Dec. 31 2013 10:56 AM

A look back at news that haunts

Aaryn Belfer

Thanks to data collected by NASA's Kepler Spacecraft, astronomers recently announced that there are an estimated 40 billion Earth-like planets in our solar system. The New York Times reported that these planets fall into a "Goldilocks zone—not too hot, not too cold." Lucky for us: When we humans are finished bludgeoning this planet (and each other), we can rocket our way to another one where we'll find a sturdy chair, a warm bowl of oatmeal and a Sleep Number mattress. "Earth 2.0" awaits. 

Meanwhile, the realities presented on Earth 1.0 haven't made me particularly hopeful; 2013 had its share of disappointments.

In a year when the unique and talented recording artist Janelle Monae released a sensational album with an empowering anthem ("Q.U.E.E.N.") for women—black women, in particular—the spotlight and adulation went to Robin Thicke, a nepotistic misogynist who blatantly co-opts other artists' intellectual property and treats women like property. Meanwhile, R&B genius and known rapist-slash-pedophile R. Kelly is making a comeback with his new album, Black Panties. Lady Gaga is a fan, as are the fist-pounding, self-proclaimed feminists over at Jezebel who say his new album is "a magnificent ode to pussy.

But why should we ladies limit ourselves to denigration by recording artists when we can rely on our elected officials for abuse? While Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, now a gubernatorial candidate, was a filibustering beacon in her famous pink tennis shoes, the Ol' Boys Network employed procedural shenanigans to take her down a few notches. They eventually passed the bill she opposed, creating a bevy of abortion regulations. But it's not enough to take away a woman's right to choose what she does with her body, so these same lawmakers took away her right to choose in the voting booth: A new voter-ID law is going to disenfranchise an estimated one-third of female voters. 

The closer you look at it, the more 2013 looks like 1964. Or 1864, for that matter. 

This past summer, a National Book Award-winning young-adult novel was removed from the sixth-grade summer reading list in a New York City school. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie mentions—wait for it—masturbation, as well as other grownup-y topics that one parent, Kelly-Ann McMullan-Preiss told the Huffington Post, are "[n]ot appropriate for my child to learn at 11." Clearly, Kelly-Ann McMullan-Price doesn't know 11. Also, too many hyphens in a name can make one priggish. 

If it isn't books that are offending, then there's hair to contend with, specifically that of young black girls. In September, 7-year-old Tiana Parker of Tulsa, Okla., was sent home from Deborah Brown Community School because her dreadlocks violated school policy. In Orlando, Fla., 12-year-old Vanessa VanDyke was told in November to do something about her big natural or face expulsion from Faith Christian Academy. The school handbook states that "hair must be a natural color and must not be a distraction." And we all know that black-girl hair is a distraction. Essence magazine said that VanDyke's hair hadn't been an issue until she reported being teased for it. At which point, the good Christian school did WJWD and made VanDyke the victim. Maybe the child should consider becoming a Catholic. I hear they welcome gays, atheists and pro-choicers these days. Why not black girls who rock what God gave them?

While I'm ruminating on black-girl victims and 2013 letdowns, I have two words: Renisha McBride. Best not be in crisis mode seeking a good Samaritan in the dark of night if you're a black female. Definitely don't have alcohol or weed in your blood that can be discovered upon autopsy after you're shot in the face, because that is all the media will talk about as they set America up to sympathize with your murderer who will likely walk, á la George Zimmerman. (And that's all the space I'm going to give that prick, the biggest elephant in the 2013 Disappointment Room.)

McBride is not the only "strange fruit"—as the website Hip Hop and Politics frames it—of the year. There's Jonathon Ferrell, who met a similar fate as McBride under similar circumstances a few weeks earlier. And then there's poor Kendrick Johnson, a teen whose body was found rolled up in a gym mat at his high school with other kids present. But, somehow, nobody saw anything. Investigators could hardly be bothered to come up with so much as an empty, "Huh," and ruled his death an accident. His parents had his body exhumed in order to challenge the coroner's office, only to find his organs missing and his body stuffed with newspaper. This, in 2013.

As noted in these pages recently, the lack of any move on gun control was two big thumbs down this year. We have failed ourselves. Just take a look at the Gun Death project at to get a sense of the Wild West that we continue to be. 

In other depressing cultural shifts, twerking is now widely credited to Miley Cyrus and is socially acceptable in a way it absolutely wasn't when Big Freedia was doing it. Following the lead of the Scripps Ranch high-schoolers who got in so much trouble this past spring, Twerk Flash Mobs have cropped up around the country, and, truly, I can't think of a single thing as adorable as a little white grannie being all "ghetto," am I right? Ugh.

In 2013, we enjoyed affluenza, the Filner Headlock and Anthony Weiner, the Reprise. We had Obamacare computer glitches—really? That had to happen?!?—and the abominable iOS7. We had the death of Nelson Mandela. 

Forty billion Earths out there, people. We are a diseased gift to the universe. With that: Here's to 2014!

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.


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