Oumou Kanoute: Let My People Go
I’ve been communing with Grandma Mary, Smith class of 1922, regarding an article in the New York Times about Oumou Kanoute’s assault on their mutual alma mater, while Grandma turns in her elite, tony, privileged, upper-crust, exclusive, patrician White grave — all adjectives that are both deeply embarrassing and offensive to my socio-cultural group because, as the OG culture on which this country’s system is built, we designated them that way. If you don’t get why, we’ll have to leave it at that; it’s not my place to school you about the Yankee spirit. All I can do is suggest you switch off the fictitious woke racial profiling, open your eyes, and look around.
Grandma reminds me that she also had a masters from The New School for Social Research, “founded in 1919… with an original mission dedicated to academic freedom and intellectual inquiry and a home for progressive thinkers.” And a Mid-century disdain for commas, I guess.
As I’ve had to say to people way too many times over the past few years, when I’m faced with flagrant prejudices about racism being “in the DNA” of Whites, “I don’t recognize the world you’re describing.” However, Grandma and I are also aware that White Northeastern establishment folk don’t behave and perceive the world the same way as Whites who are no rational notion of “privileged,” which is to say the majority of Whites in this country. This is why I have also been forced to say, “Nobody knows just how ridiculous universal White privilege is than a truly privileged White person.”
Before anyone’s woke knees jerk, it should be noted that I live completely outside my native socio-cultural group, despite the obvious financial and social advantages it would offer me. Also note from my filmography that my White über-privilege has done absolutely nothing to advance my career, at least according to commonly accepted measures of success. Believe it or not, that’s how we OG Yankees set it up, to strive towards a truly meritocratic society as much as possible.
Perception of us is seldom reality; there is only one TV show that I’ve seen that has portrayed us with some degree of accuracy. We are people like any other, yet strictly speaking a separate ethnicity within the Caucasian race. I love dropping that into one of my cultural rants back home. The surprise on their faces when they suddenly realize they are indeed an ethnicity underscores their cluelessness. But do not take that as evidence of racism, or more risibly of “White fragility” — they’ve simply never thought about it. Now they will.
We’re not modern versions of Mrs. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III, although there is a grain of truth to their mannerisms; ‘Gilligan’s Island’ was a comedy, after all, so characterizations are allowed. My step-father talks with an exaggerated lockjaw, but not to that degree. He was also the earliest Obama supporter in my community that I can think of, an obsessive jazz aficionado whose fondest memories are hanging out with Black musicians in the 50s, which makes me chuckle because, like many of us, his sense of rhythm is basic to nonexistent.
Our culture is also not the way Ralph Lauren ads imagine it: We have a lot of mental illness and addiction issues for a reason; it’s nobody’s idea of a loving, nurturing environment to grow up in. “It’s just so cold,” as my Indian brother-in-law noted with a fair amount of exasperation last year. Still, nobody should shed a tear for us — we’d hate that as much as we hate being called ‘elite’ and ‘tony’.
Doubling Down Just Makes it Worse
We must look for objective data points in this Smith-racism debate to guide us, not opinions and emotions. Outside investigations reveal that protocols at Smith were set up to make sure this sort of incident doesn’t happen, and they were followed. Ms. Kanoute’s accusations are baseless, and as such weaken legitimate cases of racial discrimination in the nation’s cultural conversation. There are way too many similar, needless broadsides that are giving the 75 million who voted for Trump assurance that they are right about the dangers of leftwing activists — “making the Right right” as I put it. My impression of Ms. Kanoute is she’s like any zealous kid during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, screaming, smacking publicly humiliated academics in the face with a Little Red Book as they kneel, trussed up, in dunce hats, awaiting execution for the sin of being smart and educated.
For anyone to be aware that Smith or any of the other Seven Sisters exist means they have some sort of firsthand insight into my native world. I see Ms. Kanoute went to boarding school at Westminster in Connecticut. Like a Congresswoman I called out in a post a few weeks ago — whose experience of, and expertise in White racism was having to point out her interpretation of racist subtexts in Choate’s curriculum to White students —, Ms. Kanoute knows better, which makes her accusations all the more egregious.
I agree with one of the commenters to this article that she’s young, impressionable, prone to making mistakes she will regret later. I see her as having reacted to campus staff with racist biases of her own. She then doubled down, after independent investigations backfired, by extending her accusations to Smith’s administration. I know from both experience and the subtext of this article that their Episcopalian minds must’ve short-circuited looking for ways to resolve this. Thank Darwin for that $3 coupon off a 1.75L bottle of Cutty Sark, limit one per customer.
Relevant side note: It’s worth pointing out that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, or the American Anglican Communion’s equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury, is Michael Curry, a Black American. We eschew words like ‘arch’ because they’re elitist. Similarly, what most countries call ‘cabinet minister’ we call ‘secretary’ — a minister ministers a monarch. We don’t do monarchs. You’re welcome.
Even if I can see how this silly incident got out of hand following an aggrieved Facebook post intended to include her in the current narcissistic-victimary collective, I reject Ms. Kanoute’s accusations and condemn her behavior. A similarly privileged White kid behaving with the equivalent racial prejudice would be taken out and hamstrung for life. I’m sure her mind has constructed a version of reality in which she is the victim, despite having flagrantly violated cafeteria rules, and having been treated fairly by underprivileged White staff, one of whom can’t find employment because of her wrongful association with the scandal.
Thankfully, I’m absolutely certain this madness cannot be sustained, no more than McCarthyism could. Because that’s the way my people set things up.