The Internet Is Exploding: 10 Must-Read Articles This Week 2/13

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Red is the Color of Valentines Day

Damn. My Instagram was hacked last weekend so it has been a WEEK on the internet for me! Mostly, I’ve enjoyed the break from Instagram and spent a lot of time on Twitter. As of Saturday afternoon, the Canadian border blockade is dispersing and tensions in Ukraine continue. Highlights: Harvard and abuse in academia, Twitter, Betty Davis and Black psychedelia, Jazmine Sullivan, the transatlantic slave trade, freeing Washington’s last orca, Kiese Laymon, friendship, and Awkwafina. 



1. The Boston Globe: Three graduate students file sexual harassment suit against prominent Harvard anthropology professor

This is the story that I’ve been following most closely this past week. On Tuesday, three Harvard graduate students sued the university, “alleging it ignored nearly a decade of sexual harassment and retaliation by a prominent anthropology professor and permitted a system that protects powerful faculty — and the university’s reputation — at students’ expense.” The professor in question, John Comaroff, considered an expert in his field of African and African-American Studies and Anthropology, was already “placed on unpaid leave by the university, a measure it took late last month after its own investigations found the professor violated the school’s sexual harassment and professional conduct policies. The complaint filed Tuesday, however, says the university’s findings, the details of which were not made public, set aside the most egregious allegations against him.”

After Comaroff was initially placed on leave, 38 other tenured professors at the university signed an open letter defending him and “questioning whether his punishment was necessary.” Claudine Gay, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences who sanctioned Comaroff, responded by warning the signatories that they were “operating without a comprehensive understanding of the facts” surrounding the Title IX investigation.

Since the suit made the news, nearly all of the signatories have retracted their signatures. This case is not exclusive to Harvard, of course, and it “raises larger questions about the potential risks of academic hierarchies that are inherently imbalanced, and in which tenured faculty members hold enormous sway over the careers of graduate students they advise.”

Amongst the many egregious allegations in the lawsuit, one of the most striking is that Harvard obtained therapy notes from one of the complainants, Lilia Kilburn, from a therapist outside of the university without Kilburn’s consent. Across Twitter, people in academia are sharing their thoughts on the suit—largely in support of the three students—as well as similar experiences in their own institutions. One Harvard graduate student encapsulated the incestuous nature of the situation, explaining, “our director of graduate studies signed The Letter but we can’t express concern to their boss (our dept chair) bc the dept chair is the dgs’s spouse, and we can’t express concern to the dept chair’s boss (our dean) bc our dean’s spouse signed The Letter.” Professor, essayist, and critic Irina Dumitrescu shared a wonderful thread on why she does not sign group letters unless she has first-hand knowledge of the situation. 


2. Medium: Of Academic Hierarchies and Harassment

Part of the reason I’ve followed this Harvard story so closely is that I’m the only person in my immediate family that is not currently affiliated with a university and it has given me language to contextualize things I’ve experienced in the past two years in grad school. 

While academia is similar to many bureaucratic institutions, it also has a specific logic that “is underwritten by the assumption that retaliation can and will happen.” Within the academy, “there is a blurry line between the manifestations of sexual harassment that are non-sexual — the benevolent intimidation, the professional bullying, the explicit and implicit threats of reputational retaliation that are likely more common and certainly more insidious dimensions of workplace harassment.” As Paula Chakravartty explains in this essay, “while the hierarchy of faculty rank translates to significant power differentials in everyday work life, our senior colleagues are not formally our bosses or our supervisors, which means that there are few channels for reporting when we face workplace harassment that is not expressed sexually.”


3. Wired: It’s Not Your Fault You’re a Jerk on Twitter

My editor (thanks, Rebekah!) sent me this article last week as we discussed my blurb about Whoopi Goldberg. We were talking about how everyone online felt they had to share their opinion about the situation, and many people didn’t have a nuanced understanding of the cultural dynamics or understand that they did not have the skill to have a meaningful conversation. While many thought they were being helpful, most of them were not. 

In this essay (not related to the Goldberg commentary), sociologist Katherine Cross explains that online, “your intent is irrelevant. Even, crucially, if it’s an attempt to defend the person being harassed.” In summarizing her research, Cross defines how a harassment campaign “is marked by three qualities that social media is designed to cultivate almost automatically: crowdsourcing, organization, and longevity.” 

Sometimes lasting weeks, the discourse is sustained by “a structure that can best be visualized as an inverted pyramid, bearing down on an often helpless individual target, in descending degrees of severity. What I term first and second order harassment is the abuse you’re most likely familiar with, from the violence of swatting someone to the casual cruelty of abusing someone through a tweet or email or TikTok directed at them.” However, the kind of harassment most of us partake in is of the third order: “not hacking the target or engaging with them to spew abuse—rather, it describes the simple act of commenting on the situation. It is the enabling, apologism, and justificatory discourse about the target that ensures most people participating feel as if they’re doing the right thing and makes more overt and intense forms of harassment possible.”

I’m glad my editor sent this to me—especially as I’ve been spending more time on Twitter!


