Tulsa Race Riots of 1921: Who pays?
March 1, 2001 3:35 AM   Subscribe

Tulsa Race Riots of 1921: Who pays? I don't think Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating's pledge to fundraise for a memorial/museum will suffice as a remedy -- or cut much mustard with survivors and their families. (Background info here.)
posted by allaboutgeorge (26 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"The 200-page report describes a night of horror, sparked by a false accusation of rape against a black man and fueled by white envy over a rising black middle class: homes were set aflame, planes dropped turpentine bombs, and the unarmed black men were shot on the street. "

But what can you do to make up for it? I'm for having the government pay reparations to survivors and their descendants, but what sort of reparation is there for the awful, terrible things done that night? The lives destroyed in the June Riot cannot now be restored.


By the way, that should be pass muster (to be judged as acceptable in appearance or performance), not cut mustard. - Word Police

posted by pracowity at 4:40 AM on March 1, 2001

What reperations can be made for something that happened 80 years ago? Destroying a community is clearly an evil act, but does giving money to the survivors (or more to the point, the survivor's descendants) really do much good? If it happened, say five or ten years ago, then those who had been directly harmed could be at least partly compensated. But making reparations for an evil act committed 80 years ago would be more of a symbolic than a real good.

Then again, if it brings people together, maybe this kind of symbol is really needed...
posted by Loudmax at 6:49 AM on March 1, 2001

1. A state of hardship or affliction; misfortune.
2. A calamitous event. See Synonyms at misfortune.
Face it and move forward, not back.
posted by brian at 7:25 AM on March 1, 2001

I agree that reparations made to the "community" would not accomplish much (or anything) but as with the man interviewed in the article, his family suffered major financial hardship as their business and home was destroyed. In situations where survivors or direct descendants lost substantial property, they should be compensated.

A bit of a wake up call to think we had our own Kristallnacht, eh, America?

ps. to the word police, to "cut the mustard" is indeed its own acceptable idiom.
posted by norm at 7:58 AM on March 1, 2001

In Tulsa, there is a great disparity between the standard of living on the Northside of Tulsa (mostly black residents) and the Southside (mostly white). Any overtures made by the city to get both areas on equal footing would be beneficial in the long run.
posted by project2502 at 8:05 AM on March 1, 2001

uh, the problem is, is that those who commited the crimes won't be the ones paying the reparations.
posted by sonofsamiam at 8:07 AM on March 1, 2001

> "cut the mustard" is indeed its own acceptable idiom.

Ah. Now I see. An Americanism. Like cut the cheese.
posted by pracowity at 8:32 AM on March 1, 2001

Two cultures divided by a common language. *cough*

I love the rationalization that sonofsiam and loudmax use. "It's been too long ... we don't know who really did it ..." As far as I'm concerned, everyone who lived in that city is to blame either for committing these acts or for allowing them to be committed and to go unpunished for the last 80 years. That last is a sin perhaps less culpable, but the cost will be much less.

I welcome anyone bringing forward evidence of actual prosecutable crimes, of course, and it would be lovely to charge these reparations to their families.

Yes, I believe this. I believe that genocide cannot go unpunished. I believe that knowing that if you commit an act this heinous, someday your children may have to pay up, your average mouth-breathing ethnic-cleanser will perhaps think twice.
posted by dhartung at 8:54 AM on March 1, 2001

Yes, I believe this. I believe that genocide cannot go unpunished. I believe that knowing that if you commit an act this heinous, someday your children may have to pay up, your average mouth-breathing ethnic-cleanser will perhaps think twice.

Of course as most Americans (myself among them, at times) can usually be caught saying things like, "Well, slavery/holocaust/discrimination/lynching doesn't affect me, my family wasn't even *in* North America/Germany/the South when that happened..." would make me suspect not everyone feels the way you do.

It's a wholly admirable belief though. I remember my own perspective changing when a friend pointed out that
ancestry doesn't matter; if I am not discriminated against while others are, than I am still in some way culpable.

