A top scientist who has devoted her career to finding a cure for HIV is getting canceled because, 13 years ago, she dressed as Michael Jackson to a Halloween party.
Julie Overbaugh was forced out of her leadership position at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and resigned from her faculty affiliate positions that the University of Washington School of Medicine over the photo, The College Fix reported.
“A picture of the 13-year-old incident, in which she is accused of wearing ‘blackface,’ has prompted peers to accuse her of racism despite the fact that her research has focused on aiding Africans for the last three decades,” the outlet reported.
The lab where Overbaugh worked always attend a themed Halloween party. In 2009, the theme was “Thriller,” named after Jackson’s famous album. Other years saw members of the lab dressed as emojis or fish. The photo from 2009 is now missing from a website that commemorates the parties.
Overbaugh was placed on administrative leave and an investigation was opened in mid-February, according to the research center. The center also released a statement saying “The act depicted in the photo is racist, offensive and hurtful, and we offer our sincere apologies to anyone who has experienced pain or upset because of the act or this photo.”
As The Federalist noted, the incident didn’t occur at UW Medicine, yet its CEO Dr. Paul Ramsey and Equity Officer Paula Houston sent an email to staff announcing Overbaugh’s punishment for the “racist, dehumanizing, and abhorrent act” of “blackface.”
“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,’” the Federalist reported. “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.”
Journalist Jesse Singal noted how Overbaugh “is having her reputation and career incinerated because she dressed up as Michael Jackson, in blackface, once in 2009.”
“Just to situate everyone, the event in question happened several years before the most recent instance of 30 Rock airing blackface-oriented comedy to tens of millions of people. What she did was a bad idea but at the time was obviously not seen as too risque even for network TV,” Singal added.
Overbaugh released a statement regarding the situation.
“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, according to the Fix. “I have apologized for this both publicly and privately and beyond that have no other comments.”
It should be noted that former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, was able to keep his job and keep his status in political circles even after it was discovered he appeared in blackface or a KKK hood while in medical school. Northam also admitted to darkening his face once for a Michael Jackson costume.