Forgotten History: Tulsa Race Riot

Today in forgotten history, let’s talk about the Tulsa Race Riot, which I certainly never learned about in school. Did you? Thanks to Dana Florkowski for the topic suggestion!

In 1921, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was home to Greenwood District, or “Black Wall Street,” one of the most affluent African American communities in the United States at the time. Black Wall Street was composed of a business district and residential area. Almost all of the community was destroyed by June 1921 (1).

White citizens of Tulsa rioted through the Greenwood area on May 31 and June 1, looting businesses, burning buildings, and killing people. The riots started because of rumors that a young black man, Dick Rowland, had assaulted a white woman, Sarah Page, in an elevator. The details of the encounter between the two are unclear, but some sources report that Rowland did nothing more than grab Page’s arm to steady himself when he tripped while exiting the elevator. But because Page screamed, and Rowland fled, the first person to investigate assumed that Rowland had harmed Page. As the story got passed around town, it got more and more exaggerated, and the white rioters reacted by burning down Black Wall Street (2). Hundreds of people, mostly black, were killed, with hundreds more treated by injuries. The Governor of Tulsa even declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa to assist in controlling fires and imprisoning black Tulsans instead of white rioters. No whites were arrested even though they openly talked about what they had done (3).

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Black man detained during the riot, from the Tulsa Historical Society

The city of Tulsa publicly promised that it would pay restitution to the black community and rehabilitate the streets, businesses, and homes that had been destroyed. But that never happened. Millions of dollars in insurance claims were denied, and blacks steadily moved away from the area to start over somewhere else. In later years, survivors and descendants of those who died tried to sue the state for damages from the riot, but the statute of limitations had expired on the civil rights lawsuits. Most people, even those in Tulsa, have no idea the event ever even happened (2).

This is only one of many, many race riots that have occurred in the United States that history books and teachers often do not even mention. Maybe it’s because they don’t align with a “USA!” mindset. Maybe it’s because we don’t want to confront our bloody history. Maybe it’s because the lives lost during these riots, and the motivations behind them, are not considered important. The Tulsa race riot seems to obviously illustrate this point to me, among others – the hundreds of black lives lost that day were not considered important, at least not important enough for Tulsa to put money and real efforts behind its empty promises to rebuild the black community.

But even more marked is the lack of reparations or justice for those people even today. It took 80 years for the city of Tulsa to issue an official apology. And as of 2014, the Tulsa Historical Society, the Greenwood Cultural Center and the University of Tulsa pushed to increase visibility of the riot, but the riot archive was put on an app that users had to pay for, which limits the audience. Federal representative Conyers of Michigan also introduces a bill each year to try and remove the statute of limitations on the lawsuits related to the riot, but it has not progressed very far yet and is unlikely to unless the composition of Congress changes. It is likely that all of the survivors of the riots will die without receiving restitution (2). In this country, where we put our money shows what we care about. And in this situation, and too many more, that is not with black lives.

Knowing about the Tulsa Race Riot, the Red Summer of 1919, and other similar events in United States history is the first step to moving our country toward one that is more empathetic and truly wants to give not only lip service, but actual money, time, and resources to apologize for our wrong-doings and prevent future ones.  Thanks for reading.

(1) Tulsa Historical Society & Museum, 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, http://tulsahistory.org/learn/online-exhibits/the-tulsa-race-riot/
(2) Dexter Mullins, Survivors of infamous 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Still Hope for Justice, Aljazeera America (July 19, 2014), http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2014/7/19/survivors-of-infamous1921tulsaraceriotstillhopeforjustice.html
(3) PBS, Jim Crow Stories: Tulsa Riot, http://www.pbs.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_tulsa.html

Forgotten History: The Chinese Massacre of 1871

This new “Forgotten History” series details important events in American history that I never learned about in primary or secondary education, or that were recommended to me by my peers. The forgotten events, people, and ideas are too often about classes of individuals who have been historically subordinated in the United States, like racial minorities, LGBTQ individuals, women, and people of low socioeconomic status, to name a few. The history we learn in school, and therefore often the history that shapes our view of the country, is largely skewed toward the narrative of the property-owning white man.

