Civil rights activist Robert Woodson and 44 other black intellectuals have stepped up to support several white Smith College employees who were wrongly branded as racists, showing that the real divide in America is between elites and working-class people, not between blacks and whites.
In the summer of 2018, Smith College student Oumou Kanoute, claimed that she was harassed by an officer who could have been carrying a weapon. She posted about the incident on Facebook, saying, “All I did was be Black. It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College, and my existence overall as a woman of color.” The ACLU took up her case and said that the student had been harassed for “eating while black.”
Smith College immediately took her at her word and subjected the accused employees to anti-racist training. Kanoute later posted the name and picture of an employee who had nothing to do with the incident, stating, “This is the racist person.” She also implicated a janitor who was not even working at the time of the incident. In addition, Kanoute claimed that Smith College administrators were “essentially enabling racist, cowardly acts.”
An investigation found that Kanoute entered a dorm that was closed for use as a children’s summer camp and ate her lunch there in a darkened room. An unarmed security guard approached her and had a polite conversation with her. A later investigation determined that there was no evidence of a pattern of racism or evidence of racial bias in the purported incident.
The damage was done, however. The employees were branded as racists and decided to leave their jobs, but have since struggled to find work and make a living.
Smith College has never apologized to the employees nor has the school altered its anti-racist trainings.
A coalition of black leaders, including Woodson, are calling out the school for capitulating to the demands of a student and throwing working-class employees under the bus.
Woodson told Just the News that he was concerned about the “level of intimidation that exists among working-class white people.” He explained that the school immediately labeled working-class employees as racists based on the claims of an “elite black student.”
Woodson and a group of like-minded black leaders and influencers sent a letter to Smith College requesting an apology for the employees. The 45 signatories, who include Columbia University linguist John McWhorter, Brown University economist Glenn Loury, and syndicated columnist Clarence Page, expressed “outrage” at how the school had treated their working-class employees, writing,
“Before investigating the facts, Smith College assumed that every one of the people who prepare its food and clean its facilities was guilty of the vile sin of racism and forced them to publicly ‘cleanse’ themselves through a series of humiliating exercises in order to keep their jobs. When an investigation of the precipitating incident revealed no evidence of bias, Smith College offered no public apology to the falsely accused and merely doubled down on the shaming of its most vulnerable employees.
The letter continued,
“Many of us participated in the Civil Rights Movement, fighting for equal treatment under the law, which included due process and the presumption of innocence. We didn’t march so that Americans of any race could be presumed guilty and punished for false accusations while the elite institution that employed them cowered in fear of a social media mob. We certainly didn’t march so that privileged Blacks could abuse working class whites based on lived experience.”
In addition, the letter criticized and called for an end to the school’s “anti-bias” trainings, claiming they do more harm than good.
In February, the Standing for Freedom Center reported on allegations made by Jodi Shaw, a former employee of Smith College, that the school’s adherence to racial bias initiatives had created a hostile work environment. The school implemented the initiatives after the black student accused a staffer of racism. Shaw too eventually left Smith College, an elite women’s school, after being shamed for declining to discuss racial topics during a training session.
Together with Shaw, Woodson’s coalition has raised $14,000 for two of the employees involved in the student incident. Woodson and Shaw each donated $1,000 to each employee.
For Woodson, the Smith incident provided further disillusionment with the Civil Rights Movement. “A lot of the people who suffered and sacrificed didn’t benefit from the change,” he said, while a few activists “pursued strategies to enrich themselves.”
This story is both heartwarming and exasperating. These black leaders have shown compassion for working-class whites and are fighting for them. That is a beautiful picture of the Golden Rule and Jesus’s command that we love each other. No matter what color your skin, we are all human beings and it is our responsibility to help those around us, not just those of a certain group.
What is infuriating is not only Kanoute’s unfounded accusations, but the school’s reaction. Smith College ignored the report’s conclusions and has only emboldened more such incidents to occur. Employees of the university were already afraid to say anything to students. Mark Patenaude, the janitor who was falsely accused of racism when he wasn’t even working, noted, “We used to joke, don’t let a rich student report you, because if you do, you’re gone.” He, too, has left his job at Smith and is still looking for work.
If there is such a thing as white privilege, why were these white employees working in low-wage, blue-collar jobs? If there is white privilege, why do whites in Appalachia suffer in poverty while powerful minority politicians seek to eliminate their jobs in the coal and power industries?
A student who attends an elite women’s university, which costs $78,000 a year, was in a closed dorm where she was not supposed to be yet accuses multiple employees of racism for explaining that to her. She claimed that there was a pattern of racism, yet an investigation proved otherwise. Rather than facing discipline, the school tramples its blue-collar employees and gives in to all of the student’s demands, including the creation of dormitories set aside for black students. That is the picture of privilege.
Whether it is the student at an elite university, the career politician with a multimillion-dollar home, the wealthy media mogul, or the athlete making hundreds of millions of dollars to play a sport, these are the people with privilege. And these are the people sowing division in our country between black and white, not caring about the consequences of their actions.
The divide in this country is not between whites and blacks, it is between the elite “haves” and the ordinary “have nots.”