It’s time to Break It Down!
Yesterday President Joe Biden visited Oklahoma to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The infamous event occurred on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of White residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked Black residents and burned businesses of the Greenwood District of Tulsa. The action is often referred to as the Black Wall Street Massacre, or the Tulsa Race Riot. It marks one of “the single worst incident(s) of racial violence in American history. The incident was executed on the ground, and by private aircraft. The onslaught destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district that was at the time, the wealthiest Black Community in the United States.
While on the ground in Tulsa, President Biden laid out his administration’s ideas about how to address racial inequality in America. He also memorialized the hundreds of Black Americans who were killed by the White mob that set upon their neighborhood, and razed dozens of city blocks. The plans include a range of issues, including small business opportunities, racial discrimination in housing, and voting rights.
In his remarks, Biden noted:
“One hundred years ago, at this hour, on this first day of June smoke darkened the Tulsa sky, rising from 35 blocks of Greenwood that were left in ash and ember, razed in rubble. There was no proper accounting for the dead nor any arrests made. “In less than 24 hours, 1,100 Black homes and businesses were lost. Insurance companies — they had insurance, many of them — rejected claims of damage. Ten-thousand people were left destitute and homeless, placed in interment camps.
“My fellow Americans: this was not a riot. This was a massacre — among the worst in our history, but not the only one. And for too long, forgotten by our history. As soon as it happened there was a clear effort to erase it from our memory — our collective memories.”
President Biden called what happened in Tulsa an act of domestic terrorism and added that the resulting effects linger until this day. He referenced the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, specifically, along with the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. He referred to White supremacy as “the most lethal threat to the homeland today.”
Biden also referenced the ongoing debate over which historical narratives around race and slavery should be taught in US schools. “We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, the everything. That’s what great nations do. There’s greater recognition that for too long we’ve allowed a narrow, cramped view of the promise of this nation to fester — the view that America is a zero-sum game, where there’s only one winner. ‘If you succeed, I fail.’ ‘If you get ahead, I fall behind.’ ‘If you get a job, I lose mine.’ And maybe worst of all: ‘if I hold you down, I lift myself up.’ Instead of: ‘if you do well, we all do well.” Opponents of so-called Critical Race Theory (CRT) offer a consistently disparaging summation of its product. In reality, more often than not, the resulting material is Culturally Relevant Teaching.
In response to national economic concerns, President Biden announced that he will use federal purchasing power to expand federal contracting opportunities with small, disadvantaged businesses — many of them minority owned — from 10% to 15%. According to the White House, this will translate to an additional $100 billion over five years.
An administration official added that efforts referenced by the President include new specifics on the $10 billion community revitalization fund included in Biden’s infrastructure proposal. The fund will be targeted to economically underserved and underdeveloped communities like Greenwood. The initiative will support adapting vacant buildings and storefronts to provide low-cost space for services and community entrepreneurs, including health centers, arts and cultural spaces, job training programs, business incubators and community marketplaces. It will also support removing toxic waste to create new parks and community gardens. New competitive grants totaling $15 billion will target neighborhoods where people have been cut off from jobs, schools and businesses because of previous transportation investments, officials said. And the American Jobs Plan will also invest $31 billion to support minority-owned small businesses.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge will lead an interagency effort to address inequity in home appraisals. Elements incorporated into the initiative will include ensuring enforcement of fair housing laws, regulations, and devising standards and guidance in partnering between industry and state and local governments. HUD will publish a pair of fair housing rules. They will also restore fair housing definitions and certifications, and reinstate the department’s discriminatory effects standard. These changes are intended to establish that the department will “more vigorously enforce the Fair Housing Act.”
The administration will lay out specifics for neighborhood tax credits as part of the American Jobs Plan, introduce a grant program to fund jurisdictions that take steps to reduce barriers to affordable housing, as well as expand housing choices to the low and moderate income. However, Derrick Johnson, national President of the NAACP, expressed concern that the President’s proposal did not address the elimination of the student loan debt crisis. He went on to posit that student loan debt suppresses the economic prosperity of Black Americans across the nation. In response, Karine Jean-Pierre, White House principal deputy press secretary noted, The American Families Plan includes an historic $46 billion of investments in HBCU’s, tribal colleges and universities, and minority serving institutions. She added “President Biden is calling for a historic investment in affordability through subsidized tuition and expanding institutional and grants.”
At the end of the day, though, this visit was about Tulsa. Survivors and descendants of the Tulsa Massacre, 100 years later, are still awaiting justice. In May, 107-year-old massacre survivor, Viola Fletcher, testified before Congress and called for justice and for the country to officially acknowledge the massacre. Something it did not do for decades.
President Biden said during his speech, the story of Greenwood isn’t just a story of a loss of life. It’s also a story of a loss of living, wealth, prosperity and possibility. Today, Greenwood is a fraction of the size it was before the massacre. The wealthy neighborhood was never fully rebuilt, and its descendants say the area never fully recovered.
President Biden also used the occasion of his speech on the Tulsa Race Massacre to announce he’s asked Vice President Harris to lead an administration push to protect voting rights. For her part, Vice President Harris said in a statement: “I will engage the American people, and I will work with voting rights organizations, community organizations, and the private sector to help strengthen and uplift efforts on voting rights nationwide.
The President reaffirmed his commitment to address systemic racism in America, “to advance racial justice through the whole of our government and working to root out systemic racism from our laws, our policies, and our hearts.” He further noted that his administration is addressing longstanding racial inequalities by investing in programs to provide capital to small businesses in economically disadvantaged areas, while ensuring that infrastructure projects advance racial equity and environmental justice. “President Biden Goes to Tulsa: The Centennial Anniversary of the Historic Greenwood Massacre!”
I’m done; holla back!
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