Behold the DEI scam in microcosm

If you haven’t figured out DEI is a total scam then God help you, you need a wake-up call.

The Los Angeles Times ran a great story about the rise and fall of a partnership between a White woman and a Black Woman that blossomed into a profitable business entirely based upon their common experience of making and sharing a video of an alleged act of racial aggression against two Black men at a Starbucks.

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The story encapsulates so much of what is wrong with modern American discourse about race.

The original incident that brought them together is murky, and despite it being 5 years old I suspect that there is more to it than a Starbucks employee hating Black people, as it has gone down in history. What follows, though, is the blossoming of what seems to me to be a gift, followed by a split driven by the racial resentment that DEI strives to generate.

Few know the names Michelle Saahene or Melissa DePino. But millions have heard the beginning of their story.

They were witnesses at a Philadelphia Starbucks five years ago when two Black businessmen asked to use the restroom and a white barista called police, who led the men away in handcuffs.

“They didn’t do anything!” Saahene shouted as another customer recorded the confrontation.

Saahene and DePino didn’t know each other. But in their shock and anger, the two women started talking, and after DePino got a copy of the video, she conferred with Saahene before tweeting it out.

The tweet triggered a public relations disaster for Starbucks and a national uproar, raising questions about racism, policing and public safety.

It also launched lucrative new careers for both women, who teamed up to promote awareness about racism and started a nonprofit that provided sensitivity talks to corporations just as the diversity, equity and inclusion industry was about to take off.

What they could not anticipate was how their joint venture would go awry — or how they themselves would become a potent illustration of the racial animosity and misunderstanding they had set out to combat.

“This is what happens when white women insert themselves into what should be Black-led organizations,” Saahene, who is Black and 36, said recently. “White supremacy and emotional abuse get masked under kindness.”

“This is what it looks like to be canceled,” said DePino, who is white and 55. “I’m not really sure what I did wrong.”

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It’s a story that could have been written by Scott Adams. A White person gets on her moral high horse only to be, as she sees it, stabbed in the back for trying to be an “ally.”

It never pays to be an ally of people firmly situated on the Left, whether the grievance is race, gender, class, or any other category. You will get burned.

The DEI business that the two women started made bank during the COVID DEI boom–and that is where the problems started. Originally their business model was a 50-50 split, with DePino doing the books and keeping things running, and Saahene being the Black face of the organization. They each did their racial kabuki theatre, but Saahene is probably right that without a Black face to front for the organization, it might not have taken off.

Saahene didn’t like the split–she wanted more, because “equity.” It’s always “equity,” isn’t it? From there things went south fast.

Saahene claims it wasn’t the money–it was the racism and microaggressions that always come from White people.

The two had become close friends, but friendship cannot survive resentment, and Saahene has plenty of that. The longer she was in the DEI business and the wealthier she became at it–she split her time between her home in Ghana and one in the US–the more oppressed she felt having to work with a White woman.

As the market for DEI training began to dry up, the resentment grew. It seems to have become an obsession.

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Saahene grew introspective. Living in Ghana for long stretches had made her feel empowered in her Black skin. She began to question her role as a Black woman who spoke to white audiences about racism.

“I started to realize that I was the draw: my skin, my story,” Saahene said.

She began to think back to disagreements she’d had with DePino — differences that had seemed minor at the time but in a new light felt more troubling.

One such conflict involved Saahene’s growing discomfort about capitalizing on the corporate interest in social justice that followed Floyd’s murder.

“I was growing faster and thinking about this all at a deeper, more complex level,” Saahene said. “I told her the pain I was feeling about how we were making money off of this. Her responses were cold.”

This explanation seems to be a bit odd, given that her very first complaint was that she wanted more money from the partnership. As much as she claims that she felt uncomfortable profiting off the racial grift, she sure wanted a bigger chunk of the profits.

