“I’m not drinking it!”

by James Welborn

A recent pet peeve of mine is the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid.” It’s a reference to the Jonestown Massacre, but it’s used without emotion, like it’s about being at a picnic. After listening to an NPR report on Jonestown a few months ago, I will never again let someone near me use the phrase without opprobrium.

The Jonestown Massacre happened in November 1978, less than 30 years ago. More than 900 people – a third of them children – died or were killed. You’d think it would loom larger in the American psyche than it seems to.

My mother always spoke about it with reverence and sadness, since before Jim Jones brought his followers to Africa and became a concern to the U.S. government, he had been a voice for racial harmony in the country.

As a matter of fact, 70% of his followers (and those that died at Jonestown) were black, even though he was white.

Perhaps that’s why it’s easy for people to make fun of the tragedy – it was mainly black people that died. No one makes fun of the Waco tragedy, where only 74 people died. As a matter of fact, I think that this attitude is probably closely connected to that which caused people to be trapped in the Super Dome for a week among sewage and death, without the federal government intervening. Or why, after our government has called the violence in Darfur a “genocide,” we still don’t have the political will to help.

Listen to the NPR documentaries on Jim Jones and his followers. When it comes to the part where a survivor talks about seeing his wife pour the deadly drink into their crying 3-year-old son, and watching them both die, convulsing and foaming at the mouth – you will never again stand silent when someone minimizes the tragedy by using that phrase.

(This article is adapted from a longer piece by Mr. Welborn on his blog, and is reprinted with permission. He may be reached through at welborn@mac.com.)

Last modified on December 14th, 2013.
Skip to main content