A former Michelle Obama intern decries a newspaper op-ed calling her a racial profiler. But who profiled whom?
Originally published at The American Thinker
By David Paulin
She voted twice for Obama.
Inspired by “hope and change” in a post-racial and more egalitarian America, she worked three months as an unpaid college intern in Michele Obama's office -- though she never actually got to meet the First Lady. She says she now supports the Clinton Global Initiative, a non-profit seeking to strengthen global interdependence.
A pretty and athletic woman with strawberry blond hair and blue eyes, she for the moment works as a nanny, though she has a self-designed bachelor's degree from the University of Texas in Austin focusing on conflict resolution and the human rights of children. Her course work included a large dollop of African-American studies; so not surprisingly she firmly believes America needs a national discussion about race -- and the unjust profiling of black men.
Yes, her progressive credentials are impressive.
And so, she fumed, it was all the more outrageous that a fellow progressive -- a black law student no less! -- would write a newspaper column that “defamed” her as a “blue-eyed” and “blond” racist.
It was exactly the opposite of what happened, she said: She never profiled him. He profiled her!
And so when a curious writer contacted her from The American Thinker, she said she had to speak out -- tell the world how she was “defamed” by fellow liberals: a black Texas state senator and his intern, a black law student, both of whom threw her under the bus with the help of the news media.
It was supposed to be post-racial America. But the Obama years have instead been filled with racially charged mayhem: inner-city riots; myriad black-on-white attacks like the “knock-out” game; and racially charged police shootings and arrests. And no doubt there also have been untold numbers of testy non-violent encounters with racial overtones: nasty spats and hurt feelings between ordinary blacks and whites who increasingly walk on eggshells around each other while navigating the lower-frequencies of American life.
One of these stories occurred not long ago in the left-leaning city of Austin, Texas, and revolved around a nasty encounter between 24-year-old “Agatha” (not her real name) and her black tormentor: a 28-year-old law student named Robert McKnight. Their story reveals the amusing tensions existing between black male race hustlers and progressive white females from upper-middle-class backgrounds. And it underscores yet again how some media outlets will unhesitatingly take the word of race hustlers and social warriors over their white victims and the police.
“You can't use my name,” Agatha said, explaining she wanted her name withheld because she feared a “backlash” for defending herself.
Seated in the dark corner of trendy Austin cafe, the daughter of a prominent Houston radiologist spoke calmly during an interview; yet her carefully chosen words barely concealed her outrage at what McKnight had written about her in a column in the Austin American-Statesman, "Racially profiled in Austin a life-changing experience."
"I am an African-American male,” McKnight declared. “That alone is a loaded and difficult calling,n irreversible one.” He added: “My black skin can label me as menacing.”
Then he described how a bigoted and unnamed white woman -- a “blue-eyed blond” at University Village, an apartment complex in Austin for college students -- had “profiled” him. Claiming she had sicced the cops on him for no good reason, McKnight called the harrowing incident a life-changing event. “Believe it or not, I thank the Caucasian woman who was the impetus for this life-changing event,” he wrote, and went onto observe: “I have a newly ignited fire now, to fight for criminal justice reform, to fight for social equality and to fight for a fair, transparent and reliable judicial system.”
Agatha read those words and cringed: McKnight was talking about her!
Yes, according to her, it was a twisted jived-up version of what in fact happened that awful evening when McKnight, then a total stranger, had knocked on her apartment door. And despite what McKnight claimed, she and her black roommate Elizabeth insisted McKnight's race had nothing to do with why the police were called. Yet McKnight was nevertheless now vilifying her -- a righteous white liberal with a black roommate -- as being a racist!
McKnight was loud and belligerent, she recalled -- though in subsequent emails she repeatedly stressed that she wanted to avoid any judgmental language that might contribute to negative stereotypes about young black men.
True, McKnight hadn't mentioned her name in his “defamatory” column. Yet she knew full well that the black law student was talking about her. So did all her friends and many acquaintances. It stung to be called a racist in a newspaper column. And to her disgust, McKnight's column was quickly republished by two other newspapers and a social justice group, among others. Even more outrageous, a black Texas state senator, a Democrat, praised the Op-Ed in a tweet!
