On this day, June 1, 2021, Joe Biden became the first United States president to acknowledge the Tulsa race massacre that took place one hundred years ago. It took a century for the head of this state of this country to not only to acknowledge the atrocity of the devastation of Greenwood and the murder of hundreds of its Black residents – in the process he also acknowledged the humanity of Black Americans – an act which has been so very difficult for this country.
The fact that an atrocity of such scope could be hidden from virtually all Americans for most of this past century makes it clear that this country has no moral standing to condemn similar atrocities in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. It is also clear that even as President Biden offered more than condolences – he also made concrete proposals to address the economic disparities that have been the result of the massacre in Tulsa, and in most of these United States.
But the question must be asked – what is it that we don’t know. If the massacre of hundreds of men, women and children and the total devastation of a large and thriving community could literally disappear from national memory, it is impossible to believe that the destruction of Greenwood was an outlier, an anomaly, some kind of unfortunate divergence from decency.
We do know about the race massacres in Rosewood, Florida and in Atlanta – but what about Elaine, Arkansas where 100-237 Black people were massacred by white mobs in 1919. The point is that Black Americans have been experiencing a reign of terror for centuries in this country.
The difference in the modern era is that we don’t see white mobs decimating Black communities, but sadly we see too many out of control white police officers murdering Black men, women and children one by one. In the modern era we don’t see white mobs roaming the streets of Harlem, Bedford Stuyvesant or Compton. What we do see is the systematic and systemic denial of basic human needs – housing, medical care, access to transportation, quality education and clean water.
We do not see the apocalyptic horror of roaming mobs. Instead we see the slow motion decimation of human being, denying the humanity of too many Black men, women and children in the process. And to be clear, it is not only Black Americans who suffer this indignity. And to be clear, it is always Black Americans who are first, last and always the targets and victims of this not so benign neglect.
It is interesting that telling the truth about the experience of Black Americans in this country – also known as Critical Race Theory – is actually against the law in the state of Texas, and we can be sure that other states will follow. It is interesting that too many Americans are comfortable with lies and myths and are adamantly opposed to uncomfortable truths.
Finally, what we do know is that unless and until all Americans confront and address these uncomfortable truths there is zero possibility of this nation ever attaining the ideals that are articulated in its founding documents.
This country simply cannot endure while living a lie.