Happy Birthday Dad: Tulsa, 1619 and Bach

Last week would have been my dad’s 100th birthday. His death doesn’t mean I ignore what he taught me, what I learned from him or the impact of his personage on my life. I don’t say he is dead, no more discussion, done. What strikes me is the cautionary guidance my dad gave about race is still relevant. You see, my dad was born a few days prior to the Tulsa Race Massacre.1

Tulsa, like other atrocities in American history, people want to dismiss and forget. “That was a hundred years ago, nothing we can do about it now.” Really? The lesson for African Americans? A white mob can destroy black owned property and leave over 8,000 African Americans without homes. The incident said a white mob can be so threatened by the presence of blackness, airstrikes are deployed. The massacre proved white is right in that a white mob can deploy airstrikes and kill 300 African Americans and not be held accountable. What about the impact? The survivors were left with nothing. Nothing. The community was devastated by the burning of businesses, schools and homes and the economic loss of generational wealth. The episode is shameful.

This week is the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd and the knee jerk reaction felt around the world and answered with protests. While this was recent, will the reaction be, oh that was a year ago and the perpetrator was found guilty, let’s move on? Or will we investigate our soul as a nation?

So far, it’s does not look good. The 1619 Project2 Pulitzer Prize Winner Professor Nikole Hannah-Jones offer of a tenured position at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill was rescinded. Even though she was supported by the chancellor and fellow professors, she was instead given a non-tenured 5-year appointment by the board of trustees. Protests and petitions have followed.3 Then there is Texas. Texas wants to ban any discussion of the 1619 Project in schools with HB 3979 which seeks to ban or limit the teaching of critical race theory, an academic discipline that examines how racism has shaped legal and social systems within the United States and views race as a social construct.

“Critical race theory,” a discussion on race. Land was stolen the in the US from the Native Americans and Mexico. The Exclusion act of 1822 banned Chinese form entering the US. The Japanese were “interned” in 1942. And all the way back to 1619, Africans were kidnapped and sold as slaves in the US. Texas wants to ban or limit the discussion in schools.

I reached a milestone with my cello. After a year, I am playing Bach. It’s a feeling maybe only Bach lovers can appreciate. OK, I’m a little dramatic, but it is Bach. Bach was born in the 1600’s. We discuss him, the impact and his style. His music is relevant today.  I can’t imagine my life without Bach. So, you must think, it is no other reason than blatant racism motivating legislative action to induce national amnesia. I end this week with history and how it shapes us and makes us. You don’t have to like what happened, what happened can make you uncomfortable, but it happened, and we cannot deny the impact. Now, back to Bach.

1The Tulsa race massacre took place 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 businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

2The 1619 Project is a long-form journalism project developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, writers from The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine which “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative”

3Petition · University of North Carolina : Nikole Hannah-Jones DESERVES tenure!

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