And lo! Giant load of middle class white girl guilt was born.
posted by methylsalicylate at 9:20 AM on March 1, 2001

Don't get bogged down in guilt, methylsalicylate. As Audre Lorde wrote, "all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness, destructive of communication; it becomes the device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness." If you want to continue to examine your position of privilege and figure out what to do about/with it, you should read Paul Kivel's Uprooting Racism.
posted by sudama at 10:26 AM on March 1, 2001

(And I hope you meant to say "most white Americans".)
posted by sudama at 10:46 AM on March 1, 2001

The mustard in "cut the mustard" is a corruption of "muster" and the phrase is related to "pass muster," but since most Americans never use the word "muster" they decided it was "mustard" some time ago, even though that makes no sense whatsoever.
posted by kindall at 11:45 AM on March 1, 2001

How long is the statute of limitations on genocide? How many generations away is it ok to punish?
posted by sonofsamiam at 12:33 PM on March 1, 2001

From Randall Robinson's manifesto:

"It is never too late to seek justice. Reparations for African Americans are justified by the legal doctrine of unjust enrichment: unjust enrichment of a person occurs when he has and retains money or benefits which in justice and equity belong to another. A person or group should not be permitted unjustly to enrich himself or themselves at the expense of another, but is required to make restitution for property or benefits received, retained or approriated, where it is just and equitable that such restitution be made. Through intergenerational transfers (inheritance) the ill-gotten gains continue to accumulate to the greater impoverishment of African Americans and their descendants and the greater support of white supremacy. "

Indeed, it is never too late -- particularly in this instance, where responsibility can be shown to lie with the government.
posted by sudama at 12:59 PM on March 1, 2001

The government's money is taken from the people.
I don't know what kind of ill-gotten inheritance you all got, but until the last 4 years, my family was dirt poor. My father was the only one out of 8 siblings to attend college. They lived in a two-room house. And you know what? I'm not seeking reparations from the large farming conglomerates whose presence and political power made it so hard for my family.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:06 PM on March 1, 2001

We're talking about a government that is culpable for the devastation of a black community, not about your family.
posted by sudama at 1:39 PM on March 1, 2001

I was making an analogy, most specifically, to this quote:
Through intergenerational transfers (inheritance) the ill-gotten gains continue to accumulate to the greater impoverishment of African Americans and their descendants and the greater support of white supremacy.
This may be true in general, but it is certainly not true always, and your broad net of 'culpability' will harm some who should not be held responsible.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:43 PM on March 1, 2001

Rrgh, looking back I can see my last two posts were not clear at all.
What I was trying (rather lamely) to say is that I have not received any economic advantages because of my race, aside from possible preferential treatment in the social sphere, but no reparations will ever be able to help that.
posted by sonofsamiam at 1:56 PM on March 1, 2001

sonofsamiam -

I would argue that you only THINK you haven't benefited because of your perceived race. There are probably many benefits you may have always taken for granted without realizing, and others you might have "received" before you were born. We all know that PLENTY of laws and regulations in the U.S. over the course of history were designed to benefit white people and keep people of color down (to put it in simple terms).

Ronald Takaki's "Strangers From A Different Shore" and Randall Robinson's "The Debt" document/discuss a lot of ugly rules/laws over the last century that have been left out of most history books (Takaki mostly covers Asian-Americans, Robinson mostly covers African-Americans).

My grandmother (who is "white") often tells me about how poor her family was during the Great Depression, and how hard it was for her family to "make it" with immigrant parents who didn't speak English well. Little does she know that there were laws put in place during the Depression to specifically benefit whites over people of color (often targetting African-Americans). And of course she won't believe me when I tell her, because it strikes a blow to her ego/pride/sense of self/whatever.

It's hard to look back on your history and the accomplishments you might be proud of, really break them down, and see that you may have benefited from your skin color every step of the way. And even if YOU personally didn't EVER benefit, it should be obvious that most white people in the U.S. have benefited in this manner, somewhere, somehow, sometime.

Robinson makes a lot of good points in "The Debt" about reparations, and I definitely recommend reading it. It's easy to break apart the literal aspects of a quote (like the one Sudama provided) without really facing the thoughts and arguments from which that quote came.

Recently we've seen that a lot of corporations and governments agree with Robinson that "it is never too late to seek justice." Some have made their own reparations - German companies to Holocaust family members, Swiss banks to Holocaust family members, the U.S. government to families of Japanese-Americans put into U.S. concentration camps during World War II, and so on.

There are a lot of ways the U.S. can try to make some positive changes... I don't know why so many people are so quick to blow off a good idea. Should our tax dollars instead be spent on more Osprey airplanes?

