Only a Kid Behind Walmart Racial Prank

Now that it has turned out that the person behind the racial announcement, telling all black people to leave a Turnersville Walmart in NJ, is a 16 year old, a lot of people are wondering why it’s being made into such “a big deal.” The media has been criticized for rushing in with “racial-type” headlines over the March 14, 2010 incident when it has turned out to be “just” a teenage prank. Yet others believe being a kid is no excuse for this type of behavior.

By March 17th, two women who were in the store at the time of the incident told the Courier Post they were boycotting Walmart. Patricia Covington and Shelia Ellington, both of Monroe Twp, said they were glad their children weren’t with them so they didn’t have to explain why someone would say such a thing over the store loudspeaker. “I can’t believe it in this day and age,” said Covington. “Walmart needs to be more responsible.”

I don’t believe it’s any fault of Walmart’s if people entering their store decide to abuse a service they have offered in good faith. As a result of this kid’s “prank,” Walmart will restrict access to the P.A. system it made available to customers, without any incidents of abuse making headlines until now. We all know that wherever there is a service that is meant for a good purpose, there are going to be some people who will find a way to ruin it. I’m sure they’ve had some pranks before now. I personally know of one incident in a NJ supermarket where a kid who got fired decided to say a few choice parting words over the P.A. system on the way out. Of course, that was personal retaliation and not likely to be repeated (at least by that kid.) The inflammatory nature of the Walmart incident and potential for copycats obviously has to be addressed.

In my opinion, New Jersey is a very racially segregated state. Yes, I live in Houston, TX now, but I was born in NJ and lived there over 50 years. I would not go as far as to say it’s the most racist state because I don’t know that. There are youtubes online about racism in New Jersey, but it’s hardly the only state with those kind of youtubes. The Imus “nappy headed hos” incident was directed at NJ’s Rutgers basketball team, but the Henry Gates incident, in which even the President got involved, occurred in Massachusetts. Still, if you live in New Jersey, unless you never go out, chances are you know some racists. As the saying goes, everybody knows a few but nobody is one. And don’t assume I mean white racism exclusively. I’ve been called quite a few racial epithets in my day and been mugged a few times myself, but in my own view, it boils down to good and bad in all races.

One of the youtubes involves another town in Gloucester County and a much more intense racial drama that occurred over the last few years . In 2007, Charles Tyson was elected the first African-American mayor of South Harrison and was again re-elected in 2008. Last year, he cited death threats and racist vandalism as his reason for leaving office. A white supremacist from Virginia named Bill White was charged with sending emails and making threatening phone calls to Mrs. Tyson, but whoever slashed the mayor’s tires and put a sign on his lawn that said “KKK” was never arrested. The town offered a $24,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person or persons responsible.

I was pretty curious to see the local reaction to the Walmart situation on NJ.com, Gloucester County News. Here are some of the comments on the article: Atlantic County teenager charged in bias incident at Washington Twp. Walmart, by Lucas K. Turner (3/20/2010). (The title of the article, by the way, immediately lets NJ readers know that it was an out-of-county teen).

Private Citizen said: “If the system is really going to pursue this, then they better start going after all the black who use the N word too! No more double standard for whites!”

ChrisInBB said: “… what he did and said was morally offensive and his parents should punish him for it. But legally, it is protected speech. I was expecting the charge, quite honestly, to be trespassing and that I could support. He had no right to illegally access the public address system of a private company and THEY (not the police) should be the ones pressing charges of trespassing and even theft of services (use of their intercom).”

But the one I most agreed with was from True Review: “where did this kid learn that making this offensive remark was just for “fun”? I will tell you. He learned about being dismissive of other races and cultures in his own little world where friends and family make “jokes” like this all the time. Im sure as the kid matures he will find more sophisticated ways to channel his misguided hate by maybe submitting post to his local newspaper.”

This is the real crux of the matter. This kid did not come up with the idea to do this in a vacuum. As long as people continue to denigrate other races in their homes and social circles, racism will continue to be alive and well, not just in New Jersey, but wherever people say things that lead kids to believe that it is right and even funny to insult other races and cultures. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I think this kid should get off scot-free. I don’t, but I also don’t think he should be made the anonymous poster child for teenage racism when he is obviously a product of his environment.

Additional sources not embedded:
Youtube: Racism Wins in New Jersey