Nobody, however, had ever asked her or the police or her black roommate Elizabeth what really happened that evening.
“I laughed,” she said, referring to McKnight's column, and so did the two roommates she had at the time. And that included Elizabeth, who also came to have a low opinion of Robert McKnight.
Stranger at the Door
It was around 8:00 p.m. when Agatha got home. She started boiling some water to make pasta, then slipped into her pajamas. Suddenly, somebody was knocking loudly on the door -- so loud and unexpected it frightened her. “The only people who knock that loud are the police,” she said. Neither she nor her roommates had been expecting anybody.
Nervously, she opened the door. A stranger stood there -- a young black man in a gray trench coat, about 6'2'' and 165 pounds.
There was no greeting from the stranger; not even, “Good evening, my name is Robert McKnight.” What you'd expect, in other words, of a gentleman trying to enter a 4-bedroom dormitory-style apartment for female college students, she said.
“Who lives here?” she recalls the stranger demanding, his voice abrupt, his attitude “belligerent.”
He declined to identify himself, other than to say at various points that, “I'm a lawyer.” He wasn't a lawyer, of course; not yet anyway -- a fact Agatha and Elizabeth subsequently seized upon to underscore that McKnight may have issues of some sort.
McKnight displayed a key to the unit -- a fact that rattled her since only tenants are supposed to have keys. He said he was helping a legislative intern from South Africa move in -- he was her “caretaker,” he explained -- though for some reason the young woman had remained in McKnight's car. And despite what his column claimed, McKnight never showed her a lease, she insisted. She let McKnight in anyway.
"You'd better be OK with this because she's moving in for six months," she recalled McKnight saying. Inspecting the bathroom, McKnight noticed the toilet was running, and she recalled him blurting out: "Why the f--k would they move somebody in with a running toilet?"
Quickly growing uneasy with the rude and taciturn stranger who refused to identify himself, Agatha texted her roommate Elizabeth who promptly phoned the police. Elizabeth headed back to the apartment.
“I never told Elizabeth he was black,” Agatha stressed. “When a stranger shows up at your door at night and does not identify himself yet he is holding keys to your apartment, that is terrifying.”
Four police officers showed up, and one of them detained McKnight as he headed down the stairs. McKnight, who presumed the “blue-eyed blond” had called the cops, was overheard by Agatha to say: “Who the f--k does that?”
The Statesman's opinion-page editors would have gotten a far different story had they talked with Agatha and Elizabeth. But for them, McKnight's “I'm-a-victim” version was far more appealing. They published it with McKnight's photo: a smiling and clean-cut black law student -- a credit to his race and liberal cause -- posing in front of a bookshelf of law books.
“It's not the Robert McKnight that I know,” said Agatha.
The official police report, recently obtained from the Austin Police Department in response to a media request, echoed the stories told by Agatha and her black roommate Elizabeth. Yes, Elizabeth had indeed called the police. She told the 911 operator that a strange man “keeps saying he needs to get into the apartment.”
“Unknown description of the subject,” the report stated.
Agatha, for her part, had totally put that awful night out of her mind -- until McKnight's ridiculous Op-Ed column ran in the Statesman. And to her outrage, the column was quickly republished by the Waco Tribune; Corpus Christi Caller-Times; and the Texas Civil Rights Project, amo
ng others. But most insulting of all, Texas state Senator Rodney Ellis -- a black Democrat under whom McKnight works as a legislative intern -- tweeted that he was “proud of Robert McKnight for speaking out!” McKnight attends Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana -- a historically black college.
So who was profiling whom? Agatha observed that McKnight had in fact “victimized” her by falsely stating she had called the police “because I am Caucasian and have blond hair and blue eyes.”
“He is most certainly a bully,” she wrote.
“Mr. McKnight is not telling the truth about this incident,” wrote Elizabeth, Agatha's black roommate, in the comments section of McKnight's Statesman column under the moniker “ElizabethHartsAustin.” “He was belligerent, exceedingly rude, aggressive, and extremely disrespectful on the evening in question, and has continued to be so during his subsequent visits to our home. He was even aggressive with the responding police officers, who to my understanding were far more patient and forgiving than Mr. McKnight's behavior deserved.”
