A resurfaced blackface photo wasn’t enough to get Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam fired, but a medical researcher was forced out of her senior vice president position last month after dressing up as Michael Jackson for Halloween in 2009.
Dr. Julie Overbaugh was an award-winning senior vice president at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (“Fred Hutch”) and a faculty member at the University of Washington Medical Center. She’s known for her research on HIV in Kenya. But her career is being ruined over a costume.
Nearly 13 years ago, Overbaugh attended the party at a lab at Fred Hutch. The theme of the party was Jackson’s album “Thriller.” But after a photo of her costume was anonymously emailed to senior leadership at the University of Washington, UW Medicine, and Fred Hutch, she’s been forced to undergo “an intensive education process.”
Wokescolds ‘Harmed’ by a Halloween Costume
The photo immediately triggered an internal investigation at Fred Hutch, where she was placed on administrative leave.
Fred Hutch released a statement labeling the costume “racist.” The institution offered “our sincere apologies to anyone who has experienced pain or upset because of the act or this photo.”
Though the incident didn’t occur at UW Medicine, its CEO and equity officer also waded into the faux controversy. UW Medicine CEO Dr. Paul Ramsey and Chief Equity Officer Paula Houston notified UW Medicine staff in an email that Overbaugh was punished for engaging in the “racist, dehumanizing, and abhorrent act” of “blackface.” During a separate formal review process for UW faculty, the email confirmed, Overbaugh resigned from her UW affiliate faculty member appointment.
Overbaugh released a short statement to me. “I did not know the association of this with blackface at the time, in 2009, but understand the offense that is associated with this now,” she said. “I have apologized for this both publicly and privately and beyond that have no other comments.”
Ramsey and Houston claim that the UW Medicine community was “harmed” by the 13-year-old photo that most staff didn’t know existed until reading about it in the Feb. 25 email. “We acknowledge that our community has been harmed by this incident and the fact that 13 years elapsed before action was taken,” they wrote. “We are convening a series of affinity group meetings in the next few weeks to provide spaces for mutual support, reflection, and response.”
Neither Ramsey nor Houston explained how the photo “harmed” anyone. Indeed, beyond one confirmed complaint, it’s unclear if anyone even cared about the old photo.
UW Promotes Anonymous Snitching Tool
In their staff email, Ramsey and Houston acknowledged this isn’t really their business. Not directly, at least. They wrote that they “recognize that this particular incident was largely handled administratively at another institution.” But they wanted to involve themselves because, “we at UW Medicine are not immune and know that such incidents could, and probably have happened here, and may have gone unreported or met with under-response or silence.”
If someone did wear a Halloween costume 13 years ago that was only recently deemed offensive, Ramsey and Houston “assume that fear of retaliation or inaction are significant barriers to the reporting of racist behaviors.”
Consequently, UW Medicine is making it easier to feign victimhood or offense. They’re asking community members to use their bias reporting tool to report on people who hold “bigoted beliefs” by progressive political standards.
“Reporting can include a variety of concerns ranging from one-time micro-aggressions to more severe and sustained behavior. We are committed to responding to these events and continuing to improve our climate,” the tool’s website reads. These reports can be made anonymously, and ensure the faux-aggrieved can make life hell for coworkers who hold different positions than they do on all sorts of issues.
Wokeness > Curing Deadly Diseases
UW Medicine is committed to being an anti-racist institution, Ramsey and Houston said. And they’ll use this incident to push their values forward for the greater good.
“We are in the process of training and educating our workforce and leaders to recognize and respond to acts of racism, such as dressing in blackface, as well as the myriad of subtle acts of bias that occur every day, and to understand that these acts produce stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, and feelings of isolation and exclusion for members of our community,” Ramsey and Houston wrote. “Racism doesn’t just negatively affect our Black and brown communities; it harms all of us.”
UW Medicine is lashing out against Overbaugh to show its wokeness and earn social currency. That UW Medicine is helping to ruin a woman who devoted her career to finding a cure for HIV is immaterial to its leaders. To progressive activists, highlighting one’s virtues is more important than curing a deadly disease.