Housing Bryan Greene said at the summit.

“Many of these discriminatory practices denied the opportunities for families to pass on wealth. We see that white Americans own 10 times the wealth of African-Americans.”

NAR says it has implemented a fair housing program called ACT, which will “lead in the fight against housing discrimination.” The association also pledged to work alongside national groups to address the persistently low rates of homeownership among Black Americans.

and last but definitely not least:

INCREDIBLE DEVELOPMENT #5: The #BlackinX movement blessed our timelines

The past few months also brought us the #BlackInSTEM or #BlackinX era, which has seen numerous grassroots social media initiatives celebrating Black scientists in various areas of expertise — gracing social media with an abundance of knowledge, inspiration, and all-round excellence.

The inaugural event kicked off on May 31 with Black Birders Week, designed to highlight Black nature enthusiasts while discussing the unique challenges they face in the field.

It received worldwide recognition and was created in response to the Central Park birdwatching incident and ongoing police brutality against Black Americans.

Several awe-inspiring, high-profile celebratory weeks have followed, including #BlackinPhysics#BlackinChem#BlackinGenetics#BlackinNeuro#BlackinMicro#BlackinEngineering, and many more (an onoing calendar is being maintained at the Black in Neuro website).

There has also been a rise in disability awareness in STEM fields, powered by social media accounts like Disabled in Higher Ed.

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