Tulsa's Racist Past and Present
The arrests of two Whites* for the senseless killings of Blacks in Tulsa, OK, over the past few days won't surprise the people who have been trying to write the history, that had been officially buried by Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma, of the 1921 destruction of Tulsa's Black neighborhood by White mobs and the massacre of 300 of its residents.
(*update: initially identified by police as Whites, one suspect may be part Cherokee Indian. The other is his White, older roommate. Their victims all are Black.)
|Photo - Dan Ross|
Greenwood Avenue, the main street of Tulsa's racially segregated Greenwood section, was called The Black Wall Street because Greenwood was so prosperous. Greenwood had its own banks, its own, thriving businesses, and two newspapers. Because it had its own banks, many Greenwood residents were homeowners. But the fact that Greenwood was burned to the ground by a mob of Whites who had been deputized by the sheriff, displacing 10,000 people, was for 80 years not even acknowledged by the state of Oklahoma, and one of the worst instances of racial violence in US history is still not fully and accurately explained in Oklahoma school textbooks.
|McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa|
The state of Oklahoma didn't even look into the matter until the year 2000, and did then only after decades of activism. Here are three shorter accounts of the attacks, in case CNN or Fox News don't get around mentioning them, and there's this well researched paper by Scott Ellsworth, and this recent New York Times story. It's a chapter of American history few know about. I hadn't heard about it until a couple years ago, when Oklahoma native Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, the radical American Indian Movement and feminist activist, now a retired academic and a historian, mentioned it on a Pacifica Radio program.
Racism of course isn't limited to Tulsa. It isn't limited to the White race, although since the world has come under first White European and more recently White dominated American domination it sure seems that way sometimes because Whites have been able to use their power to act on their inherent racism, but it isn't limited to whites. Racism is simply a function of human nature, and not even liberal academia has confronted what, exactly, it is that causes racism and its brothers tribalism and nationalism (or as nationalism is often called here in the US, patriotism) and hasn't honestly looked into what it is that causes that "us versus them" dynamic to become established in the human psyche. And despite its invaluable uses for groups who have been discriminated against, dispossessed, enslaved and murdered, we haven't begun to see the downside of grouping ourselves into the groups by which we identify ourselves, and identify ourselves in opposition to other groups, and we haven't begun to dissect the drive that causes competition and its ugly side effects, the threads of which are intertwined with all of it.
But we first of course need to acknowledge that racism exists. We need to push back the Conservative, Republican lie that racism doesn't exist any more, that it's all in our past. Most importantly, we need to acknowledge it so that it's victims, like the survivors of the horrendous mob violence in Tulsa in 1921, can receive justice and live the same kind of lives as anybody else.