I want to change this. So I’m starting this series in the hopes that it will create awareness for forgotten moments in history that are not only important themselves, but also incredibly significant in the grander scheme of how the United States was shaped. I hope in particular that people who might have preconceived notions about the struggles (or lack thereof) of certain marginalized groups can learn something and consider changing their attitudes and have more empathy.

So first, thanks for being here and following the series. Second, of course I need your help. The people who will benefit the most from it are definitely not just those in my network of connections. So here are a few things you can do:

  1. I am still working on a better name for the series, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!
  2. If you know of events in forgotten history that you would like to see featured here, contact me! I want to write about what my readers care about.
  3. Please please share these links so that others can be educated. I will try to keep the pieces short and interesting.

Thanks y’all, and keep up the good fight. Keep reading to learn about the largest mass lynching in the United States – it might not be what the internet, or schools, have told you.

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The largest mass lynching in United States history was committed in 1871 in Los Angeles, California. On October 24, 1871, at least 17 Chinese immigrants were tortured and hung by a mob of over 500 white men.

The massacre was racially motivated, triggered by the death of Robert Thompson, a local rancher, who got caught in the midst of a gun battle between two Chinese factions. Almost every Chinese-occupied building on Calle de los Negros in Los Angeles was raided and all Chinese residents were attacked or robbed. The 17 to 20 Chinese immigrants who were lynched were hanged at three places near the downtown business section of the city.

Only ten out of 500 rioters were brought to trial after the massacre. Eight were convicted, but those convictions were thrown out almost immediately on a legal technicality.

When you Google “largest mass lynching in American history,” many sources will tell you it was the horrific mass lynching of 11 Italians in New Orleans on March 14, 1891. The 1871 massacre of Chinese immigrants is largely forgotten in history not only because it, and other anti-Chinese moments in history (for example, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) are not taught in school, but also because Los Angeles worked very hard to cover it up. The truth about the Chinese massacre was hidden from the public eye for over a hundred years, because of the involvement of some of Los Angeles’s leading citizens. These men were powerful enough to not only affect the convictions but also cover up the massacre itself. You can read more here if you’re interested.

This massacre of Chinese immigrants represented anti-Chinese sentiment at the time, set the stage for future anti-Chinese legislation and actions, and is only one example of so many events significant to minorities that have been hidden, and therefore forgotten.

Why We Should Help Brock Turner

Trigger warning: sexual assault.

Several months ago, Brock Turner was convicted of raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. He was given six months in jail, to be followed by three years of probation. However, due to good behavior, he was released recently after only three months. The public reception to the outcome to his case has been largely critical, of Judge Persky, Turner, Turner’s family and friends, and the rape culture that has been cultivated over the years by society. People called for recall of Judge Persky, a longer sentence for Turner, even castration.

However, one thing that I heard very little, if anything, about was rehabilitation. Yes, there should be more serious consideration of rape cases and scrutiny of how we treat rapists and victims. Yes, there should be longer sentences given to rapists, and less discretion left to the judges. Yes, rapists need to be held accountable for their actions. Yes, rapists ruin the lives of their victims, and that needs to be addressed. However, just putting people in jail does not solve our problem. Putting people in jail, and indefinitely labeling them as “criminal,” “rapist”…that only makes our problem worse.

Rape is a product of rape culture, which is the product of a lot of toxic things in our society. Expectations of hyper-masculinity, harmful belief systems about relationships and power dynamics, objectification of bodies and individuals, victim blaming, warped perceptions of what is acceptable in private relationships and in public, and other factors normalize and condone the idea of rape. Rape culture is our problem. It is what needs to be fixed.

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Restorative justice, which shifts the focus of our criminal justice system to rehabilitation instead of just punishment, is one way to address these factors. Along with social campaigns and early childhood education, there needs to be a change in how we approach people who commit rape. We need to start seeing them as people who can change, people who can be helped, and people who can ultimately realize that what they have done is wrong and go on to be productive members of society. Only then can we begin to recognize how rape culture is affecting everyone, and what we can do to stop it.