She added, “It annoys me to see another member of my community not only cause a stressful situation, but then attempt to exploit it under the guise of furthering race relations.”
Elizabeth, a college student, was advised by her academic adviser not to speak to reporters about the McKnight incident.
McKnight's encounter with police officers also is interesting because of its similarities to untold numbers of other racially charged encounters between police and young black men -- encounters that often produce wildly different stories from each side.
In his column, for instance, McKnight claimed he was “accosted by four police officers” and had his “liberty deprived momentarily for being a black male, knocking on a door in the evening.” Police, however, were obviously duty-bound to check out a complaint -- and so officers were dispatched to University Village. Some spoke with McKnight, others with Agatha.
“I asked Robert to take a seat and told him he was detained while we figured out what was going on. Robert was not frisked and was never touched physically,” one officer wrote. “Robert got upset when I told him he could not call anyone.”
Noting the 911 call was due to a “misunderstanding,” an officer said of McKnight: “Robert was professional but had an underlying attitude and alluded to the fact that he was stopped because he was a black male and knocking on the door.” The officer added that McKnight had mentioned he was an intern for Senator Ellis -- and that “he may complain.” The officer -- obviously concerned at the trouble a well-connected black man might cause him -- pointed out that his verbal back-and-forth with McKnight may have been captured on police audio recorders. (Audio and dash-cam clips were obtained last week for this article; but the sound was inaudible and dash-cam video showed only a dark parking lot.)
It was nevertheless an interesting revelation: officers were walking on eggshells in the presence of a well-connected and angry black man who claimed he was being racially profiled.
McKnight, for his part, claimed in his Op-Ed that he behaved like a perfect gentleman, in line with “The Talk” his mother had given him as a youngster; that's the heart-to-heart parental chat black kids are said to get on how to deal with white police officers. It was perhaps a telling remark: that McKnight's mother -- not his father -- gave him “The Talk.”
Austin's police never commented publicly on McKnight's Statesman column, which ran nine weeks after the January 13 incident.
There's no doubt that Agatha was a victim; she's definitely not a racist. Yet something else may have animated the "misunderstanding" between her and Robert McKnight. Conceivably, she may have given McKnight some of her feminist upper-middle-class "white girl" attitude; and McKnight may have responded with some attitude of his own -- all of which resulted in a 911 call.
McKnight, a self-important idealist like Agatha, subsequently brooded for weeks about the incident, before finally deciding how to settle his score with Agatha -- turn their misunderstanding into a racial issue. (You'd have to deal with Agatha to understand how she may have inadvertently touched off this dynamic.) She once shaved her head and wore a T-shirt saying “F--k Cancer" -- photos of which she published on her Facebook page that, incidentally, was recently closed to the public to keep the trolls at bay. She also angrily declined to answer follow-up questions, saying she was wary over where all the questions were going. She was particularly upset over a "condescending" question about why she was working as a nanny. All in all, it's safe to say that she and Robert McKnight come from different worlds.
Armchair psychology aside, one thing is inescapable. The news media during the Obama years has relentlessly played up incidents of white cops allegedly brutalizing black men; and Obama has used the most high profile of these incidents to lecture America about its racial sins. The story of Robert McKnight's encounter with an upper-middle-class white girl and Austin's police may in fact offer a closer reflection of what's happening most of the time in the streets. It's not as much about race, in other words, as it is about a collision of culture and class.
Even so, liberals and many media outlets can be counted on to view such incidents through a racial prism -- as was underscored by how some quickly embraced Robert McKnight's racially charged fairy tale.
Author's Note: "Agatha's" name can be be revealed: It is Amanda Vining. I had promised to keep her name out of this story during my initial meeting with her; but I am happy to say I can honorably break that promise. This is after learning, just hours before this article was loaded up for publication, that Vining had published an Op-Ed in the Waco Tribune about her run-in with Robert McKnight. It was published some three weeks after she had declined to answer follow-up interview questions, having declared in a huff that she disliked both my questions and the tone the article seemed to be taking. Her Op-Ed ran under her byline. Many of her points are echoed in my article, although to be sure there are some minor additions and insights, including that she had locked herself in her bedroom. Vining did not mention the police report that I obtained last week through a media request. To read her Op-Ed, click here.