There has been a rash of acts of racism caught on tape lately. In recent weeks, if it isn’t a Donald Sterling audio or interview, it’s anyone from Justin Bieber, to random strippers in New York parking lots with kids in tow. If you didn’t know any better, you would think that racism, as a thing, was making a comeback. Of course this is not true. The convergence of ignorance and technology just makes it seem to be that way. In truth, racism and the acts of racist people have always existed; and, they date back to the capturing of images on those “Wish you were here!” lynching post cards. Back then, however, unlike today a victim of racism had no legal recourse nor were they taken seriously when it came to seeking redress for the injury inflicted upon African-Americans.
It’s just that in today’s digital age, with access to audio and video devices literally in the palm of our hands, you never know who’s watching, listening, and recording. Case in point, checkout the following story from one of my local Memphis television stations, WREG. According to the report, a white supervisor at a cotton gin warehouse is now the subject of a lawsuit. It’s alleged that the supervisor threatened to hang a black subordinate for drinking from what he defiantly declared as a “white people” water fountain. The problem with that is that it’s 2014 and, well, this sort of thing is against the law; and, there are federal protections against this. But, don’t tell this to Mr. Bigoty McRacist.
Two men filed charges against the Atkinson Cotton Warehouse.
They’re accusing their former supervisor of calling them “monkeys” and telling them the water fountain and microwave were for white people only.
[…] Antonio Harris and Marrio Mangrum say their former supervisor was stuck in the past.
“He would be like, ‘You need to think like a white man,” said Mangrum
“He pulled his pants down in front of us and told us to kiss his white tail ,” said Harris.
He said after months of racist comments and feeling powerless, he decided to use his phone as a weapon to fight back.
He recorded his attempt to drink water from a water fountain in the warehouse office.
“Hey!” says the supervisor in the recording.
“What?” asked Harris.
“I need to put a sign here that says `white people only.”
Here’s the irony of this story: Not only was Memphis the center of the cotton industry during and after slavery; Memphis, is also the home of the National Civil Rights Museum. Oh, and the museum is now what was once the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took his last breath before being murdered on the historic location’s balcony. Perhaps this hold’s very little significance to you my dear reader. But, as someone who lives in Memphis — a city with ongoing racial strife — which, is predominantly African-American. I can tell you that given this city’s history, this isn’t a big surprise to many of us.. Heck, and that’s just me speaking as a northern transplant with very shallow roots here in the city of Memphis, Tennessee. A city where the Klan still marches.
Harris also recorded his attempt to use the microwave.
“I am going to use the microwave,” said Harris in the recording.
“Hell no!” said the supervisor.
“Why can’t I use the microwave, man?”
“Because you are not white.”
“As a white man, we don`t even let Larry use it.”
“Larry has been there 10 to 20 years and he is a black guy also,” Mangrum told WREG.
In the recording, the supervisor goes on to explain his romanticized view of days of the old Jim Crow south. This was a time when segregation was the law of the land. It was a not-so-happy time for African-Americans; but a time that only a racist person like the supervisor in this story can appreciate. Why? Because having the power to secure “whiteness” in the name of white supremacy — especially at the workplace — as you subject black folks to a “lesser than” status is akin to being a plantation overseer. And of course, what poor white trash supervisor wouldn’t get his rocks this way?
[…] “Back then, nobody thought anything about it. Now everybody is made to where to think it’s bad,” says the supervisor in the recording.
Thirty seconds later in the same recording:
“Put your sign on the wall then, because I am feeling to drink it,” said Harris. “What would they do when they catch me drinking your water?”
“That`s when we hang you,” said the supervisor.
Since the story broke, the then vacationing supervisor has been fired by the warehouse owner, E.W. Atkinson. In response to this controversy, Atkinson told WREG that management at his warehouse are hired by a third-party company called Federal Compress. He also noted that he wishes that he was around more to have been able to discuss the comments sooner. Atkinson also says he was shocked to hear the racist comments of the guy that ran his warehouse. I could be wrong, but something tells me that he knew exactly the type of supervisor who ranhiswarehouse. In my head they may have joked about this sort of thing before. But, as usual, as privilege would have it, what white folks say behind doors are supposed to stay behind doors. Thankfully this supervisor got too comfortable with his hate.
In response to the EEOC complaint filed by the two former employees against his business, Atkinson believes he bares no responsibility. Since the supervisor in question was an employee of Federal Compress, he does not see this as an infraction for which his business is liable. As much as I have my doubts about Atkinson’s knowledge of this employee, I believe he is correct in not having to assume responsibility. Federal Compress has released the following statement in response to the lawsuit filed.
Federal Compress maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy which prohibits any form of racially or other discriminatory conduct or language in the workplace and provides a process for reporting such violations to Human Resources for investigation. When Federal Compress was first made aware of these allegations concerning an employee working in another company’s workplace, it conducted a thorough and extensive investigation. The person was immediately removed from that workplace, and is in fact no longer employed by Federal Compress. Federal Compress very much regrets that the allegations were not reported to it when the first incident is claimed to have occurred.
Federal Compress remains committed to treating all employees, customers, and members of the public with respect and dignity.
At any rate, I’m happy that the two men did something to fight back against the supervisor for what they endured. I say that because as if racism isn’t bad enough, workplace racial discrimination however not-so-blatant, has a long-lasting affect on people of color.
Watch the full video below: