Oberlin case is victory for justice — though not for black youths portrayed as victims

Oberlin case is victory for justice — though not for black youths portrayed as victims
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An Ohio jury recently decided against Oberlin College for libel and slander of Gibson’s bakery over a racially charged issue three years ago that is resounding around the country. The court judgment was in excess of $44 million — $11 million in compensatory damages and $33 million in punitive damages.

The root of the Ohio case was an incident in which the proprietor witnessed a young black man — later revealed as a student at Oberlin — attempting to shoplift from his store. When he attempted to photograph him, the shoplifter slapped the phone from his hand and exited the store. Police who arrived witnessed the youth and two of his friends beating the shop clerk.

The three youths subsequently pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and read a statement declaring that the proprietor’s actions were justified and not racially motivated. But in the interim, the college’s black students’ association capitalized on the incident to organize a protest against the store for alleged racial profiling.


For months, they held demonstrations and led a boycott that decimated the business of the family bakery that had thrived for decades under multiple generations. For these protestors there was ample evidence of the store’s guilt simply because the proprietor is white and the young man who attempted to steal and his friends are black.

If this business had followed the lead of others throughout the country, it would have capitulated and offered all kinds of concessions to the demonstrators, or simply folded and closed its doors. But the Gibson family stood their ground until, ultimately, they won.  

Though the Ohio ruling is a victory for true justice, the greatest toll of this incident, and others like it, involves not the business owners who were wrongly accused but a generation of black youths who are constantly sent the message that they are helpless victims of a disabling legacy from an era of slavery and Jim Crow laws — the omnipresent “institutional racism” — and that their future will be determined by what white America does or fails to do.

In essence, they are being conditioned to believe the message of white supremacy-justice vigilantes that is continually broadcast by the social-justice warriors who purport to act on their behalf. This message began to be instilled in these students long before they entered college.

During the Obama administration, in response to racial disparities in the rate of school suspensions and other disciplinary actions, the Department of Education sent a directive to all public schools that they must reduce black students’ suspensions. School administrators acted on the assumption that racial disparity was the consequence of the attitudes of white teachers, who were mandated to undergo racial sensitivity training. As a result, without fear of any consequences for their behavior, black students roamed the halls and raided classrooms in many schools and incidences of violence skyrocketed.


The assumption was that if black students were to be punished for unruly behavior, they should be exempt from consequences if their accuser was white. The belief is that racial disparity equates with racial injustice. The question that never gets asked is: why are the black children, who are disproportionately numbered among those facing disciplinary action in school, also disproportionately represented in varsity sports?

Many of the Oberlin students attended public schools in the past four years where this is the standard of accountability, so it is no wonder that they would disregard the criminal behavior of the attempted shoplifter and his friends they championed as victims.

But this clearly was no “Rosa Parks moment.” In the 1960s, the woman who was chosen to become a symbol of the civil rights movement by refusing to move to the back of the bus had to be of good character — certainly not a criminal. Before Rosa Parks, there were others who took a stand against injustice, but she had the character to represent the movement.

In the Oberlin case, the real damage has been wrought on the black students who were encouraged to invest their time and energy in the attack on a family business. What do they have to show for the effort that preoccupied their time in college? Do they want to be remembered as the defenders of those who committed a theft and malicious attack? Faculty members and administrators who encouraged the students to protest did them a dangerous disservice.

These young people will enter the world with a malfunctioning moral compass, believing that their destiny lies in the hands of those who are outside of their control. They will carry with them a false sense of entitlement and probably never feel the fulfillment of earned success.  

Robert L. Woodson, Sr. is the president and founder of the Woodson Center. Follow him on Twitter @BobWoodson.