Tulsa race massacre reveals hypocrisy of American human rights

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A woman with Tulsa displayed on her forehead attends an event in remembrance of the 100th year anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, in New York, United States, May 31, 2021. The city of Tulsa is commemorating the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre centennial on Monday with events and ceremonies to honor the victims. On the night of May 31, 1921, a white mob descended the prosperous, all-black neighborhood of Greenwood in north Tulsa. In less than 24 hours, the mob burned what had been known as
A woman with Tulsa displayed on her forehead attends an event in remembrance of the 100th year anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, in New York, United States, May 31, 2021. The city of Tulsa is commemorating the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre centennial on Monday with events and ceremonies to honor the victims. On the night of May 31, 1921, a white mob descended the prosperous, all-black neighborhood of Greenwood in north Tulsa. In less than 24 hours, the mob burned what had been known as "Black Wall Street" to the ground leaving more than 10,000 residents homeless. The exact death toll was not recorded, but an estimated 300 people died in the tragedy. Historians believed that mass graves could be located within the city where digging is conducted. (Xinhua/Michael Nagle)

By Liu Weidong

 

A horrendous race massacre took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma a hundred years ago, in which thousands of white racists shot at black men, set fires and even dropped firebombs from airplanes. The massacre took hundreds of lives and wiped out neighborhoods.

However, the U.S. government, media and social groups have long stayed silent on this event. They not only refuse to bring the rioters to justice, but also oppressed those who revealed the truth, trying to erase it from history. 

The U.S. has long proclaimed itself a “human rights defender,” and takes pride in its system of separation of powers. However, these so-called “advantages” corrected no mistake in the Tulsa race massacre and the following course of history. They even made worse mistakes and covered the truth, and completely destroyed the dream of the black community in Tulsa to seek equity and justice. Till today, there are still secrets untold about the Tulsa race massacre. 

Searching for the truths about the massacre would help us better understand what really happened then, and further reveal the disgraceful role played by the U.S. government and the hypocrisy of American human rights.

The white supremacists had their way in the massacre because they were large in number, well equipped, and cruel, and the local black people lacked precaution and weapons despite their wealth. However, there were two more important reasons. First, the local government apparently played favorites with the whites. Police officials and the National Guards not only turned a blind eye to the violent crimes committed by the whites, but also arrested black resisters. Second, the federal government also shut its eyes to what was happening.

Why has the U.S. government always been guarding the secrets about the massacre? Even the U.S. Congress, which says it places huge importance on human rights issues and frequently accuses other countries of human rights problems, is silent on the matter.

Americans’ values are closely associated with their religious belief. Many Americans think they are the “chosen ones” living in “the city upon a hill,” and represent the world’s most advanced system and civilization. Therefore, there’s no chance for their country to make a mistake. Besides, many white people live with a deep-rooted ethnocentrism. They believe it’s justifiable to destroy a black community that is wealthier than a white one, and don’t consider it a crime. In addition, the white people made up the majority of the voters back then, so to condemn the white supremacists meant political risk. That’s why the U.S. politicians acted as if they knew nothing about the crimes committed by the whites.

It’s not weird that the massacre has rarely been taken by political parties as a bargaining chip. Whether a U.S. political party says it represents an interest group depends on how much it can get from the group. The black community had little political influence then and therefore was “useless” for both the Democrats and the Republicans. On top of that, the two political parties shared similar political positions on the racial problem. Besides, the racial problem was not a key matter on the political agenda of the U.S. as the massacre took place just after the World War I when the U.S. needed to carve out spheres of influence in the world and recover domestic economy.

Even the U.S. media, which has always boasted its “objectivity and impartiality,” failed to play its role as a monitor. Media organizations have their own “political correctness,” as media practitioners are mostly white people holding mainstream values. At that time, it was generally believed that African Americans shouldn’t enjoy the same rights and interests with the white people, and didn’t deserve to be wealthier than the latter. Therefore, the U.S. media turned a blind eye to the massacre. In addition, the massacre was said to be a riot by the local government, so the media didn’t reveal the motivations of the white racists. On the contrary, it claimed that it was the provocation of the black people that triggered a fight-back from the white community, and finally “justice prevailed over the evil.” What’s worse, Tulsa is located in a remote area, and the massacre was not widely reported due to the limited say of the local black community in the media circle.

Why didn’t the black community fight back in an organized order? On one hand, the U.S. governments at all levels were always oppressing the black people. On the other hand, the morale of many black people had been destroyed in times and times of failures of their resisting struggles against the white people in history. The racial segregation also hindered solidarity of the black community.

Unfortunately, the discrimination against African Americans is still haunting the country 100 years after the massacre. Though such discrimination is prohibited by laws, it still exists in the U.S. society. Many black people have become top businessmen and politicians, but they are just the elite blacks gaining a foothold in a white-dominated society, which doesn’t narrow the gap between races. Both the Democrats and the Republicans say they care about African Americans, but what they really aim at is the votes from the black community, rather than the latter’s political and economic status. Besides, African Americans are still facing obvious discrimination in U.S. policies, especially on judicial level.

What has been said above exactly explains why U.S. governments and society chose to stay silent on the Tulsa race massacre and even covered up facts. It is closely related to the White House’s double standard in the sphere of human rights, the two political parties’ short-sighted pursuit of political interests, as well as the deep-rooted discrimination of the mainstream society against ethnic minorities. 

The Tulsa race massacre is a deep scar that will never be erased from the American history. It is reeling off the hypocrisy of the American human rights.

(Liu Weidong is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences)

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