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It's overwhelming - I feel like I should be doing so much right now

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It's overwhelming - I feel like I should be doing so much right now

Editor’s note: This story was originally shared on Twitter by Dr. Nikea Pittman. It has been republished here with permission.

I feel like I should be doing so much right now.

As a mom working from home, I should engage my toddler in non-screen time activities. I should give her balanced meals and help her potty train. I try to make up for what’s missing by telling her how much I love her a million times a day. I just hope that’s enough. And I pray for her.

As a daughter and sister I should check on extended family and find ways to stay connected. Because all summer/fall (Christmas?) trips are cancelled right now. I should do this in between my scheduled Zoom meetings and pending deadlines… if only I could setup my calendar exactly the right way.

As a black scientist I should educate my family and community about why we need to stay home and wear masks. Explaining how blacks are disproportionately affected by the virus and how, yes, it seems like we are losing at the fight for life. Again.

As a wife I should support my husband who is an essential worker (no-not-in-a-hospital-kind-of-way) and has been working 12+ hour days while some of his co-workers are being laid off and other sit at home without work to do. I know that I can try harder to find ways to do so, outside of harping on how long he needs to wash his hands when he gets home. So I push myself to work through nights and weekends (to benefit my own career) because those are the only times I’m not responsible for childcare right now. And because he’s a warrior.

As an early career researcher I should be productive during the “down time” of the pandemic. I should also be ready to jump back into lab at a moment’s notice. I should make science “happen” even when it feels like my world is imploding. Some of this is assumed, some of it is my own expectations. But I am clever, right? I can do it.

I tell myself this as my daughter intermittently bangs on my keyboard (the same one I’ve been attempting to use to send an email for the past 2 hours)… in between changing her diaper, pouring milk, and finding that one toy she suddenly can’t do life without. It’s disappeared and I’m trying to remember if it got thrown away (or peed on? Did I put it in the laundry?) and I’m wondering when her memory got to be so good.

But I’m a good scientist and a good mom. I should be able to figure this out. Still, my reality for the past few weeks has been this:

As a black woman, I simply feel like crying over the deaths and injustices experienced by my people every day. My tears swell up unexpectedly in short bursts before I can catch my breath. My daughter is confused and stares silently.

I spend a few seconds sinking into this emotion, shuddering from the reality that the life of a black man/woman/child is not valued the same as my white friends and coworkers. I feel guilty about not speaking up and telling someone… but find that I don’t know where to begin.

Suddenly I realize I have only 5 minutes to prepare for my next Zoom meeting. I fly around the room, my hands fumbling to grab bargaining snacks and toys to pile up beside me. I take a deep breath and pull my 2-year-old in for a squeeze. “Mommy has another meeting for work right now… want to watch Minnie Mouse on my phone?”

Then I appear on the camera with a quiet wave.

“How’s everyone’s day?” someone asks casually. “Okay,” I say. “Let’s get started.”

Here's the Tweet in which Dr. Nikea Pittman shared her experience of being a black scientist in academia: 

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Published on: Jun 05, 2020

Researcher in biochemistry and biophysics
See more from Nikea Pittman


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