A few key points about restorative justice and why we need it:

  1. Rapists in the United States generally do not get life sentences, so they are likely going to be released into society anyway. If we don’t help them during their time in prison, they will be released the same person they were before, and what is going to stop them from committing the same or a similar kind of crime? The deterrent effect of a few months or even years in jail is nothing compared to the influence of rape culture in society. Some might argue, then, that we should implement mandatory life sentences for rape. But what kind of a society would we be if all we do to criminals is throw them in jail and forget about them? This leads me to my next point…
  2. Restorative justice requires that we believe in people. I recognize, and can personally confirm, that this is incredibly challenging, especially when someone has committed a hateful, hurtful crime, or harmed someone close to you, or you personally. But if we don’t even try to believe in people, we will just end up with more fear, cynicism, and full jails. And the root causes of the violence and rape would never get addressed. It doesn’t help any of us long term.
  3. The rehabilitation programs would teach rapists about rape culture, power dynamics, anger and impulse management, healthy relationships, and other relevant topics, as well as provide certain practical skills like improving mental health, teaching self-management, maintaining healthy relationships with drugs and alcohol, teaching skills in prioritizing, etc. It has been shown that the most effective rehabilitation programs (in the context of rape, but also domestic violence and drug offenses) do not just preach feminist theory. They combine those lessons with real-life skills that will help the offender live a self-sufficient, crime-free life once they leave prison. While there has not been extensive research done, we need to shift our attitudes so that we can start spending some time and resources to do that research and find out exactly what the most effective program would look like.
  4. Restorative justice enhances accountability; it doesn’t sidestep it. Rehabilitation would become a part of the criminal justice system alongside punitive measures like jail sentences. It would not yet replace jail sentences; there is certainly something to be said about society’s current perception of the deterrent effect of jail time. But enforcing rehabilitation programs would show rapists exactly why what they have done is wrong, and how to change their ideas about the world and other people. Throwing someone in jail doesn’t have that aspect of accountability at all.
  5. Rehabilitation also focuses on the offender instead of the fault of the victim. While the victim needs to be supported in other ways, oftentimes society turns to the victim to blame them for being in the wrong place/wearing the wrong clothes/saying the wrong things. Restorative justice focuses all of the fault on the rapist, but then works to correct the attitudes and actions that led to the rape.
  6. Given the shift of focus to the offender, I want to be clear that I recognize that survivor support systems need resources and time and people just as much, if not more. However, these ideas are not mutually exclusive – while we do need to prioritize to a certain extent, the support of survivors and the rehabilitation of offenders are so related in tackling the issue of sexual assault that both require time and dedication to break down the issue.
  7. There are some rehabilitation programs for rapists currently in the United States, but they are mostly voluntary or have not been studied enough to prove their effectiveness. Aside from shifting the public’s mindset about offenders, there needs to be concrete collaboration with legislators, judges, and prosecutors to ensure that rehabilitation programs are funded and filled as a mandatory part of a sentence.
  8. We might want to say that offenders like Brock Turner, who have not really been forthcoming with remorse or a desire to change, will never change. And there is certainly a small minority of offenders who can not be helped. But how will we really know who they are, and how will we know how much capacity someone has for change once they are separated from the societal forces that have impacted them, if we don’t try to help everyone?

As a strong believer in restorative justice, and someone who hopes to continue to work in the law and nonprofit world to address these issues, I really appreciate all constructive criticism, feedback, and support for this topic. Let me know either in the comments or by messaging me privately what you think. Thanks for reading.

Featured Femmegade: Vishal Jain

Welcome back to the blog, friends! Sorry I’ve been MIA for the summer, and glad to be back and to be kicking it off with a fantastic guest post!

Vishal Jain, the author of this post, is one of the most thoughtful, selfless, caring people I know. From the first day I met him at a leadership retreat my sophomore year of college, he has always shown me that he is willing to go the distance, out of his way, out on a limb, bend over backwards, etc., to be there for the people he cares about. He also shown me that, to better care for the diverse people in his life, he is willing to have difficult conversations, particularly about privilege and discrimination. He’s been an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, and an integral part of the conversation on Emory’s campus about sexual assault particularly in the Greek life context. So today I’m excited to feature a piece he has written on how, from a male’s perspective, all people can better contribute to the feminist movement. Thanks for reading 🙂

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Feminism: You’re Invited!

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Meet Vishal 🙂

During my last year of college I took a course on women, religion, and ethnographies. I was a business major in school and I took this class purely out of interest, to have an experience outside of the throes of my major. I was the only male in the class, which obviously came with some interesting stipulations.

