Society / The Week in Review / World News

What Did I Miss? The Week in Review #14

8 – 15 June 2015

The Week in Review is a weekly column that highlights some interesting, outraging, and heartwarming events and stories of the past week. Its ambition is not to be exhaustive or to recap major political events; it’s more of a personal take on news or stories that made the author react strongly.

by Marie Baleo

Outraging News of the Week

rachel dolezal before after black white

Left: a teenage Rachel Dolezal. Right: a recent photograph. Image via Twitter

By now, everyone has heard of the Rachel Dolezal scandal which took over the Internet on June 11th. Dolezal is a Howard University graduate and the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)’s Spokane chapter. On her social media accounts, she reflects on watching “12 Years a Slave” as an African-American woman and proudly announces, by way of a selfie, that she has finally let her curly hair go natural. As a Black woman, she is a vocal advocate for minority rights, who also teaches several classes in Africana / African-American Studies at Eastern Washington University.

Except Dolezal is not actually a Black woman. As revealed by her distraught parents in an interview, Rachel Dolezal is actually Caucasian, a former freckle-faced, straight-haired blond teenager of German, Swedish, and Czech origins. According to her parents, Rachel Dolezal began presenting herself as a Black woman in 2007, perming and dyeing her hair and using self-tanner. Dolezal also presented an African-American man as her father, and her (Black) adopted brother as her own son.

Over the years, Dolezal shared memories of her childhood spent hunting for food with her family and living in a teepee, claimed to have been the target of no less than nine hate crimes, and notably to have found a noose hanging in front of her house. She used the pronoun “we” to speak of Black women’s experiences. On June 12th, asked if she would identify as African-American, Dolezal responded “I prefer Black, and I would say that if, you know, I was asked, I would definitely say that yes I do consider myself to be black”.

In short, Dolezal lied, lied, and lied some more, all the while appropriating a culture which was not hers, without ever having to experience the oppression and discrimination that come with being Black in the United States. Many have surprisingly excused Dolezal’s behavior, arguing that if Bruce Jenner is allowed to become Caitlyn Jenner, then Dolezal, who has been presented by some as “transracial”, may well be considered Black just because she “feels Black”. (This remarkably fails to explain how one can know what “feeling Black” is if one is not, in fact, Black.) While we have yet to learn more about Dolezal’s story, it is hard to imagine what new pieces of information could render appropriating Black culture after swimming in white privilege for one’s entire existence, and essentially wearing blackface for 8 years, a less heinous behavior.

Best read of the week

googleplex thimas heatherwick bjarke ingels

A possible design for the Googleplex annex, by Thomas Heatherwick and Bjarke Ingels. Image © Google via The New Yorker.

This week, in “Google’s Monastic Vision for the Future of Work”, the New Yorker gives us a close look at the Californian giant’s projects for its Mountain View headquarters. Unlike Microsoft or Apple, Google’s initial strategy consisted in leasing and remodeling the previous property of other companies, rather than building new facilities. Now Google is planning on building an annex to the already sprawling campus, but its plans for the Googleplex are hampered by the Mountain View City Council.

The New Yorker writes that:

Today, Google’s architectural per-Plexity offers certain windows onto Silicon Valley’s changing ideas about work culture and corporate community, a blend of workplace flexibility and intellectual hermeticism. If the Valley has a premise these days, it is that anything is possible—as long as there are generous resources and no interventions from outside.

Read the whole story here.

Ridiculous news of the week

tim hunt nobel laureate

Tim Hunt in 2001. Image © Johnny Green/PA

Every week brings its share of sexist news and heated controversy, and last week did not fail to deliver, thanks to Nobel Laureate Tim Hunt’s comments on women in science.

The University College London professor and biochemist said, to science journalists in Korea: “Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry.”

Hunt has since resigned from his university position and explained that the comments were intended as a joke, but the humor was lost on most observers, and the Twitterverse brought its own contribution to the debate, when female scientists decided to respond to Hunt’s comments: behold, the #DistractinglySexy hashtag.

Incidents such as these are hopefully teaching us to recognize and denounce sexism in seemingly humorous or benign comments.

Read more in Time Magazine.

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