Tribalism reaches outer space

As if life weren’t baffling enough at sea level, news came last week that, for the first time, astrophysicists had photographed a black hole, several billion times the size of our sun and located 55 million light-years away from the earth. A light-year is about 5.88 trillion miles.

Here’s looking at you, black hole.

Then, about a nanosecond following the news, a second photo began making the rounds, of Dr. Katie Bouman, 29, an angelic-looking brainiac from MIT, covering her face in amazement at the snapshot appearing on her computer monitor. Initially, she seemed to get the credit, or an undue amount of it, for writing the algorithms that made it possible to take the photo.

Bouman: Wow!

The trusty social media, Twitter, et. al., sprang into action and a political fight erupted. From the right corner of the universe, some suggested Bouman may be a publicity-greedy chick hogging too much of the credit.

From the opposite political end, some perceived the photo as an affirmative action event that might inspire young girls to look to the sky and dream of becoming astrophysicists, a field in which women are woefully underrepresented. 

But the credit, right-wing trolls chimed in,  rightfully belonged to white male scientists, in particular Andrew Chael, 28, a graduate physics student at neighboring Harvard University.

Both Chael and Bouman rushed in to explain that the writing of hundreds of thousands lines of algorithms (whatever they are) was a collaborative international effort involving human beings of all sorts of demographics (including Mexico!)

As if to buttress Chael’s credibility on this matter, the Washington Post pointed out that he is not only a white male, but also an “openly gay man!”

Chael: Gay and proud in
outer space. 

Wow. That factoid left this gay reader wondering: What does Chael’s sexual orientation have to do with black holes, cosmology, algorithms or any of that stuff?

The historic photo of the black hole, by the way, also confirmed one of Einstein’s arcane theories. Should we mention that Einstein was straight and Jewish, lest someone mistake him for a bisexual Dutch Calvinist?

And so, a mind-boggling story of scientific achievement that had hovered in outer space but for a few days, came crashing back to earth to be sliced and diced along tribal lines of gender, sexual orientation and ethnicity and other head-counting. About 40 of the 215 black-hole researchers were women, according to the Times. 

While this was going on, Chicagoans also elected Lori Lightfoot as mayor. She checked all the political correct boxes and then some: An African-American, woman, gay, and married to a white woman.

Both candidates in the final runoff were black women, prompting the Washington Post to ask in a headline whether a black woman could bridge the “city’s racial divides.

Racial divisions certainly are a long-time problem in Chicago, but for right now, I would argue that tackling the city’s gazillion-dollar pension funding shortfall—a black hole in itself—and not the new mayor’s race or sexual orientation, was a far bigger issue.

If a straight, red-headed Ukrainian candidate had offered a credible solution to that looming financial crisis, I would have said, “Go for it, Ivan!”

Official photo of the new mayor of Chicago.

During the campaign another issue came up: Lightfoot’s height. She is really short, not much more than five feet tall.

So a local columnist mentioned this on  the day Lightfoot won: “Just about every black person I talked to about the mayoral race expressed serious doubts that a ‘short black woman with a white wife’ stood a chance of winning over the majority of voters in Chicago.” So there. 

In truth that could be a problem. I can just imagine Chicagoans’ Second City inferiority concept flaring up anew at the sight of a photo of Lightfoot standing next to New York’s Mayor Bill De Blasio. He’s six-foot-five-feet tall. Plus his wife is African-American. 

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