Smith College staffer Jackie Blair says her life has ‘not been the same’ since she was falsely accused of racism in a viral Facebook post
The cafeteria worker at Smith College who was hit with a false allegation of racism has filed an internal complaint against the school, saying her life has ‘not been the same since.’
Jackie Blair, a longtime cafeteria employee at the elite liberal arts women’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts, spoke out in an online fundraising appeal to cover her legal and medical expenses.
‘In the summer of 2018 I was falsely accused of racism by a black student on her Facebook page and my life has not been the same since,’ she said.
In August 2018, Smith student Oumou Kanoute accused Blair and other college staff of racism after the student was questioned about why she was in a building that was closed for the summer.
The allegation and the president of Smith’s profuse apology went viral worldwide, but an internal report finding no basis for the claim went largely ignored until a New York Times report on the case in February.
In August 2018, Smith student Oumou Kanoute accused Blair and other college staff of racism after the student was questioned about why she was in a building that was closed
Blair, a longtime cafeteria employee at the elite liberal arts women’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts, spoke out in an online fundraising appeal to cover her legal expenses
‘I work as dining service staff at Smith College. I also happen to be white, which should not be relevant, but Smith College has made clear it is,’ Blair wrote on her fundraising page.
Blair said that she has ‘obtained legal counsel and have filed an internal complaint against Smith College administration in response to their treatment of me.’
‘I started this fundraiser to help me pay my legal expenses, as well as personal expenses (including medical and therapy bills) and living expenses in the case I am either terminated or am otherwise forced out of my job as a result of speaking out about this,’ she explained.
JD Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy and a possible Republican candidate for Senate in Ohio, supported Blair’s fundraising appeal in a tweet on Thursday.
‘Not long ago, a student at Smith College accused workers at the college of racism, which predictably ruined their lives and cost them their jobs. It was a race hoax, totally made up,’ he wrote.
The controversy stems from an incident in August 2018, when, Kanoute, a 21-year-old who was raised in New York after her family emigrated from Mali, was in an empty cafeteria that was reserved for a summer camp program for young children.
Blair, a veteran cafeteria employee, mentioned to Kanoute that it was reserved for the summer school, and then decided to drop it for fear of , she told the times Times.
The incident went viral, and Kanoute gave tearful interviews with national news outlets slamming the ‘racist’ staff at Smith
A janitor, who was in his 60s and poor of sight, and had worked at Smith for 35 years, was emptying garbage cans when he saw a figure reclining and eating alone, in a far corner of the building which was supposed to be closed.
Campus police had advised staff to call security rather than confront strangers on their own, so the janitor called security.
‘We have a person sitting there laying down in the living room,’ the janitor told a dispatcher according to a transcript. ‘I didn’t approach her or anything but he seems out of place.’
A well-known older campus security officer drove over to the dorm where the cafeteria was situated, The Times recounted, and was accompanied by a campus police officer.
He recognized her as a student and they had a brief and polite conversation, which she recorded on video.
‘Hi,’ she says.
‘How are you doing?’ a man says.
‘Good, how are you?’ she replied.
‘We were wondering why you were here,’ he says.
‘Oh, I was eating lunch, I’m working the summer program, so I was just relaxing on the couch.’
He replies: ‘Oh, just taking a break. So you’re with the program?’
‘Yeah. I’m actually a TA,’ she says.
He replies: ‘Oh, so that’s what it was. We just wondered.’
Kanoute says: ‘It’s OK, it’s just that kind of stuff like this just happens way too often, where people just feel threatened.’
Kanoute went on to post Blair’s name and photo on Facebook, claiming she was the one who had called the campus security officer and demanding ‘restorative justice’.
‘This is the racist person,’ Kanoute wrote of Blair, also naming a custodial worker who was not on duty and had gone home at the time of the incident.
The incident went viral, and Kanoute gave tearful interviews with national news outlets slamming the ‘racist’ staff at Smith.
Blair first learned of the incident when a Boston Globe reporter called her at home demanding she explain her racist behavior.
She also found notes in her mailbox and taped to her car window, with one reading ‘RACIST’.
Her home was bombarded with phone calls. ‘You should be ashamed of yourself,’ one stranger said. ‘You don’t deserve to live,’ said another.
Smith College put out a short statement noting that Blair had not placed the phone call to security but did not absolve her of broader responsibility.
Blair has lupus, an auto-immune disorder that can be exacerbated by stress, and had episodes of feeling faint.
‘Oh my God, I didn’t do this,’ she told a friend, according to the Times. ‘I exchanged a hello with that student and now I’m a racist.’
Kathleen McCartney, president of Smith College, immediately apologized to Kanoute, but did not issue a public apology to the staffers affected by the false claim
In October 2018, Smith quietly released a report from an independent investigator clearing Blair altogether and finding no evidence of racial discrimination
Smith put pressure on Blair to go into mediation with Kanoute, in order to provide the student with ‘willing apology, forgiveness and reconciliation.’
Blair refused, saying: ‘Why would I do this? This student called me a racist and I did nothing.’
In October 2018, Smith quietly released a report from an independent investigator clearing Blair altogether and finding no evidence of racial discrimination from anyone involved.
The report also said Kanoute could not point to any examples that supported the claim she made on Facebook of a yearlong ‘pattern of discrimination.’
Still, Smith president Kathleen McCartney doubled down, saying the report validated Kanoute’s ‘lived experience’ and the fear that she felt at the sight of a campus security officer.
‘I suspect many of you will conclude, as did I,’ she wrote of the report, ‘it is impossible to rule out the potential role of implicit racial bias.’
McCartney offered no public apology to the staffers impacted by the allegations, and the school pursued rigorous anti-bias training that prompted one staff member to resign in protest.
Jodi Shaw, who worked for the residential life department, resigned from the school on February 19, citing a ‘racially hostile environment.’
‘I ask that Smith College stop reducing my personhood to a racial category. Stop telling me what I must think and feel about myself,’ she said.
‘Stop demanding that I admit to white privilege, and work on my so-called implicit bias as a condition of my continued employment.’
Read More: DailyMail