In 2021, there’s a simple formula for becoming a cancel culture martyr, and it’s essentially as follows: One, make a tone-deaf remark or faux pas betraying your ignorance of your own privilege; two, lose your job or be publicly reprimanded over said offense; three, get a centrist or right-leaning columnist or public figure with a large platform to take up your cause, persuading their audience to rally behind you as an unwitting sacrifice on the altar of hyper-wokeness. Last week, we saw this formula play out with Gina Carano, the MMA star-turned Mandalorian star who was fired by Lucasfilm after posting a meme drawing parallels between being a conservative and being a Jew during the Holocaust. Far from disappearing from public life, however, she quickly rebounded by teaming up with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who announced that he was planning to produce a movie she would star in. This week, it’s happening again with Jodi Shaw, a former librarian at Smith College, who dramatically resigned from the institution after taking umbrage with what she characterized as its “racially hostile environment.” Among the instances of this environment she cites: being told by a supervisor not to rap during a library orientation presentation.
In a resignation letter to Smith College President Kathleen McCartney, which was published by writer Bari Weiss on her Substack newsletter, Shaw, who is white, rails against what she views as Smith’s “dehumanizing” climate with respect to race relations, citing mandatory diversity trainings and the encouragement of diverse hiring practices as “evidence” of such a climate. The first instance she cites is an incident in which a black college student accused a security officer of racial bias after the officer questioned her for eating her lunch in a residential hall, calling her “out of place.” Although Shaw was not even tangentially involved in this incident, she apparently found it traumatic enough that she cites it in her letter as an example of college initiatives to “[dismantle] the supposed [italics ours] racism that pervades the campus,” which “only served to support the now prevailing narrative that the incident had been racially motivated and that Smith staff are racist.”
Shaw also takes issue with the fact that, while preparing for a 2018 library orientation presentation, her supervisor discouraged her from doing it in “rap form,” due to the fact that she is white and it could’ve been viewed as cultural appropriation. Rather than express gratitude towards this unnamed supervisor for preventing her from humiliating herself by rapping in front of a group of jaded liberal arts students, Shaw says she was “humiliated” by the incident, prompting her to quit her job at the library and take a lower-paying job as a student support coordinator.
The final straw for Shaw, however, was a January 2020 mandatory staff retreat, in which consultants hired by Smith College asked department members to “respond to various personal questions about race and racial identity”:
When it was my turn to respond, I said “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that.” I was the only person in the room to abstain.
Later, the facilitators told everyone present that a white person’s discomfort at discussing their race is a symptom of “white fragility.” They said that the white person may seem like they are in distress, but that it is actually a “power play.” In other words, because I am white, my genuine discomfort was framed as an act of aggression. I was shamed and humiliated in front of all of my colleagues.
In other words, while attending a diversity training seminar that asked participants to examine issues of race and privilege, Shaw steadfastly refused to examine issues of race and privilege — and took umbrage with Smith College for requesting that she do so.
The rest of the letter, as published on Weiss’s Substack, regurgitates basic anti-cancel culture talking points; in short, it reads like a Facebook post written by your uncle who voted for Obama, then started watching way too much Bill Maher. Shaw paints a portrait of Smith as a Marxist gulag in which free thought is punished (in her case, that free thought being not wanting to complete mandatory diversity trainings), and those who divert from the standard narrative are brutally castigated. “Under the guise of racial progress, Smith College has created a racially hostile environment in which individual acts of discrimination and hostility flourish,” she writes. “In this environment, people’s worth as human beings, and the degree to which they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, is determined by the color of their skin. It is an environment in which dissenting from the new critical race orthodoxy — or even failing to swear fealty to it like some kind of McCarthy-era loyalty oath — is grounds for public humiliation and professional retaliation” (keep in mind that Shaw was never fired or formally reprimanded by her employer, eventually resigning of her own volition).
At first blush, Shaw doesn’t seem ill-intentioned so much as an out-of-touch white person struggling to navigate current liberal orthodoxies, which may warrant some degree of sympathy, if not mild amusement (if only for the rap part). But a rebuttal statement from Smith College President Kathleen McCartney indicates that she is actively trying to financially profit from the free speech martyr narrative she is currently peddling. In her letter, Shaw says she turned down a large settlement from the college in exchange for her silence, but McCartney disputes that, writing, “it was the employee herself who demanded payment of an exceptionally large sum in exchange for dropping a threatened legal claim and agreeing to standard confidentiality provisions.” Fortunately for Shaw, she appears to have gotten her money’s worth: a fundraiser to help her with living expenses has raised more than $214,000, proving that one of the quickest routes to success in the age of social media is to publicly and dramatically claim you’ve been canceled.