As manufacturing died, so did Springfield, which devolved into a sadly familiar kind of American landscape -- drugs, violence, waves of impoverished immigrants. On Wednesday, a man was shot to death on Main Street.
Springfield is a tragic place, but it's also a living metaphor. Fewer than 20 miles away is another metaphor, the town of Northampton. Northampton is as well-kept as Springfield is fraying. Northampton doesn't have manufacturing, it has something better: Smith College, an all-female liberal arts school that used to be impressive years ago.
Whatever its academic merits, Smith is rich. That's why Northampton is pretty and Springfield is not. Smith has an endowment of almost $2 billion. A year's tution there costs more than $75,000.
Who do you suppose has more privilege? The people of Springfield or the women of Smith College? One place is famous for burned-out buildings and murders. The other has wrought-iron gates and a nationally known art museum on campus. So Smith has more privilege, correct? No, not correct. The ladies of Smith are oppressed. They are victims. You know who's oppressing them? The kind of people who live in Springfield.
We learned all of this recently from a Smith student called Oumou Kanoute. Kanoute's resume denotes the most established kind of background, She's from New York, went to boarding school at Westminster in Connecticut, then headed to Smith. The school she attended charges more than the average American makes in a year. That sounds like the definition of privilege, doesn't it?
Not so fast. On July 31, 2018, Kanoute found out that she was oppressed.
MAN: How you doing?
KANOUTE: Good, how are you?
MAN: We were wondering why you were here.
KANOUTE: Oh, I was eating lunch. I'm working the summer program, so I was just relaxing on my couch ...
MAN: Oh, just taking a break. So you're with one of the summer programs?
KANOUTE: Yeah, I'm actually a TA ...
MAN: So that's what it was ...
KANOUTE: Yeah, I mean, it's OK. It's just, like, kind of, stuff like this happens way too often where people just feel, like, threatened.
The whole thing seems like a misunderstanding, yes? Not according to Kanoute. That night, she posted a message to Facebook saying the encounter was proof of vicious racial discrimination.
"All I did was be black[sic]," she wrote. "It's outrageous that some people questioned my being at Smith College and my existence overall as a woman of color."
Kanoute then accused a cafeteria worker, a woman called Jackie Blair, of being a racist even though Blair was not involved in the episode. None of this made any sense, yet institution after institution took Kanoute's side over that of an hourly worker, and they did so immediately. The ACLU claimed that Kanoute had been singled out for "eating while Black."
The media came to the same conclusion. A few days after the incident, Kanoute appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" to explain that she didn't feel safe at Smith anymore, not even in its art gallery or botanical garden.
KANOUTE: I see the cop walk in with a Smith employee, whom I've never seen before, and the man asked me, 'We were wondering why you're here.' ... It just still upsets me to just talk about it, because I don't even feel safe on my own campus and I'm away from home. I'm the first in my family to go to college.
The president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, did not wait for an investigation to find out exactly what had happened. She moved against the person who made less money immediately. She suspended the janitor who called campus security the first day, then she launched White accountability seminars to immediately reeducate and browbeat all White employees at Smith. Even as she singled out her colleagues on the basis of their skin color, McCartney declared in a statement that singling people out because of their skin color is wrong, concluding with no evidence whatsoever that that is exactly what happened.
"This painful incident reminds us of the ongoing legacy of racism and bias, in which people of color are targeted while simply going about the business of their ordinary lives," McCartney wrote.
What happened next is documented at length in a recent New York Times piece. Here's the short version: Jackie Blair and the other employees falsely accused of racism by the school had their lives completely upended. Kanoute posted Blair's name, photograph and email address on social media and then called her a "racist." She also published the name and photograph of a janitor who was not even involved in the episode. People showed up at Blair's home, threatening her and putting threatening letters in her mailbox.
In the end, an investigation found no evidence of racism in this incident, but Smith effectively ignored the investigation and its results. McCartney announced, that "is impossible to rule out the potential role of implicit racial bias." In other words, the janitor, the cafeteria worker and the security guard can't prove they're not racist, so they probably are implicitly.
McCartney issued no public apology of any kind to the employees she had just slandered or suspended. Neither Kanoute nor the ACLU have apologized, either. They claim the workers targeted Kanoute for her skin color, and they kept claiming that. Consider this remarkable statement from a man called Rahsaan Hall, who is both the racial justice director for the ACLU of Massachusetts and Kanoute's lawyer:
"It's troubling that people are more offended by being called racists than by the actual racism in our society. Allegations of being racist, even getting direct mailers in their mailbox, is not on par with the consequences of actual racism."
In other words, if you're falsely accused of racism and you don't like it, that's evidence you're racist, especially if you're a janitor.
You could not find a more perfect distillation of the moment we are living through right now. Kanoute, one of the most privileged people on Earth, is telling us that she is being oppressed by her servants. Yet, rather than laughing her out of the room or sending her for a psych evaluation, all the other privileged people nod in vigorous agreement and start punishing the staff. We're going to look back at moments like this one in shame.
At least one woman did speak up while all this was happening at Smith. Jodi Shaw is an alum of the college and worked there as a librarian. She loved Smith College and planned to stay, but when work politics became a racial caste system, a system which students and teachers were favored or punished because of the way they look, she opted out.
She came on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" in November:
SHAW: Well, my story really begins with July 31, 2018, when a Black student accused a White staff member of racially motivated behavior, and the college conducted a very thorough investigation of this incident and concluded that there was no evidence of racial bias. But from the day this accusation was leveled and moving forward, the college did everything in its power to support this narrative that something horribly racist had happened on that day. And not only that, that racism is a very widespread and pervasive problem on the campus.
Jodi Shaw has since left Smith College.