Today’s Lessons from Tulsa
Yesterday, President Biden visited the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre site and met with survivors of the coordinated racist attack by a white mob on the neighborhood known as Greenwood a century ago. This visit and the acknowledgment of racial violence is the first from a U.S. President.
By burning Greenwood Avenue, otherwise known as Black Wall Street, to the ground, this violent mob intended to erase Black people from the fabric of society and prop up their white supremacist vision of America.
Today, the ideological descendants of the Tulsa mob are busy promoting the same hateful agenda. But now, they want to erase any study of race or racism from public education, ensuring that historical and modern racism remain unexamined, unacknowledged, and unchallenged.
It’s no accident that most Americans never studied the Tulsa Race Massacre in school, the Japanese-American Redress Movement, Indigenous and Native American contributions or ever learned the year 1619 as a notable date in history – the year when the first ship carrying enslaved people arrived in the British colony of Point Comfort, Virginia.
The New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project argued that “the country’s very origin” could be traced to that year. The backlash against scholar Nikole Hannah-Jones because of her involvement with 1619 Project is a prime example of this pattern of racism and ignorance. She was denied a tenure position at the University of North Carolina after the university’s board of trustees—appointed by the Republican-controlled state legislature—interfered with a hiring decision for the first time. Then, Mitch McConnell and three dozen Republican Senators called the 1619 Project “activist indoctrination” and “divisive nonsense” in a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.
Our U.S. history is not a simple as good versus evil – we must acknowledge the truth and its complexities. We must try to understand the how and why behind our racist systems and the success and failures of all people. The experiences and oppression of Black, Latinx, Indigenous, AAPI people, and other communities of color can no longer be ignored, reinterpreted, or reconstructed to fit into a school textbook. We must use all of our resources to help center these voices and histories so we can create programs, legislation and a future committed to equity, intersectionality, and racial inclusion.
We, as NOW members, have seen the power of active listening and active learning and the role history plays in our activism towards racial justice. Today, 100 years and one day after the Tulsa Race Massacre, we will learn from our past so we can work hard to deconstruct its patterns today to help defend every inch of progress in the future.