How can researchers overcome the problem of racism in science?
For Leslie Chan, an associate professor at the Centre for Critical Development Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough, you begin by addressing how science categorizes things like plants, animals, diseases and sociological issues.
Consider the treatment of the Kenyan vegetable called jute mallow. Its green, fleshy leaves have been eaten in Africa and Asia for at least 2,000 years. High in calcium, potassium, iron, sodium, phosphorus, beta-carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and ascorbic acid, it has long been considered a staple of the Kenyan diet, according to Mary Abukutsa-Onyango, a professor at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
Yet, after more than a decade of research, Abukutsa-Onyango struggled to find an international journal to publish a scientific paper she wrote wrote on jute marrow and other African indigenous vegetables, which she argued could replace global monoculture and be used to address the nation’s problems with child malnutrition, poverty, and food security.
“They didn’t recognize my work, not because it wasn’t good, but because they regarded these plants as weeds,” Abukutsa-Onyango says.
Enter U of T’s Chan. His solution is the Knowledge Equity Lab, which launches this week. The lab, housed at U of T Scarborough’s Centre for Critical Development Studies, is a trans-disciplinary space that seeks to challenge multiple forms of exclusion within the structure of knowledge production and exchange. That includes everything from pushing back against the dominance of the English language in science to learning from Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing.