Ms. Smith Goes to Laputa

The burger joint had no internet. I got a copy of the New York Times and started with an article about the hate-hoax at Smith College. It was already familiar by now. Considering the source and subject matter a noxious dose of fake news was expected. By the eighth paragraph I thought the iced tea was spiked with a fast acting hallucinogen. The story, “Tensions Simmer Over Race and Class at Smith” (2-25-2021), was damn near dead accurate. Author Michael Powell must know where the bodies are buried.

Oumou Kanoute, a black student, had been approached by security while occupying an unauthorized area of the campus. There is no doubt in my mind she was aware of the room’s off-limits status. I have serially committed the exact same offense in numerous locations on numerous occasions. Many large buildings with food service have vast cordoned off spaces now and then. At lunch when you’d like to dodge the crowd you can often get away with sneaking into the verboten zone. Security might be annoyed if they find out but at worst they ask you to relocate. Countless times I’ve played dumb with full knowledge of trespassing.

People are choosing some strange battles these days. Kanoute insisted that she was the offended party because a security guard told her what she doubtless already knew. This kind of gambit is far from original by now. It is difficult to fathom why anyone—who isn’t in the employ of the Aryan Nation or Richard Spencer—would stoop to it. What’s more dumbfounding is the supposed “anti-racists” in charge pretending there’s a whit of legitimacy in the charges. It’s like treating pneumonia with swims in arctic water.

“It’s outrageous that some people question my being at Smith College and my existence overall as a woman of color,” Ms. Kanoute complained. It’s an odd response to a situation where, normally, a person would prefer their existence went unnoted. Makes you wonder if some kind of confrontation wasn’t the plan all along. As a student employee of Smith she wasn’t even supposed to get lunch in that cafeteria in the first place. She was mildly informed of this by cafeteria staff member Jackie Blair.

“Staff members dance carefully around rule enforcement for fear students will lodge complaints,” the NYT tells us. We all know by now that this generation’s boots were made for walkin.’ If “authority” cuts their berth any wider everyone a few miles north of the age of majority will become a vassal of aggrieved youth. People in menial jobs at the college have been smeared on social media over the matter. At least one had no connection to it whatever.  A janitor with poor eyesight, who is unnamed in the NYT article, made the original call to security as instructed to by his superiors. He was immediately placed on paid leave.

‘“This is the racist person,” Ms. Kanoute wrote of Ms. Blair, adding that Mr. Patenaude too was guilty. (He in fact worked an early shift that day and had already gone home at the time of the incident.) Ms. Kanoute also lashed out at the Smith administration. “They’re enabling racist, cowardly acts.”’ That’s the NYT description of Kanoute’s Facebook page that night.

This non-incident has already resulted in enormous repercussions. Without delving into all the others consider the impact on racial perceptions. Many people, not all of them necessarily white, could view Kanoute’s actions as stereotypically manipulative behavior. It’s the so-called “Karen” thing in reverse. People pounce to such conclusions all over Facebook. But, in reality, it is far from the case. I have lived in racially diverse neighborhoods for much of my adult life. Stirring up racial skirmishes over trifles is very far from common to my experience. Different people may have different reactions to news developments but manners and decency prevail where I live and it’s not Park Avenue.

Black people are often on both sides of me at the local watering hole—which cleverly evades covidophobic restrictions—and nobody is ever looking for ways to be offended. Everybody is looking for some laughs. We often broach sensitive subjects—which may be navigated with some caution—but it’s a long way from pins and needles. Defiance of the owner is not tolerated by the patronage and demographic status will not help you.

When do we start asking if narcissistic pathology is a plus on applications for admission to elite institutions of higher learning? Why else would they continue to enable and advertise their screechiest, most obnoxious eleves as exemplars?

Josh Billings wrote—“ I hate to be a kicker, I always long for peace, But the wheel that squeaks the loudest, Is the one that gets the grease.” All comedians steal and who could rule out he stole the line from a black man of his acquaintance? It’s an Americanism we can all be proud of. Whoever the original inspiration was, it seems destined for the memory hole. That’s a hole that, if you can pardon the word, is coming to resemble an astronomical “black” one.

You’d have to be an idiot to believe that racial prejudice and insensitivity have been extinguished in this broad nation of ours. But you’d have to be an even bigger one to believe that the alma mater of Sylvia Plath has not been giving careful attention to such things for a long time. That doesn’t mean they’ve got it all righteous and sewn up—but the details of this particular flare up are ludicrous. Accommodating phonies and psychos in such cases can only dilute attention devoted to authentic ones in the future. Any subconscious stereotypes residing in the minds of casual observers are not going to be eroded—if anything it’ll be the reverse.

In the meantime, Smith has launched a massive re-education campaign for the bottom of its food chain. They are wrong for following administration policy to the letter. A 35 page report by the Sanghavi Law Office, which specializes in this kind of inquiry, found no evidence of discriminatory or untoward actions by Smith staff. But the panic stricken powers that be in Northampton weren’t about to let peasants off the hook. The man on the street is always a work in progress. Any resentment or humiliation—in the face of a program to fix what’s wrong with them–comes as a shock to the administration. This is the professoriate in charge of running a world renowned women’s academic institution.

Smith College president, Kathleen McCartney, heard about complaints from workers—secondhand you can bet the farm. The response is quoted by the Times: “Good training is never about making people too uncomfortable or to feel ashamed or anything. I think our staff is content and are embracing it.” It’s obvious the idea of demanding an apology or disciplining Kanoute isn’t safe to suggest out loud. Hierarchal oblivion to the daily travails of rank and file hasn’t been this out of whack since WWII.

Americans have been upbraided by media for ages over their lack of confidence and trust in elites. In the middle of covering stories as ridiculous as this one they still fail at making the link. What writer needs to excel at associative connections while packing a highly credentialed CV? McCartney, Mr. Establishment Journalist, like 95% of the morons whose names infamously appear on page A-1—is a representative of the elite. Somebody forgot to tell modern scribes that subscribers are interested in colorful, incisive copy. Their CV’s may as well ink toilet paper.

Maybe it’s always the wrong people in academia who make it into the news cycle these days…

But when they speak on record why do they all sound so much like Hank Kimball from Green Acres? One Smith employee, Jodi Shaw, could take no more of the new training and resigned under pressure.  McCartney is befuddled—what part of a universal guilt with no possibility of innocence scheme doesn’t Shaw like exactly?

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