incorrect ‘correctness’

On the Wednesday afternoon after the 2016 presidential election, a shoplifting attempt occurred at Gibson’s Bakery in the small town of Oberlin, Ohio. The bakery is adjacent to Oberlin College, a small private school considered “the second oldest continuously operating coeducational institute of higher learning in the world.”

In 5 years time, this was the 41st shoplifting incident at the family-owned, campus entity, with 40 adults arrested previously, 6 of whom were African-American. Jonathan Aladin, the student who was caught stealing in 2016, was also African-American. He was also underage. According to court records, Aladin was “attempting to steal wine from Gibson’s while purchasing other wine with fake identification.”

When the incident occurred, the store owner’s grandson, Allyn Gibson, who was working at the time, confronted Aladin and his attempted theft while still inside the store; the conflict continued as the suspect exited the store, at which time Gibson attempted to take pictures of Aladin on his phone, also at which time a physical altercation ensued between Gibson and Aladin — and now two of Aladin’s friends. According to the police who first arrived at the scene, “They [found] Gibson on his back, with [the three undergraduates] punching and kicking him. All three were charged, [the thief] with robbery and his friends with assault.” 

In the evening of the same day, again according to court documents, “Efforts were made to organize a protest outside Gibson’s Food Market and Bakery the following [next] day. Members of Oberlin College Staff and Administration were made aware of these efforts, and Dean of Students named Defendant, Meredith Raimondo, communicated with other faculty and staff members about having a meeting on November 10, 2016 in advance of the scheduled protests. Some of the individuals included in that communication were present at the protests…”

The protests began on the 10th, and Raimondo was present. Key to the two days of protests was a distributed flyer handed to many, which included the statement that Gibson’s is “a racist establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination.” Legal testimony was provided that college staff — including Raimondo — distributed copies of the flyer and college copy machines were utilized in their creation.

Oberlin’s student senate would then pass a resolution, comparable to the language of the flyer. With affirmation from several among the college faculty, students were strongly urged to boycott the bakery for a significant time. Reports are that flyers promoting the boycott remained posted on Obelin’s property for over one year. 

Why would the case of a college, college bakery, and some unlawfully-behaving students become today’s topic?

Jonathan Aladin and his two friends later pleaded guilty to multiple misdemeanor charges. Not only did Aladin admit the theft and underage drinking, he also signed a sworn statement that Gibson’s actions were not racially motivated.

Friends, there was no discrimination. Oberlin’s protests promoted mistruth.

So let’s wrestle with a few significant observations, comments, and questions…

First, let this discussion not numb us to the reality that discrimination still happens today. Let the untrue not distract us from the true.

Let us also admit that not everything we think is discrimination actually is discrimination. 

Why is that so? Is it because our perspectives are limited? Is it because we hear what we want to hear, see what we want to see, and believe what we want to believe? Do we believe only what fits into our already engrained and established narratives?

Why the instant not only over-reaction by the college, but the incorrect reaction by the college?  Why the extreme, immediate slander of another?   

What are these colleges teaching our kids? Were they honestly attempting to teach what is good and right and true?

And why is it that one of the seemingly most conflicting tensions of current culture — our efforts of political correctness — too often go too far? How can we lessen incorrect “correctness” — ensuring that the marginalized have a voice — but in our efforts to provide that voice, we are discerning and not promoting mistruth? Every incident is not the same.

Unfortunately for Oberlin, the college is now wrestling with the $44 million judgment levied against them last week — a judgment concluding their behavior caused significant lost revenue for the bakery and cost several employees their jobs. 

Hence, I continue to think that first pausing in these situations is prudent — for all of us. Our initial reactions are often more based on how we actually, already feel. When we instead pause, we allow for the grace and space for self and others to consider other angles and time to gather more of the facts. When we pause, we can potentially lessen the incorrect correctness.