We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, among the worst single instances of racial terrorism in American history. While many recognize this event and its aftermath as the horrific tragedy it is, there are others who are using the weapons of choice for those who want to push back against history and shift responsibility for racism to others. If we are to live so that we will be a people worth remembering, we must learn to follow and understand the truth of our memories. Of our history.
As always, this Weekly Reader features links to recent articles that grabbed my interest or tickled my fancy. I hope you find something that makes you laugh, think, or cry.
“In the span of about 24 hours between May 31 and June 1, 1921, a white mob descended on Greenwood, a successful black economic hub in Tulsa, Oklahoma then-known as ‘Black Wall Street,’ and burned it to the ground. Some members of the mob had been deputized and armed by city officials.
In what is now known as the ‘Tulsa Race Massacre,’ the mob destroyed 35 square blocks of Greenwood, burning down more than 1,200 black-owned houses, scores of businesses, a school, a hospital, a public library, and a dozen black churches. The American Red Cross…said the death toll was around 300, but the exact number remains unknown….Those who survived lost their homes, businesses, and livelihoods. Property damage claims from the massacre alone amount to tens of millions in today’s dollars. The massacre’s devastating toll, in terms of lives lost and harms in various ways, can never be fully repaired.“
What the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Destroyed is a 3D model in the New York Times of what was lost in terms of property and intergenerational Black wealth. It is worth your consideration.
Blowback against the impacts of racism can be seen in conservative attempts to take one of the aspirations for the civil rights movement — King’s famous line that individuals would one day “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” — and strip it away from considerations of power, hierarchy, or structure. Sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, author of Racism Without Racists, notes that color-blind racism is an ideology that “explains contemporary racial inequality as the outcome of non-racial dynamics…(W)hites rationalize minorities’ contemporary status as the product of market dynamics, naturally occurring phenomena, and blacks’ imputed cultural limitations.” Such explanations “exculpate [white people] from any responsibility for the status of people of color.”
When conservatives in Oklahoma pass laws to restrict the teaching of the impact of past racists acts such as the Tulsa Massacre on the world today, we are seeing this color-blind racism at work. Writing What is critical race theory and why did Oklahoma just ban it? in the Washington Post, Kathryn Shumaker notes,
“(T)his new (Oklahoma) law undermines efforts to reckon with our collective past, and it will chill classroom discussions of this history. H.B. 1775 instructs educators to emphasize that although the perpetrators of the Tulsa Race Massacre did bad things, their actions do not shape the world we live in — even though White rioters murdered scores of Black Tulsans and destroyed more than 1,200 buildings in the Black Greenwood neighborhood, annihilating decades of accumulated Black wealth.” (emphasis added)
As the reality of our nation’s deep racial divide highlights white privilege and white terrorism, many who have benefitted from those systems and actions feel uncomfortable. Generations are affected by actions such as occurred in Tulsa in 1921. Yet too many would rather our history be taught in the old “patriotic” way. The attempt to shift blame onto anyone but those who have controlled power since our nation’s founding shows the desperation felt by the country’s shrinking but well funded and highly vocal group of white supremacists.
We should understand our history and live out those consequences so that we will be a people worth remembering.
More to come…
(Image: During the Tulsa race riots in 1921, more than 1,200 black businesses and homes in the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, were destroyed at the hands of white residents. Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)