New York magazine has a new Anthony Weiner profile by Mark Jacobson. Somepeople are already giggling at what appears to be the writer's crush on Huma Abedin, Weiner's wife. Given that Abedin is strikingly lovely in every photo that's been circulated of her, that hardly seems all that noteworthy. But that's not to say there's nothing worth noting about the profile's descriptions of Abedin. Let's take a look at one of the paragraphs Isaac Chotiner at The New Republic highlighted as one of the "silliest/creepiest tidbits":
She approached in a knit white top and navy-blue business skirt, her dark, almost black hair down to her shoulders. She wore bright-red lipstick, which gave her lips a 3-D look, her brown eyes were pools of empathy evolved through a thousand generations of what was good and decent in the history of the human race. The harsh, cheap buck lighting in the coffee shop couldn't lay a glove on her. By the time she sat down, the harmony of angels had vanquished the tinny background music from every corporate space on the planet. Of course, you'd seen pictures before. But you'd also seen pictures of the Taj Mahal. It didn't quite come up to actually being there.
Hold it right there. I hate to join the Internet outrage machine, but my problem with this paragraph has nothing to do with whether or not Jacobson is attracted to Abedin. (Who cares, and who isn't?)
My problem is that Jacobson couldn't have written a better paragraph to illustrate what's known as "orientalism" if he had tried. This reads like someone is trying to troll Edward Said.
Let's start with the red flag that should have alerted the editors that a little more work was needed here: comparing Abedin to the Taj Mahal, the icon of Indo-Islamic architecture. (Abedin is a Muslim whose parents were born in India and in Pakistan.)
First, this is crude. As an editorial matter, you probably want to strike out comparisons of Brigitte Bardot to the Eiffel Tower (for example) on your daily cliché watch. Second, though, in terms of racial sensitivity, this is less like comparing Bardot to the Eiffel Tower than comparing Tyra Banks to the Serengeti. As great as it may sound in the mind of a sleep-deprived writer on deadline, it should never, ever make it to print.
This is a tricky point to make delicately, because it's certainly true that there's a lot of manufactured indignation on the web, and I'm not convinced that much good comes from examining every written word in search of the politically incorrect just to have something to talk about. But that isn't a reason to ignore harmful stereotypes -- and what's remarkable about this particular paragraph of stereotyping is that people are not calling it out ... possibly because Internet sensitivity isn't set equally high for all ethnic categories.
Because I was an equal-opportunity skimmer of reading assignments in college, I never had much time for Said, just as I never had much time for Adam Smith. But somewhere along the line, probably while listening to female friends of South Asian extraction talk about feeling exoticized by American men they were trying to date, something sank in.
At the heart of Said's critique of Western treatment of the "Orient" is the observation that even romanticizing something is a way of diminishing it, rendering it two-dimensional. "Orientalism," according to the postcolonialists, is about emphasizing the differences between East and West, exoticizing them, seeing one, for example, as spiritual and the other as material: "By the time she sat down, the harmony of angels had vanquished the tinny background music from every corporate space on the planet." Or seeing one as ancient and the other as modern: "her brown eyes were pools of empathy evolved through a thousand generations of what was good and decent in the history of the human race." In fact, Said was particularly cognizant of the way these trends manifested in Western perceptions of Eastern, Muslim women, in part because he felt the sexualization of the Orient was vital to Western justification for imperialism: the East was a female sex object ready for Western male penetration--the veil was made to be removed. Completely unintentionally, this paragraph, with its joint focus on Abedin's beauty and her otherness, is a classic of the genre.
Don't giggle at Jacobson for admiring Huma Abedin, and don't shame him for resorting to handy cultural references when trying to communicate with his readers, either. As a time-pressed editor myself, I'm reluctant to trash-talk editors every time something slips by. But this was a print profile, not a 20-minute or even two-hour post on the website. Next time, catch this. A paragraph like this has no business in a serious magazine. It certainly has no place in a piece seeking to illuminate a civic choice the voters of New York City will make at the polls this November.
Freddie Gray's death on April 19 leaves many unanswered questions. But it is clear that when Gray was arrested in West Baltimore on the morning of April 12, he was struggling to walk. By the time he arrived at the police station a half hour later, he was unable to breathe or talk, suffering from wounds that would kill him.*
Gray died Sunday from spinal injuries. Baltimore authorities say they're investigating how the 25-year-old was hurt—a somewhat perverse notion, given that it was while he was in police custody, and hidden from public view, that he apparently suffered injury. How it happened remains unknown. It's even difficult to understand why officers arrested Gray in the first place. But with protestors taking to the streets of Baltimore since Gray's death on Sunday, the incident falls into a line of highly publicized, fatal encounters between black men and the police. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, a reserve sheriff's deputy in Tulsa, Oklahoma, pleaded not guilty to a second-degree manslaughter charge in the death of a man he shot. The deputy says the shooting happened while he was trying to tase the man. Black men dying at the hands of the police is of course nothing new, but the nation is now paying attention and getting outraged.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
In her new book No One Understands You and What To Do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson tells readers a story about her friend, Tim. When Tim started a new job as a manager, one of his top priorities was communicating to his team that he valued each member’s input. So at team meetings, as each member spoke up about whatever project they were working on, Tim made sure he put on his “active-listening face” to signal that he cared about what each person was saying.
