Remembering Greenwood: Why the Sins of the Past Still Matter

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“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.”

– Isaiah 1:16-17

Today marks the eve of the worst act of domestic terrorism in American history. The Tulsa Race Riots nearly wiped out the entire African American community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Angry, white mobs invaded the wealthy community of Greenwood, killed unknown numbers of people, bombed it from the sky, looted its stores, and burned down over 35 city blocks of buildings and homes. For decades after the violence, white women could be seen walking down the streets of Tulsa wearing the jewelry, coats, and clothing of the Black women whose homes were looted and destroyed. Ninety-five years later, the massacre is still disregarded by many as just a bunch of “riots” over race, instead of the terrible act of terror that it actually was, duplicated on a smaller scale in cities across the country.

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The Racist-Classist Things People Like to Hear

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“Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

– James 2: 5-9

Here’s a sample of things people say to me about poor people, especially poor people of color:

“It’s the parent’s fault.”

“My family was low-income, and they worked their way up.”

“They know how to work the system.”

“What can you do when the only people at home they can look up to are drug addicts and dealers?”

“Not much you can do when they just refuse to accept your help.”

“Aren’t Black people just as racist against White people?”

“We have a Black President now.”

When I graduated from college and moved to Tulsa to become a teacher, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. There I was, a person of color who had nevertheless grown up in tremendous privilege her entire life, now teaching in one of the most historically underprivileged communities in the entire country. more “The Racist-Classist Things People Like to Hear”