The XX Factor

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.”

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.