Then there was the question of how to divide the profits from their business. The two women had always split them evenly, but in 2019 Saahene had suggested that she deserved a greater share. It seemed clear that the venture would have gotten little traction without a Black woman on board, and in her view, speaking about racism required more “emotional labor” on her part. She said DePino disagreed, contending that she did more background work: nonprofit filings, managing money and posting to social media accounts.

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Remember, they built all this out of having taken a viral video, proving the power of social media. Neither had any particular qualifications otherwise to lecture to major corporations, but those corporations were paying $10 grand a pop to hear them speak. Because they happened to have a phone at the right place and right time, and likely smeared a poor schmuck who just wanted two non-paying customers to get off their butts.

As she befriended African activists, Saahene heard stories of Black women who felt the sting of racism while working with white women. One was a group called No White Saviors, led by a Ugandan and a white American, that challenged the tradition of white-led charities in Africa but crumbled amid a bitter fight among its founders.

Saahene saw parallels.

In late November 2021, she texted DePino: “I’m exploiting my trauma. … Someone said this to me yesterday, ‘No one asks a sexual assault survivor to retell their story, so why are Black people expected to tell theirs?’”

“You have to do what feels right by you,” DePino replied. “I support you completely.”

They continued to talk, to try to sort out differences. Saahene texted, saying she felt unheard and pointing out past moments she now considered “microaggressions.”

One involved a suggestion by DePino that they visit a lynching memorial in Alabama together. “As if we haven’t had numerous conversations about how traumatizing it is for me to witness violence against Black bodies,” Saahene wrote.

She called DePino “manipulative” and cited “the challenges of working with white women in racial justice,” arguing that “Black people shouldn’t always have to be in therapist or coach mode.”

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You have to love that. She wants more money and doesn’t actually want to do anything to earn it. Her whole shtick is being a therapist and a coach to corporations wrestling with racial issues, and she is sick of it. But wants the pay, too.

Nice gig if you can get it. Eventually, though, Saahene had had enough and decided that White women suck, especially her former friend.

Saahene emailed to say she was done sharing stages. Since returning from Ghana, Saahene wrote, she was on a “transformation of healing and decolonizing.” She accused DePino of “defensiveness and other manifestations of whiteness.”

DePino was overwhelmed. She was two weeks from leaving her marketing job of 17 years and about to move out of her Philadelphia row house. She was often at the hospital, tending to her aunt in her final weeks, and she was hurt to not be asked more about her own life’s transitions. It all felt sudden.

“I thought we were working things out. I thought we were best friends,” DePino said in an interview. “Instead, I learned that we were not friends anymore. … The organization had a mission and she no longer supported it.”

On April 22, 2022, Saahene took over the platform. In a written statement to nearly 500,000 followers, she said DePino was “not honest” and had no “commitment to ending colonialism.” She plugged her personal Instagram.

“A staple of anti-racism is ‘listen to Black women.’ In this org that is not happening,” Saahene wrote.

DePino deleted the posts and dashed off an email: “You cannot legally slander me… I will send a cease-and-desist ASAP.”

Saahene shot back: “My life experiences and statements are truth.”

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And so it goes. The more invested one gets in the racial resentment narrative, the more racial resentment there is. And in a world where “lived experiences” determine truth, not actual facts on the ground, there is no way to win.

The White woman who dedicated herself to being an “ally” wound up exactly where you would expect: accused of racism, publicly smeared, and facing cancelation.

There is no way to win this game, so best not to play it. There are plenty of Black people who just want to live a good life and not spend every waking moment mouthing ridiculous and dishonest platitudes about “decolonization,” so it’s best to spend your time with them as friends rather than the people whose whole identity is wrapped up in whinging.

DEI has probably done more damage to racial relations than any other force in America. It has convinced too many Americans that we need to talk and think about race constantly, and that leads inevitably to everybody finding fault with everybody else. Suddenly people who talked sports and stocks are talking “decolonizing” and “microaggressions.”

The best way to get beyond racism is to quit always focusing on race. That path leads to disaster.

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David Strom 8:00 AM | July 25, 2024
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