At the end of the class we were all asked to do a research assignment that related back to the material that we covered. As I thought about what to write about, my mind kept going to thoughts of “feminism” and how it came out in the classroom, in my life, and in my own head. The fact that I was the only male that signed up for the class gave me a thought, why is it that more men aren’t in this class? And more importantly, why aren’t more men speaking up about feminism?

I decided to do some research; I interviewed a group of men and women (20 total, 10 men and 10 women) and asked some basic questions: Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? Why/Why not? What does feminism mean to you? Etc. The results I got were extremely interesting. 100% of men answered “yes” to being a feminist, and only 50% of women answered no. When asked why, some men said that if they didn’t identify as feminist they would be classified as sexist (most also said that they look for equality in society. There is still hope in the world, I promise). Women on the other hand told me that being a feminist came with a radical and negative stigma, one that they did not want. As I talked to more of the females, they asked me the same questions back and I told them my views on feminism. I want the playing field to be equal, for each person to be recognized and valued for every little part of who they are, not simply a factor of genetics. Interestingly enough, every female that answered no to being a feminist replied by saying “If that’s feminism, then I’m a feminist for sure.”

1 year later, I still think about those conversations. I think about talking with men about their experiences with being stifled or criticized on how they express their feminism. I think about the women that keep their voices down, or stay silent because they feel that if they speak up, they’ll be classified as a radical and rash. But most importantly I think about the fact that every individual I talked to wanted the same thing. They all wanted a world where we were treated as equals and individuals. From my conversations and interactions with others I’ve learned a few things about feminism that I think could help us all get closer to this shared goal:

Keep the conversation open.

My dad is and has been someone that I actively look up to. He was the one who inspired the feminist flame within me after he came home one day and badgered me to read his idea of the bible: “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. Something that I’ve noticed he does is that he makes an active effort to include everyone around him in a conversation. When the men at a dinner party are talking politics, he’ll make an active effort to go to the “wives tables” and get them fired up about the topic and effectively create one big conversation. In college I was involved in Sexual Assault advocacy, or tried to be. Every now and then my opinion or thoughts would be disregarded because “you’re a man, you don’t know what it feels like”. This happened so many times, that I began to disassociate from some organizations and walk my own path to advocacy. Sure, I could do that, but it doesn’t mean I wanted to. Sometimes it’s nice to be invited to the conversation rather than forcing our way in.

Inequality Affects All of Us.

After college I went to work for a management consulting firm, in hopes of finding myself professionally. Corporate America isn’t exactly the apex of social equality, but it has taught me some important lessons. Within a few days of our orientation program I quickly noticed something, our whole leadership team was all males except for one partner. Interestingly I noticed my new hire class on the other hand was a pretty even 50/50 split between men and women. More interestingly, later in the orientation one our leadership team got up in front of everyone and said what we were all thinking, “We need more women in leadership roles, it’s not good for us to keep things the way they are”. He explained that this lack of diversity not only inhibits the quality of leadership conversations, but it discourages women in the firm from pushing themselves further up and it has led to failed sales pitches because our clients (who are all retailers by the way) don’t feel like we can properly understand their business without equal representation. In that moment I gained a new respect for my firm for admitting these facts, but I was also hit with a great feeling of surprise; who would have guessed that even scary, testosterone filled corporate America was at a detriment from a lack of gender equality.

Speak the truth, but your truth.

One of the most common phrases I’ve heard in emotional conversations is “stop pretending like you understand me, you don’t know what it’s like to be me”. In college I went through Sexual Assault Peer Advocacy training and during that training was taught to avoid the words “I understand”. The fact of the matter is that we cannot possibly 100% understand another person’s struggles, we aren’t that other person. Men are not women, we haven’t experienced the same kind of discrimination that they have faced. What we can all understand is our own struggles and conflicts. If you want to speak up, and men this applies especially to you, talk about your own experiences and your own thoughts and opinions. Because no one can deny those things, the past is a truth. If you have been directly affected by the lack of equality, or have an opinion for a personal reason then share it. There’s a fine line between putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and trying to steal the other person’s shoes. Stealing is wrong, instead be considerate and speak your truth, the truth really will set you free.

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Vishal enjoys wearing dresses, and often does, because gender norms are there to be broken!

Redefine the word.