I apologize for possibly sounding confrontrational... and for using words that can be picked apart so anyone who disagrees can ignore the main point of my message and focus instead on misinterpreted tidbits.
posted by go vegan at 3:14 PM on March 1, 2001

My motivation is not to protect my own accomplisments, most of the nice things I have are the result of luck as much as my own effort.
I disagree with your insinuation that I was merely pedantically grousing about phrasing; that statement was a major support of the argument. I think it was faulty.

However, I will take your reccomendation and try to check out 'The Debt.' I have yet to hear an argument for reparations that convices me even slightly and would like to read an in-depth argument in favor of it. It may be that I have just not yet seen the argument presented throroughly enough.
posted by sonofsamiam at 3:28 PM on March 1, 2001

sonofsiam: paying reparations != punishment. We're not sending the descendants to jail. We're just collecting a debt, a little late. Since individual culpability is difficult to determine, we have no choice but to collect from the citizenry at large. After all, you pay if a state employee injures somebody, even though you weren't driving the car. Here the state failed to protect its citizens from a murderous mob.

The full report is available online.

By the way, cut the mustard probably does not derive from pass muster, which is not a known antecedent, but from the mustard in the sense of being the topping, the piece de resistance, a known 19th century idiom. Cut the mustard means "exactly right" rather than "made the grade", but that distinction is being lost due to obvious confusion. I believe allaboutgeorge should have said "pass muster". I get the impression that mustard was the salsa of the 19th century....
posted by dhartung at 4:47 PM on March 1, 2001

In future, all idioms I submit to MeFi will do just that: pass muster.
posted by allaboutgeorge at 5:25 PM on March 1, 2001

a couple of points:

i've lived in tulsa for over four years now, having moved here from oklahoma city. the whole north/south black/white thing is quite real, and pretty sad. i was surprised by how segregated the town is and that there is very little acknowledgement of any culture other than the white one. (although there is an increasing mexican population that seems to be causing some resentment based on random comments i hear)

i grew up in a smallish (15,000 pop) county seat in oklahoma, graduating in 1983. that town had an even more pronounced demarcation, and the black area was always referred to by whites as niggertown. many businesses there, including my families, had never hired a black person. and never would.

i don't know if reparations are the answer. but i can tell you this much about the race riot. it was never even mentioned in my oklahoma history class.

posted by lescour at 7:36 PM on March 1, 2001

A complex issue and we have here many intelligent responses, as I have come to expect at this site.
But if we are to talk about this incident, and what ought to be done to "correct" damages, harm, and losses, then should we not also consider what we had (and still do) done to the Native Americans? Most of us believe that we merely pushed them further to the west and that was sad but necessary. A closer look at the history (esp under Pres. Polk and Jackson) will give a more realistic view.
I have always distinguished "true" genocide" from great acts of terror and evil by trying to see if such acts had been ordered, led, directed, accepted by the government in charge. If this distinction has any merit, then the Indian issue is indeed a very real one.
posted by Postroad at 6:20 AM on March 2, 2001

...and while I am at it: My father in law, a highly educated man, would often correct my use of the language and tell me that an educated person would not say such and such.
Finally, annoyed, I told him that a gentleman would not correct someone' s use of the language in public, let alone in private.
When I first began going on line and reading and posting I was told (many times) that correcting someone's spelling, useage etc was a bit of oneupsmanshjip and did not help general discourse on a given topic.
Muster may not be common in our country (America) but in the army I was often told that we were to muster at such and such a time. And I have heard many women refer to sexual inadeguacies in men as indicating their inability to cut the mustard. I prefer when have a hotdog to spread the mustard rather than cut it.
posted by Postroad at 6:26 AM on March 2, 2001

An interesting point, lescour. I spent my early childhood in Tulsa, and was bussed as part of a desegregation/magnet program to an 80% black school in North Tulsa. Although we learned an awful lot about black history there (much more than any other school I ever went to) we never heard about the riots, either; my dad was the one who told me, but I was so little I literally couldn't comprehend just how horrendous it was.

In ninth grade, I too took the required Oklahoma history class (all high schoolers in Oklahoma must take this class before graduating, or did when I was in HS) and although we learned much about how we screwed over the Native Americans, we didn't really learn about what happened in Tulsa or other places where continuing overt racism bedeviled the community until very recently (hell, the town that I consider my hometown, Norman, had a sunset law on its books until about 1970).

Reparations are only part of the discussion; I'm just glad the blinders seem to be coming off to some degree.

posted by norm at 9:02 AM on March 2, 2001

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