Hey, Saturday Night Live: I’m a Black Woman. Why Did You Turn Me into a Man?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
April 2 2014 12:20 PM

Hey, Saturday Night Live: I’m a Black Woman. Why Did You Turn Me into a Man?

This post originally appeared in Skepchick.

Last week, the American Chemical Society’s Reactions podcast released a video called “Zombie Apocalypse Survival Chemistry,” which featured yours truly talking about two of my favorite topics: chemistry and zombies. Because everybody loves chemistry and zombies, or because The Walking Dead was wrapping up its season, this video got a bit of media attention. Even the folks at Saturday Night Live noticed, mentioning zombie chemistry on the most recent Weekend Update. Here’s the SNL joke:

A chemistry grad student in Nebraska is creating a new perfume he calls Eau de Death, which mimics the smell of decaying flesh so people can avoid being eaten by zombies. Meanwhile, his professor is creating a new grade he calls “F minus.”
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I would like to speak directly to SNL for a moment: SNL, I like this joke; it was well-delivered and got some laughs. However …

  • You made me into a male graduate student. I am a female postdoctoral research fellow and a member of the teaching faculty at my institution. Truth be told, I’m a bit of a magical unicorn, so it’s odd you did not notice that. “Magical unicorn,” you say? I am a black female chemistry Ph.D. But as I said on Twitter, SNL doesn’t have the best track record with black women, so … oh snap!
  • You made my boss—a tenured professor and principle investigator—a man. She is not a man. Yes, Virginia, there are lady scientists! Oh, and she loved the video, so no “F minus” for me! Like a lot of scientists, my boss is passionate about outreach. Talking about the science of sci-fi is one way to get people interested in science.
  • I did not invent a perfume, which will also come as a shock to the Daily Mail. In the ACS Reactions video, I just talked about a “death cologne”—a bit of a thought experiment, if you will. Like a lot of other organisms, we could use chemical camouflage (“Eau de Death”) to evade a predator. Sure, the predator in question is a zombie, but whatevs. Science is a way to look at the world, a way to solve problems—even fake, silly problems like a zombie apocalypse.

In the future, SNL, if I’m ever sorta the punchline of a joke, could you just use my true identity? Unless the joke involves hookers and blow. For those jokes, please use my male grad student cover.

Correction, April 2, 2014: Due to an editing error, the headline of this post originally stated that a Saturday Night Live sketch turned the author into a white man. when it just turned her into a man.

Raychelle Burks is a postdoctoral research associate in chemistry at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, and the Center for Nanohybrid Functional Materials at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Her views do not represent the views of her employer.