"I don't know, I like working in a multi-cultural place."
For some reason I always remember him turning to me as we
walked and asking,
"What college did you go to?"
I look at him quizzically,
"What do ya mean?"
"Well, not many people I know would use that expression." He chuckled.
Though we remained friends neither of us are at that company anymore. A lot has happened since then and I haven't stayed in contact the way I should. Sorry about that my friend.
If I had bothered. If I had cared enough about myself to finish college that would've been a great observation. Thing is I didn't. I partied my way out of school and started living. That has led to, well, a lot of low paying jobs basically.
I have though learned an awful lot not going to school. I've worked with people from a good many places. And I'm a listener, an observer, a questioner. I want to learn about people. Their culture. What makes them. I have had a Vietnamese person surprise me with food at work. Because I talked to him. I was interested. The homemade dumplings and whatnot were excellent by the way. I've talked with my Burmese co-worker about enough things he says I am like a brother to him. Because we got to know each other. Maybe because I actually learned his name and don't call him "Chinatown" like a lot of co-workers do. Maybe.
I'm not telling you this 'cause I'm such a great person or anything. I actually just wanted share with you something I've just recently learned. At the time it really bummed me out that I wasn't aware of this piece of history. I suddenly felt like there was a gaping hole in the way I should be seeing things.
Brass tacks now I guess, eh?
It all started with Make America Great Again.
I'm at work one morning discussing my concerns about the election with the guy who works next to me. Now, there are only two of us at that point in our little department. Me and John. He reminds me of myself sometimes. Well, I mean except that he's a tall black man and I'm a dumpy white guy. Otherwise spittin' image. No, I mean we've made similar mistakes. Share the same outlook on some things. And he likes to know things.
We are discussing Donald Trump and the slogan. At one point John wonders just when America was great. Was it all the way back to slavery?
I honestly can't remember the next bit of the conversation. How he explained that. I do know it was a time heightened by police officers killing unarmed African American men. A presidential candidate was being supported by a former KKK leader. For me personally it was a time of foreboding. It was a time I was worried for what was to come for a lot of my friends. That was pretty much anyone I knew who wasn't a white straight male.
Believe it or not that wasn't the most important part of the conversation for me that day. We talked about a lot things. I'm pretty sure it was while John was telling me about his grandmother and how he liked to read her books when he mentioned something about The GAP Band. How he had to tell his mother what the band name and their song You Dropped a Bomb On Me is all about.
See the band was originally called Greenwood, Archer, and Pine after the historic Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's where they grew up. It's where their history resides.
It was a booming time for Tulsa way back in 1910. Oil had been discovered in 1901. Oklahoma would become a state in 1907. Can you imagine the whirlwind? Oil companies throwing money around. Businesses springing up and thriving. Life must've been great. That was on the south side of the tracks. What about life north of the Frisco railroad line?
Well, in Little Africa as white Tulsans called it things were on the rise also. African Americans had been moving to Oklahoma for quite some time. They were looking for a change. For a chance. To try and escape racism. They succeeded on a few of those fronts. In fact Little Africa eventually came to be known as the Black Wall Street. The people who had taken a chance on themselves soon lived in a community that contained: churches, a library, many lawyers, doctors, and successful businessmen. People looking for change showed they were so much better than many people perceived.
Wow. I don't about you, but I'm diggin' this story so far. A once enslaved people shining and taking full advantage of freedom. What could be cooler than that? Who wouldn't applaud that?
I guess it turns out a lot of people. 'Cause it all changed. Drastically.
Starting on May, 31 and ending on June, 1 1921 white rioters destroyed the Greenwood neighborhood.
I was stunned. I mean blown away. Of all the things I've heard, learned, read, how on earth could I have not known about this? How?
Because it isn't mentioned anywhere. Certainly not in any school history books I've ever seen. It's not something covered during Black History Month. The pictures of lynchings, and people having fire hoses and dogs turned on them never had a caption that said, "You think this is bad look up the Tulsa Race Riot."
Why? Why hadn't I heard of this?
Well, if we all forget about events like this it's so much easier for the white media to concentrate on other bad things. Like rioting after the Rodney King verdict, or street gangs, black on black violence, welfare, absent fathers. Anything except examining white history. Anything except trying to understand someone else's viewpoint.
What would you do, where would you be if you had been part of a segregated people who were beaten down whenever you succeeded? Where would you be if the dream of desegregation actually led to poorer conditions for you and yours? Where would you be if your friends and family were jailed at four times the rate as other people for the same offenses? Or your voting rights were constantly being attacked?
Before you blame someone for their condition take a look at how they got there.
There are so many more things I'd like to say about this. So many. I'll add some links in a bit so you can read more if you'd care to.
Remember how I was saying John reminds me so much of me? It's because he's made of the same star stuff as all of us.
As Red Green says, "Keep your sticks on the ice. I'm pullin' for ya."
All of ya.