This one is for all those out there who regard the word “feminism” in the same way they do an air raid siren; running for cover the second they hear it. Society might define a feminist as a radical, bra burning, man hater, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write your own definition like a real life Urban Dictionary. Walk into the streets, fight the good fight, and when someone asks why say “because I’m a feminist”. If we associate the word with the things we want it to be associated with, the idea will spread.

Things to Remember During APAHM

Happy APAHM everyone! What is APAHM, you ask? It’s definitely not a commonly used acronym, although it should be and hopefully will become more visible as the conversation continues to grow.

But it stands for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and it’s the month of May! So, in celebration of this very important and oft forgotten hertage month, here are a few quick things to take with you:

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Board of the North Carolina Asian American Civil Rights Conference this year, aka some people who keep me going in the fight for Asian American rights

1) There are a lot of different kinds of Asian cultures. Asia is a huge continent, and includes a ton of countries and cultures, not just the main three that people always assume first: Chinese, Korean, Japanese. It also includes Thailand, the Philippines, Mongolia, etc. Do your research, and ask individuals where they are from before you assume.

Also, please stop saying “oh, you’re from India/Pakistan/etc…? You’re not Asian.” If someone from India identifies as Asian, they identify as Asian. India is part of Asia. It’s none of our jobs to take that away from anyone.

2) There are a lot of different kinds of Asian experiences. There are so many stereotypes of Asians that get tossed around. While some of them may be true for some of us, they are likely not true for all of us, and we are not defined by them. I’m not good at math. I don’t have a 4.0. I can’t eat whatever I want and stay skinny. I never played the violin. I’m not (always) a bad driver. These stereotypes are harmful not only because they are offensive and make me feel like I need to be a certain way, but also because they reinforce false ideas about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that lead to further racism and ignorance.

3) It is not ok to be racist toward Asians. It is not ok to be racist toward anyone, but these days, the Asian racial justice narrative is often forgotten, for various reasons, and people still think it is ok to be racist towards Asians even though they’ve gotten a lot more politically correct in other aspects (potentially problematic in its own right, but that’s a topic for another day…). So just remember to check yourself before you think or say anything that might be racist or stereotypical, even if you think it’s a joke. For another project I started, Now We Speak, I interviewed several Asian Americans about their experiences of discrimination. They are diverse in their experiences, just like they are diverse as individuals. Check out the project for their stories, and consider thinking about whether you’ve said or done some of the things they discuss. It can be easy to make comments that we sometimes don’t know are hurtful; the important thing is to change once we learn that they are.

4) There is a difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. I think this article from Everyday Feminism does a great job of discussing this distinction, without being too extreme like some other articles I’ve seen. To me, the bottom line is, appreciation is about being open to learning about an individual’s culture and appreciating it for what that person presents it as. Appropriation is about taking that culture and taking ownership of it yourself or transforming it so that it will appeal to a wider, usually whiter, audience. Some key examples are dressing as a geisha or wearing a sari for Halloween, kimono-style robes from Urban Outfitters, and the always popular Chinese character tattoos if they are used because they are “exotic.”

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Please stop this.

5) Relatedly, please be careful about exoticizing the Asian culture. Joking that someone has “yellow fever” is not appropriate. Sketches like this that make commonly eaten Asian food look disgusting or appalling are not funny. Telling me that because I’m Asian I’m an “exotic beauty” or that “I’ve never hooked up with an Asian before, I wonder what that’s like” is not only rude and offensive, but also makes me feel like I’m just a fetish…or a porn search term.

6) Make an effort to learn about and really celebrate Asian American history and diversity. Share articles about Asian American leaders (hbd Yuri Kochiyama). Do research on the history of Asian Americans in the United States – we don’t always learn a lot about the Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese internment in school. Try new foods, with an open mind to what they mean to Asians, not just because they “look gross” or “seem weird.” Talk to your Asian American and Pacific Islander friends about their experience with that aspect of their identity, and remember that while you may not be able to relate, you can be there to support and listen to them. There are so many other things you can do; these are just some suggestions.

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Yuri Kochiyama, an Asian American activist who fought for civil rights with Malcolm X and others

As I probably say at least once a week, the Asian American narrative is often lost in the United States. It is up to all of us to keep it alive, and not let it be forgotten. Thanks for reading, and have a great APAHM 🙂