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Inside a Battle Over Race, Class and Power at Smith College

What I gather from this NY Times article:

  • Oumou Kanoute, a Black student at Smith College, was eating lunch in a dorm lounge when a janitor and a campus police officer walked over and asked her what she was doing there.
  • Ms Kanoute apparently thought that the officer could have been carrying a lethal weapon’” even though college officers were unarmed.
  • Jackie Blair, a veteran cafeteria employee, told Ms. Kanoute that she was in a cafeteria which was reserved for a summer camp program for young children.
  • Because of the presence of young children, the janitor has been instructed to call security in such cases. He did. He did not mention Ms. Kanoute’s race or gender.
  • Because the janitor, who has poor eyesight, was not sure if he was looking at a man or woman, Ms Kanoute would later accuse him of misgendering” her.
  • Ms. Kanoute wrote on Facebook, saying that Ms. Blair, the cafeteria worker, … is the racist person.”
  • Ms. Blair has lupus, a disease of the immune system that is triggered by stress.
  • Within days of being accused by Ms. Kanoute, Ms Blair found notes in her mailbox and taped to her car window. RACIST read one. People called her at home. You should be ashamed of yourself,” a caller said. You don’t deserve to live,” said another.
  • Rahsaan Hall, racial justice director for the A.C.L.U. of Massachusetts and Ms. Kanoute’s lawyer, … [was not] particularly sympathetic to the accused workers.” It’s troubling that people are more offended by being called racist than by the actual racism in our society,” he said. Allegations of being racist, even getting direct mailers in their mailbox, is not on par with the consequences of actual racism.”
  • Kanoute and ACLU are demanding a separate dorm for students of color.
  • All university employees involved were white.

Of course, I don’t know what really” happened.

I am troubled, however, by the words of the ACLU attorney, if quoted correctly. Having people call you at home, leave messages on your mailbox and online, etc. may not be on a par with the consequences of actual racism,” but it can be highly traumatic. Saying that Ms Blair was offended” surely trivializes her reactions. His insensitivity towards Ms Blair offends me, a long-time member of the ACLU.


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