Today’s blacklisted American: Renowned cancer researcher fired for wearing Halloween costume 13 years ago

Cancer researcher Julie Overbaugh banned
Cancer researcher Julie Overbaugh blacklisted

The new dark age of silencing: A renowned cancer researcher, virologist Julie Overbaugh, was forced out of positions at both the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington School of Medicine because thirteen years previously she had worn a Michael Jackson Halloween costume at a Hutchinson party themed around the singer’s Thriller album.

The accusations at Washington University were especially absurd, though horribly typical of today’s blacklisting culture:

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. [emphasis mine]

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