But after meeting with him a few times, Tim’s team got a very different message from the one he intended to send. “After a few weeks of meetings,” Halvorson explains, “one team member finally summoned up the courage to ask him the question that had been on everyone’s mind.” That question was: “Tim, are you angry with us right now?” When Tim explained that he wasn’t at all angry—that he was just putting on his “active-listening face”—his colleague gently explained that his active-listening face looked a lot like his angry face.
Four hours after learning about Saturday's devastating earthquake in Nepal, I received a Facebook notification I had never seen before: Sonia, a journalist friend based in northern India, was "marked safe." An hour later, the same notification about a different friend popped up. Then another. Soon, several of my friends wrote that they, too, had learned via this strange new notification that their friends in Nepal were okay.
A few hours later, the mystery was solved. On Saturday afternoon, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on his timeline that the notifications came from Safety Check, a service the company launched last fall. "When disasters happen, people need to know their loved ones are safe," he wrote, "It's moments like this that being able to connect really matters."
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal early on Saturday, centered 10 miles below the surface, less than 50 miles from the capital of Kathmandu. At least 1,100 are already reported to have been killed by the quake and subsequent avalanches triggered in the Himalayas. Historic buildings and temples were destroyed, leaving massive piles of debris in streets as rescue workers and neighbors work to find and help those still trapped beneath rubble. Below are images from the region of the immediate aftermath of one of the most powerful earthquakes to strike Nepal in decades. (Editor's note, some of the images are graphic in nature.)
Today was the latest installment of the never-ending Clinton scandal saga, but it won’t be the last. Yet in some ways, the specifics are a distraction. The sale of access was designed into the post-2001 Clinton family finances from the start. Probably nobody will ever prove that this quid led to that quo … but there’s about a quarter-billion-dollar of quid heaped in plain sight and an equally impressive pile of quo, and it’s all been visible for years to anyone who cared to notice. As Jonathan Chait, who is no right-wing noise-machine operator, complained: “The Clintons have been disorganized and greedy.”
“All of this amounts to diddly-squat,” pronounced long-time Clinton associate James Carville when news broke that Hillary Clinton had erased huge numbers of emails. That may not be true: If any of the conduct in question proves illegal, destroying relevant records may also have run afoul of the law.
“People skills” are almost always assumed to be a good thing. Search employment ads and you will find them listed as a qualification for a startling array of jobs, including Applebee’s host, weight-loss specialist, CEO, shoe salesperson, and (no joke) animal-care coordinator. The notion that people smarts might help you succeed got a boost a quarter century ago, when the phrase emotional intelligence, or EI, entered the mainstream. Coined in a 1990 study, the term was popularized by Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book . Since then, scores of researchers have shown how being in touch with feelings—both your own and other people’s—gives you an edge: compared with people who have average EI, those with high EI do better at work, have fewer health problems,and report greater life satisfaction.
After more than a year of rumors and speculation, Bruce Jenner publicly came out as transgender with four simple words: “I am a woman.”
“My brain is much more female than male,” he explained to Diane Sawyer, who conducted a prime-time interview with Jenner on ABC Friday night. (Jenner indicated he prefers to be addressed with male pronouns at this time.) During the two-hour program, Jenner discussed his personal struggle with gender dysphoria and personal identity, how they shaped his past and current relationships and marriages, and how he finally told his family about his gender identity.
During the interview, Sawyer made a conspicuous point of discussing broadly unfamiliar ideas about gender and sexuality to its audience. It didn't always go smoothly; her questions occasionally came off as awkward and tone-deaf. But she showed no lack of empathy.
There is a tendency, when examining police shootings, to focus on tactics at the expense of strategy. One interrogates the actions of the officer in the moment trying to discern their mind-state. We ask ourselves, "Were they justified in shooting?" But, in this time of heightened concern around the policing, a more essential question might be, "Were we justified in sending them?" At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. Vexing social problems—homelessness, drug use, the inability to support one's children, mental illness—are presently solved by sending in men and women who specialize in inspiring fear and ensuring compliance. Fear and compliance have their place, but it can't be every place.