Like many black folks around this country, our hearts sank, yet again when we discovered that the shooter at the Manchester, Connecticut Budweiser Hartford Distribution plant was black. I, like others I’m sure, immediately said “Black folks don’t do those things” or something similar when we first heard about the news. You know, black folks don’t do the workplace shootings. And if our kids decide to shoot up a school, or pull a Columbine, as it’s colloquially known, it doesn’t make national news, nor does it result in the massive number of deaths.
So, when the first grainy images of Omar Thornton graced our screen via a small and pixelated Facebook profile picture, I scrunched up my face, as if yet again, we had taken a hit in our community. My mother went so far as to verbally say, “Black folks don’t usually do those things, I’m sorry to hear that.” To which my snarky personality allowed me to say “Black folks don’t usually go around DC with sniper rifles shooting at random persons either.”
Of course I’m talking about John Allen Muhammad and his accomplice young Lee Boyd Malvo.
The entire populace of black America was 100% shocked I’m sure because running around shooting random people typically didn’t fall in the realm of “stuff black people do.” No different than this shooter in Connecticut. Although, this particular situation had a different dynamic than most workplace shootings we hear about: Thornton methodically murdered individuals associated with his grief.
As the story has been presented to us Omar Thornton went to work one day and managers apparently told him to quit his job because he was allegedly stealing beer. Whatever the case, they told the wrong Negro, because he came back and shot eight people and ultimately killed himself. Like most other blacks, I’m sure, my face scrunched up yet again because we saw the mother of his girlfriend on the news and we were like “Oh wow, he has a white girlfriend?” and our confusion was only compounded when there were charges of racial discrimination.
Personally, I’m slow to make charges of racism.
I think often times what we consider to be racism may really be our prejudices and bigotry that are coming to the fore. But, in this case, it’s just too much that I haven’t heard that I’m questioning. In subsequent interviews, we hear Thornton’s girlfriend and her mother over and over say he was complaining of racial discrimination. Apparently there was a cell phone with images taken of a hangman’s noose and racial epithets written in the bathroom–with only two blacks working in the entire place. And, again, Thornton had targets meaning that he wasn’t just mad in general, but he was quite clear about who had wronged him. And above all, he made a 911 call that made it clear to the dispatcher the reasons why he was doing what he was doing.
As it stands, the police have not released the cell phone images to the police and this Hartford Distributors along with the truck drivers union are maintaining that there was no record of Thornton filing a complaint with either the company or the union. If Thornton was indeed in a hostile working environment due to racism in the workplace, him going to his managers would be like blacks in the Jim Crow south filing a police report against police brutality!
That being said, there’s the flip tragedy that happened the same day down in Shreveport, Louisiana where six teenagers drowned at a family reunion because no one knew how to swim. Let’s be honest, for whatever reason we still associate swimming as a white sport. And I think with fair reason though. Reports have shown that upwards of 70% of blacks don’t know how to swim. The report goes on to say that a) there’s a fear factor of drowning, b) lack of access to swimming pools and costs for swimming lessons and c) that swimming is seen as a culturally white activity–why because black folk don’t do those things! And I’d like to add d) that black women don’t want to get their hair wet.
Seriously, black women and their hair and their aversion to swimming is almost astounding. Mothers had to stand on the banks of the muddy Red River and watch their kids drown and do nothing because they didn’t know how to swim and no one in the vicinity knew how. So U.S. Olympian Cullen Jones is doing this nationwide push in inner city communities to get black and Latino kids to be okay with getting in the water and actually learning how to swim. I remember when he was in Chicago and he quoted a statistic that blacks are 3 times more likely to be drowning victims than whites.
Look, I understand that historically when the public pools were whites only places, but somehow we didn’t take the shackles off of our mind to understand that swimming was something we could still do, because black folk don’t do those things.
I think we have limited ourselves when we trot out the black folk don’t do those things meme. To the credit of Thomas Chatterton Williams in his book Losing My Cool he did attempt to dispel the myths that black people can only fit into a certain mold. Honestly, we don’t own passports because far too often the world is only the United States and for an unfortunate few, the world is only their city or state. And it’s a big deal when they have to travel and go elsewhere outside of their comfort zone. For instance, granted it was back in the 60s/70s, my mother knew someone who at 18, grew up on the far South Side of Chicago and she had never been downtown in her whole life!
So just as we’ve been told the myth that black folk don’t those things as it pertains to the negative things (like, if we ever here about a black person being accused of a terrorist plot) we need to break the mold when it comes to the things that limit our experience. Don’t turn down an international experience just because “its too far.” Or don’t deny yourself an trip to go camping, or kayaking or something just because it seems “white.” Don’t be provincial and limit yourself. Trust me, you’re “blackness” isn’t going anywhere, I’m sure your skin color isn’t changing anytime soon.
What are some things that you can think of where black folk don’t do those things? I’d love to hear what you come up with.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL