The Unwritten Laws of Physics for Black Women

I just wanted to be a scientist, not a trailblazer. But in my field, people like me are anomalies—and we face constant scrutiny for our race and gender.

AT THE ENTRANCE to my lab’s clean room, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror: I look like a clown. I’m drowning in a disposable coverall that hangs off of me in droopy folds, and my size 7½ feet are swallowed up by the smallest rubber boots the lab had on hand—a men’s size 12. The thick mass of curls framing my face only accentuates the caricature.

Reaching for the box of hairnets perched on a nearby counter, I fish out a thin, papery cap with a sigh. How the hell is this going to fit over my fro? I flatten my roots and tie my hair into the tightest bun I can muscle. Stretched as far as it’ll go, the hairnet only covers the back of my head. I position another over my forehead and a third to straddle the middle. Has no physicist here ever been a woman or had to contend with hair like mine? With effort, I tug the hood of my coverall over the hairnets. The taut fabric rustles loudly in my ears as I open the door to join my peers.

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