Ethnographic fragments #13: henna, Syria and the Muslim ban, the bros of UC Berkeley IT, teenage Joan of Arc threatens French identity, a hunger strike at a UK deportation center, and hard facts on black lives in America

henna, Syria, and the Muslim ban


“The night the United States launches fifty Tomahawk missiles on the Syrian Shayrat airbase near Homs, I am washing henna and indigo out of my hair. The tub is splashed with tourmaline blue, speckled like the delicate markings on a sparrow’s egg, and from the living room I can hear the newscasters referring to margin of error, airpower, and the “perils of the region.” The water runs down the drain.

When I was little, I used to pore over the photo albums of my parents’ wedding and their honeymoon in Syria, tracing the shots of my cousins and aunts and great-grandparents lined up in the courtyard for family photos, dozens of demitasses of Turkish coffee and laughter over backgammon. How young and strong my father still looked in the eighties, fifteen years before the doctors saw a constellation of powdered glass strewn across the wide basin of his lungs.

The reporter drones on, and the night bursts open on the other side of the world. I squeeze the last of the muddy water from my hair, riming my fingernails with blue …”

The beginning of Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar‘s stunningly beautiful, sad, and angry essay in the Paris Review on being the child of Syrian immigrants, born in America.


the bros of UC Berkeley IT



“… the red flags started to pop up almost immediately. Even before she started. Several of her soon-to-be coworkers suggested her mid-day interview be moved to a restaurant where they could get beer. It was a preview of a culture where employees would go out drinking every night, which lead to hostile treatment of women if they went, and ostracization if they didn’t, according to multiple sources, including three of the women who worked at EEI, Sarah Fernandez, Zoey Lin, and [Vanessa] Kaskiris …

They were belittled, the men rolled their eyes and texted when they talked in meetings, they were criticized for not being “technical” enough, they were kept off the most challenging and high profile projects, stuck with the work that no one else wanted to, saddled with marketing and PR work. There were jokes about periods and childbirth. When Fernandez had made her case that she deserved a raise, the men in the team found out about it and ostracized her, refusing to sit on the same side of table with her in meetings. Men sabotaged these women’s work by refusing to grant them technical permissions, or putting up other roadblocks. They were called names like “little girl” if they were too feminine or criticized for having “too much testosterone” if they tried to be one of the guys …”

Kaskiris took them to Berkeley’s Office for Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination, who agreed that the University IT department had “created a hostile work environment, based on gender” in violation of both Berkeley’s own rules and the discrimination protections of the U.S. Department of Education and the Civil Rights Act.

Five days later Kaskiris was laid off “due to mandatory budget cuts.”  A chilling story of sexism at the “home of free speech,” told in all its nasty bro by bro detail by Sarah Lacy.


plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose


“A French state prosecutor has opened an inquiry into incitement to racial hatred after the selection of a mixed-race teenager to play the folk heroine Joan of Arc in annual festivities in Orléans was met with racist abuse from far-right users of social media,” reports the Guardian.  Seventeen-year-old Mathilde Edey Gamassou’s mother is Polish and her father is from Benin.

“Joan of Arc was white,” read one Twitter post. “We are white and proud of being white, don’t change our history.”

Another comment, on the anti-Muslim site Resistance Republicaine, complained: “Next year, Joan of Arc will be in a burqa.”


British values


Dazed & Confused reports: “Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre has long been infamous for its indefinite detention of women seeking asylum in the UK. Since Wednesday, 120 women detained have been on hunger strike to protest the issues they say they are facing – from the “detention of people who came to the UK as children” to “systematic torture”.

A Home Office spokesperson told The Independent: “Detention and removal are essential parts of effective immigration controls, especially in support for the removal of those with no lawful basis to stay in the UK.

“We take the welfare of our detainees very seriously and any detainees who choose to refuse food and fluid are closely monitored by on site healthcare professionals.”

Asked what he thought of western civilization, Mahatma Gandhi is said to have responded “I think it would be a good idea.”



hard facts


Cabrini Green housing project, photo from Halley Miglietta, Ceilings of Oppressions series

“Fifty years after the historic Kerner Commission identified ‘white racism’ as the key cause of ‘pervasive discrimination in employment, education and housing,'” writes Tracy Jan in the Washington Post, “there has been no progress in how African Americans fare in comparison to whites when it comes to homeownership, unemployment and incarceration, according to a report released Monday by the Economic Policy Institute.

In some cases, African Americans are worse off today than they were before the civil rights movement culminated in laws barring housing and voter discrimination, as well as racial segregation …

The share of incarcerated African Americans has nearly tripled between 1968 and 2016 — one of the largest and most depressing developments in the past 50 years, especially for black men, researchers said.  African Americans are 6.4 times as likely than whites to be jailed or imprisoned, compared with 5.4 times as likely in 1968.”

As I said, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

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