4. New York Times Style Magazine: The Radical Experiment of Black Psychedelia 

Betty Davis, a pioneer of funk, died on Wednesday. She was 77. Emily Lordi spoke with Davis last fall (one of the singer’s last interviews) for this essay on how “Black psychedelics were testing and extending the contours of Black art and community.” Lordi writes, Davis never identified with psychedelic culture. But what the cultural critic Greg Tate wrote about Hendrix was true of her, as well: She was ‘part of a group of experimental pop musicians who … refused membership in anybody’s camp but that of musicians,’ a defiance of social or stylistic constraints that typified the psychedelic ethos.” 


5. YouTube: Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales Mo’ Tales

I’ve been thinking about this album since January 9, 2021, when Jazmine Sullivan told Twitter, “What I would love is if me and @IssaRae did a heauxtales short film and I’d add a few extra songs. But I could just be dreaming. Nvm me.. I’m crazy🤪.” In response, Rae simply stated, “Jazmine. Say the fuck less.” 

While we have yet to get a short film, this deluxe version of Sullivan’s Heaux Tales does feature a tale, or interlude, with Rae discussing a man she was interested in that just, in her words, “pumped me and dumped me… I’m so glad I was cheating on him.” In addition to Rae’s tale, this album includes other tales and notably a “Breaux’s Tale,” a tale by a man, among other songs. 



6. National Geographic: Into the Depths

Diving with a Purpose is an organization “that trains divers to find and conserve historical and cultural artifacts buried deep in the waters” that were part of the transatlantic slave trade. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, “an estimated 12.5 million Africans were forced onto ships,” and an estimated 1.8 million died along the way. 

“It is time for their stories to rise from the depths, to be told in their fullness, in their wonder—and with love, with honor, with respect. Finally helping heal a wound that has festered for far too long,” writes diver and storyteller Tara Roberts. “That is the dream. That is the promise. That is the possibility of this work, of this watery resurrection that DWP has taken on.”

Roberts embarked on this journey, she “thought this search for slave ships might be hard. I thought I would need hands holding mine, rubbing my back, consoling my tears and my heartache. Instead I found strength. And power. And adventure. And camaraderie. I found laughter. Love. Life. Kinship. I found something strong and necessary to root and ground me.”


7. Seattle Met: The Race to Free Washington’s Last Orca in Captivity

This story is supremely sad to read. Captured in a mass abduction of calves—all of whom should have lived decades—a whale renamed Lolita is the only one that survived. Washington state’s last captive orca, she has lived in Miami since 1970: “a whale weaned on voluminous Northwest waters has performed for gawking tourists in the country’s smallest orca tank.” 

There have been numerous campaigns to free Lolita over the years, although none were led by the Lummi, stewards of the Salish Sea, where Lolita was taken. The Lummi know the whales “as qwe ’lhol mechen, or, loosely, ‘our relations below the waves,’ through stories passed down by elders.” Since 2017, the Orca Network and Lummi Nation have worked together to free Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut, her proper Lummi name. After recent news of her ill health, the fight has become even more urgent. 


8. Literary Hub: Kiese Laymon on Revision as Love, and Love as Revision

Novelist Kiese Laymon was interviewed by Jordan Kisner for Thresholds, a Literary Hub “series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write.” 

Recently I’ve struggled with the word “love” and what it means to me. Hearing Laymon say that “love is such a scary word for me as a writer because it’s the most spectacle-laden word that I think we have” resonated so deeply with my apprehensions of the word. And his extension of love to revision hit me like a ton of bricks as I’ve spent the past few weeks rereading old essays, missing the person I used to be. “Love necessitates revisitation. How do you love some shit that you don’t go back to? When I’ve been in relationships with people who I loved, I wanted to see and hear and feel them again. It wasn’t like, I love them and the memory carried and that was enough.” 

I’m trying to get back to who I used to be, because the memory of who I used to be isn’t enough. 


9. The Atlantic: It’s Your Friends Who Break Your Heart

My heart has been broken by friends many times. For a while now, I have intentionally been highly invested in my friendships. Friendships are the relationships I cultivate most actively. I take special care to do this as they differ from romantic relationships, family, or marriage in that friendships are not bound “by blood, sex, or law.” Friendship is, therefore, both “fragile” and “special,” Jennifer Senior writes: “You have to continually opt in. That you choose it is what gives it its value.”

While the frame of this essay is the reevaluation of friendships during midlife, it echoes much of what I’ve decided in my early adulthood: to value friendship as much as any other form of relationship. This isn’t to say that I don’t value other ways of being in relation, or that I’m under the false assumption that all of my friendships will last forever. It simply means that friendship makes sense and feels comfortable and rewarding to me in ways that other forms of relationship do not. And I’m going to honor that. 


10. Twitter: Awkwafina

Awkwafina really just doesn’t understand. After YEARS of criticism over her blaccent and appropriation of Black culture, the Asian-American actor and erstwhile rapper released a wack non-apology about her use of AAVE to gain notoriety. People were not impressed, and some posted screenshots of the comedian liking tweets by people expressing that she doesn’t need to explain herself. Furthermore, shortly after tweeting this statement, Awkwafina announced that, at the behest of her therapist, she would be leaving Twitter for a few years. I fully support Awkwafina and others taking a break from or leaving social media. However, it all just seems as though she is not willing to take accountability for her actions. 


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