We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—Verily's quick takes on the happenings of this week.
Eight die in Atlanta massage parlor shooting that many say had racist and sexist motives
At least eight people, most of them Asian women, died in the Atlanta area after a man went on a shooting spree at three different massage parlors. The suspect in the violence, Robert Aaron Long, was reportedly fresh out of treatment for sex addiction and told investigators he wanted to eliminate the parlors as a source of temptation.
The “spas” involved are technically not illegal businesses, but some massage parlors offer unadvertised sexual services. Employees at such businesses are almost always Asian women being exploited and fetishized. While some are pushed into trading sex acts for money because of poverty and language barriers, others are enslaved by human and sex traffickers who force them to work to pay off debts, often related to the cost of bringing them to the United States.
Six of the victims in the carnage were Asian, with four hailing from Korea. Activists have identified the shootings as the latest in a rising tide of anti-Asian racism, much of it related to the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in China. But the circumstances of this most recent spasm of violence point to exploitation that predates the spread of the virus. According to a piece in the New York Times, for Asian American women, “racism and sexism have always been inextricably intertwined. For them, racism often takes the form of unwanted sexual come-ons, and sexual harassment is often overtly racist.” USA Today contributor Catherine Chen writes, “My question, particularly as we see a growing awareness about racism against Asian Americans, is why are we as a society ignoring the fact that Black, indigenous, women of color and immigrants are exploited for commercial sex by men who think they have a right to our bodies simply because they pay?”
Dawn Hawkins of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation issued a statement saying, “If allegations prove to be true that the shooter chose his targets because of their connections to illicit massage businesses, then the tragedy of this hateful act is even deeper than it appeared at its horrific face value. Violent crime is far more likely when commercial sex is involved—including brothels fronted as spas and massage businesses—and women of color are disproportionately the targets and victims of that violence.” —Margaret Brady
The border crisis worsens as immigration policy is voted on
There’s a crisis at the southern border. The Biden administration won’t say it, but there’s a bipartisan consensus from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Republican leaders that the U.S. is sorely ill-equipped to handle the influx of migrants, and we’ve got to do something soon. What that something is is where the division comes in.
Since President Biden took office, the U.S. has seen a surge in immigrants attempting to cross the United States-Mexico border illegally. U.S. Customs and Border Protection made 100,441 arrests last month, up 28 percent from January. That number hasn’t been so high in almost two years.
Biden campaigned on providing mass amnesty to immigrants, and the U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday to pass the American Dream and Promise Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants brought here illegally as minors (often known, per an Obama-era policy, as “Dreamers”).
Many of those now attempting to cross the border are unaccompanied minor children, more than 4,000 of which are currently at holding facilities. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would be allowing the facilities to operate at 100 percent capacity, despite the threat of COVID-19, to accommodate the influx of children at the southern border.
Republicans have pointed out that Democrats are no longer complaining about “kids in cages” as they did during the Trump administration, but some Democrats, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have maintained their criticism of U.S. immigration policies. In response to a story about child migrant facilities last month, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay—no matter the administration or party.” —Madeline Fry Schultz
EU countries suspend vaccinations over side-effect fears
The rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations has hit a snag in Europe as more than a dozen countries halted use of the AstraZeneca shot over concerns about blood clots. Also sometimes referred to as the Oxford University vaccine, the jab has not been approved for use in the United States, which has relied on home-grown versions from pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer. Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Ireland, France, Spain, and Germany are among the nations that have suspended giving the vaccine to citizens, reacting after several people developed dangerous blood clots after receiving the shot.
But AstraZeneca executives, and health leaders, say there’s no evidence to prove a connection between the vaccine and the clots—after all, blood clots can occur naturally and are linked with many other drugs like birth control. The WHO has recommended that countries continue giving the vaccine.
It’s another setback for the EU vaccination program which has been a shambles compared to efforts in the United Kingdom and the United States. One in five Americans, and one in three Britons, has already received at least one shot. Meanwhile, in countries like France and Germany, vaccination rates are stuck below 10 percent. The slow rollout is contributing to a COVID-19 surge on the continent. —MB
Highs and lows of Grammys 2021
The Grammys were different this year with just a small outdoor group of socially-distanced attendees and most performances taking place in LA’s Staples Center televised for viewers at home. When she won best R&B performance for “Black Parade,” Beyonce broke the all-time record for most Grammy wins ever for a female artist and for any singer male or female. The singer addressed her kids at home, exclaiming, “I’m so proud to be your mommy.” In other notable awards, Billie Eilish won record of the year for the song “Everything I wanted”; Taylor Swift won album of the year for Folklore; H.E.R. won song of the year for “I Can’t Breathe”; and Megan Thee Stallion won the award for best new artist.
Among the notable performances were Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar”; The Black Pumas’ “Colors”; Taylor Swift’s medley of songs from Folklore; Mickey Guyton’s “Black Like Me”; and Miranda Lambert’s “Bluebird.” Among the most-talked-about performances was Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s “W.A.P.” in what appeared less like a musical presentation and more like a psychedelic, half-bleeped, nightmarish porn video.
Trevor Noah emceed the evening reminding viewers how music “that has touched our lives and saved our souls during this unprecedented year.” He added, “tonight we’re hoping that this is all about what 2021 can be; full of joy, new beginning, and coming together.” That could certainly be said of some songs! —Mary Rose Somarriba
Ralph Fiennes (aka Voldemort) defends J.K. Rowling against transphobia accusations
Voldemort—or actor Ralph Fiennes, as he’s known in the real world—has come to J.K. Rowling’s defense over her comments about transgenderism. “I can’t understand the vitriol directed at her,” Fiennes told The Telegraph in an interview published this week. “I can understand the heat of an argument, but I find this age of accusation and the need to condemn irrational. I find the level of hatred that people express about views that differ from theirs, and the violence of language towards others, disturbing.”
For a few years, the Harry Potter author had drawn the ire of certain fans after liking tweets some deemed “transphobic,” then supporting a woman who lost her job over “transphobic” tweets, and finally publishing an essay on her website on why she regretted none of those actions and firmly believed in the transcendence of biological sex. “I refuse to bow down to a movement that I believe is doing demonstrable harm in seeking to erode ‘woman’ as a political and biological class and offering cover to predators like few before it,” Rowling wrote. She reported receiving vicious insults and even death threats for her beliefs.
Several Harry Potter actors, including Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint, have refuted Rowling’s comments. “Transgender women are women,” Radcliffe wrote last year. But Fiennes isn’t the only one who’s come to Rowling’s defense. In September, Hagrid actor Robbie Coltrane defended Rowling as well, saying, “I don't know why, but there's a whole Twitter generation of people who hang around waiting to be offended.” —MFS
Good News of the Week
Missing Buzz Lightyear travels through infinity… and beyond to reunite with boy
A little boy named Hagen left his beloved Buzz Lightyear toy behind on a plane in Dallas, TX. By the time his mom found out what happened, the plane had already left the airport and was on its way to its next destination. One of those everyday childhood tragedies, right?
But this story has a happy ending! In the cutest detail, the little boy had written “Hagen” on Buzz’s foot, an ode to the star of the Toy Story movies, Andy, who scrawls his name on his favorite toys. A Southwest Airlines gate agent named Jason found Buzz, checked the flight manifest, and saw there was only one Hagen listed. The airline returned the toy with plenty of photos to document Buzz’s epic journey. —MB
Watch of the Week
Be soothed by The Black Pumas' "Colors"—a musical gem performed at the 2021 Grammys.