New respect for Black hair in Illinois, and for Josephine Baker in France


Along with reports of individuals winning respect, there are two ocean treasures in our briefs, including the discovery of Arctic bacteria that can degrade diesel and crude oil. It was prompted by a concern that the remote area is vulnerable to potential oil spills.

1. Canada

A new study has discovered ocean microbes capable of breaking down fossil fuels in the Canadian Arctic, which will help inform oil spill response plans in the region. The Labrador Sea, which rests between Canada’s Labrador Peninsula and Greenland, has seen more industrial shipping activity and offshore oil projects in recent years. Meanwhile, coastal communities have grown concerned about the possibility of a major oil spill occurring in Arctic waters. This concern prompted a study by University of Calgary scientists on bioremediation, or how naturally occurring organisms might be used to cleanse environmental pollutants. The study is one of the first to investigate bioremediation in the northern latitudes.

Why We Wrote This

A preschooler and a Jazz Age icon are two symbols of progress in this week’s roundup. Their families argued for recognition and against discrimination – and won.

The research team replicated an Arctic oil spill in bottles containing mud from the seabed, artificial seawater, and either diesel or crude oil, all kept at 4 degrees Celsius. It found that three types of bacteria present in the Labrador Sea – Paraperlucidibaca, Cycloclasticus, and Zhongshania – were able to biodegrade the oil, according to results published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Dr. Casey Hubert, an associate professor of geomicrobiology and co-author of the study, says it’s important to understand how microorganisms in the Arctic would respond to a spill because the area is so vast and remote that the human response would likely be slow. “Our simulations demonstrated that naturally occurring oil-degrading bacteria in the ocean represent nature’s first responders to an oil spill,” he said.
EuroNews, American Society for Microbiology

2. United States

Illinois schools can no longer ban Black hairstyles, according to a law that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2022. The Jett Hawkins Law – named for a 4-year-old Chicago boy who was ordered by his school to remove his braids in March – calls on the Illinois State Board of Education to review school handbooks and ensure they allow styles such as locs, braids, cornrows, and twists. The board will also create materials about the history of protective styles and hair discrimination. Schools risk funding cuts and loss of ISBE recognition if they refuse to comply.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
A sophomore attends Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago, the city where a new antidiscrimination law was drafted.

Illinois joins several states that have moved to make hair discrimination illegal in schools and the workplace. At the federal level, CROWN Act advocates say targeting school bans is essential to ending the school-to-prison pipeline, which begins with disproportionate disciplining and policing of Black students. “I know from my childhood what it’s like to be regularly belittled, humiliated, isolated, and shamed by adults in the school setting,” said state Sen. Mike Simmons, who drafted the Illinois bill and wears his own hair in long locs. “Black youth should be able to learn and become who they are without being traumatized and constantly targeted for who they are.” (Here’s a link to related Monitor coverage, a Q&A about the debut book, “My Beautiful Black Hair.”)

Block Club Chicago, Brookings Institution

3. Egypt

Artifacts discovered in the sunken remains of Thonis-Heracleion offer insights into the ancient city’s history. For centuries, Thonis-Heracleion was Egypt’s largest Mediterranean port and a hub of international trade. Greeks were allowed to settle in the city during the late Pharaonic period, until a series of earthquakes and tidal waves collapsed the Nile delta city into the sea. With the cooperation of Egypt’s Tourism and Antiquities Ministry, a team from the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM) explored two distinct parts of the city on its latest dive.

The discovery of a traditional Greek funerary area “beautifully illustrates the presence of Greek merchants and mercenaries who lived in Thonis-Heracleion,” IEASM said in a statement. Offerings buried in the area include ceramic vases and wicker baskets containing 2,400-year-old fruit. In another spot, archaeologists found a Ptolemaic-era galley using a sub-bottom profiler, a kind of sonar technology used to detect layers of sediment beneath the seafloor. The ship was moored next to the city’s main temple during a cataclysmic event. Falling stone likely pinned down the galley, says IEASM, protecting it as the canal filled with debris. “The finds of fast galleys from this period remain extremely rare,” said marine archaeologist Franck Goddio, who leads the team. “The only other example to date being the Punic Marsala Ship. ... Before this discovery, Hellenistic ships of this type were completely unknown to archaeologists.”
CNN, Greek Reporter

4. France

Josephine Baker will become the first Black woman to be memorialized in France’s famed Panthéon mausoleum. The ancient Rome-inspired complex houses important political, cultural, and scientific figures from French history, as chosen by the president. Only five of the Panthéon’s 80 current honorees are women.

Josephine Baker poses in her dressing room in New York City in March 1961.

Baker will soon join their ranks, although her remains will stay in Monaco, where she was buried in 1975. The Missouri-born entertainer not only rose to fame performing in Paris, but also served as a spy for the French Resistance during World War II. She was an international celebrity, civil rights advocate – refusing to perform for segregated audiences – and an icon of the Jazz Age. In 1937, she married a Frenchman and became a French citizen. Baker’s family and others have been campaigning for her induction into the Panthéon for eight years, gathering thousands of signatures for their cause. President Emmanuel Macron approved the measure after meeting with advocates on July 21, says an aide, and Baker’s memorial is set to be added in late November.
Agence France-Presse

Francois Mori/AP/File
The Panthéon mausoleum in Paris will honor Josephine Baker. The performer lived much of her life in France and worked with the French resistance during World War II.

5. Bangladesh

Training programs in Bangladesh are helping women move up in the garment industry. Researchers say gender imbalance in the South Asian nation’s garment industry, which employs about 4 million people, not only limits women’s socioeconomic mobility, but also hurts productivity. More than 50% of sewing machine operators in the country are women, but more than 90% of their supervisors are men, which can lead to a lack of trust and transparency. Nonprofits, development groups, and factory owners are tackling this imbalance by offering training programs for women. Because managerial skills are transferable, these programs also help protect women’s livelihoods as factories adopt more sophisticated and environmentally friendly machinery to meet climate goals.

Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP
Women work in the sewing section of the Snowtex Outerwear Ltd. factory in Savar, Bangladesh, Aug. 9, 2021.

Kulsum Bibi, who worked as a machine operator at a Dhaka factory for 10 years, was promoted after participating in a women’s leadership program run by a development organization based in Bangladesh. In her new role, she’s made enough money to double her family’s living space and has become more ambitious in her career goals. “Despite my poor education, I became a supervisor. ... Now my goal is to move even higher,” she said. “I want to become a controller or a line manager. If men can do it, why can’t I?”
Thomson Reuters Foundation

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