Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – guest host Christina Botteri welcomed the Independent Women’s Forum Senior Policy Analyst Patrice Onwuka to the newsmakers line to discuss the Tulsa Massacre as proof that Black communities can thrive without government reparations.
Botteri: On the line with us right now is Patrice Onwuka. Patrice Onwuka is a political commentator and director of the Center for Economic Opportunity at the Independent Women’s Forum.
She writes for Newsmax, among others. And you can follow her on Twitter at PatricePinkFile. Patrice, thanks so much for joining us today. How are you?
Onwuka: I’m great. And thank you for having me today.
Botteri: It’s great to have you here. I wanted to hear your extended thoughts about your latest piece in Newsmax, “Tulsa’s Story: Blacks Attained Prosperity Before and Can Do It Again.”
Onwuka: Well, as we know, this past Monday and Tuesday or the hundredth anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre. Maybe folks did not hear about this or learn about this in their civics the West history class. I certainly did not.
But it’s a really chilling story about the wealth of a small Black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Blacks owned the land. They owned the businesses. They owned hundreds of businesses and homes. You had a strong middle class. You had an upper class.
It was phenomenal. Everything from banks to upholstery stores. And this community did it all by themselves. They built this community by themselves with no government funding, no dependency.
Totally independent. Unfortunately, this was during the middle of a dark period in our history of true racism where you had about a thousand white neighbors who came in and destroyed the 35 blocks of this community. Burned it to the ground.
There were dozens, perhaps hundreds of people whose lives were lost. Most of them were Blacks. And it’s unfortunate. But I think the shining story that comes out of this is that this community rebuilt its entire neighborhood within two decades.
And it wasn’t through government funding. It wasn’t through reparations. It was through these people coming together, lending to one another, leveraging the property that they owned to get the loans and then rebuild. And they rebuilt to the same level, if not greater.
Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the decades that ensued is government policies very well intended, but the government policies kind of destroyed that enclave of Black excellence. And now there’s very little of that community left at all.
Botteri: Wow. That’s really amazing. What was the flashpoint of this riot?
Onwuka: Let’s think about when this occurred in 1921. At that time if you were a Black man in an elevator with a young white woman, it didn’t take much for a false allegation of rape or assault to stir up the entire community. And that’s exactly what happened.
The young woman said a shoeshine guy, he tripped and apparently touched her. And she said, no, it was an accident. Unfortunately, the community with up in arms. And I think there were simmering racial tensions going on.
As I said, Jim Crow laws were in existence, so it was totally segregated. But despite that, you had an example of Blacks owning property. And these are folks who were not even two generations from slavery.
Some of the founders of Greenwood, this neighborhood, were slaves themselves and newly freed. And they created something out of, frankly, nothing that they had. They created wealth, opportunity, created businesses. Money was kept flowing within the community.
It was really inspiring when you read about the very successful people who were regular middle-class small business owners. Hundreds and thousands of them that lived in this community.
I love the story because it’s also an example of what’s possible today. Surely we have a lot of Black communities that do not look like Greenwood that do not have and specifically Black Wall Street.
One of the avenues in this Greenwood neighborhood that was just holey and solely doctors, lawyers, small business owners, and all Black. We can have that today. You may not have a bunch of enclaves of Black communities, but you can have successful Black people bringing up and uplifting the entire community if people are willing to focus less on what is the government going to give me to do this?
And more on how can we leverage and build assets that we can pass on to the next generation? I would love to see President Biden talk about that instead of talking about equity and Critical Race Theory and all the things that continue to divide us rather than uplift Black people.
And for those listeners out there, I am a Black woman and I’m an immigrant. And I believe that America is not a racist nation. In fact, I believe it’s the greatest nation.
Botteri: Well, Amen to that. (Onwuka chuckles) This is also very, very interesting. History is amazing in that way. When we talk about how the 35 block area that was burnt to the ground literally, there are photographs available in the Library of Congress.
You can go online and look at them. And it is I mean, it is scorched earth to the dirt. There is nothing left. And you’re saying in two decades, they rebuilt. Just imagine what that means.
The infrastructure, the plumbing, the electricity, the lumber, the cement, and the gravel. All of these elements have to be brought in and bought and engineered and put together. Talk about grit; talk about heart.
Botteri: It is stunning that this rebuilding took place so rapidly. Two decades. 20 years sounds like a long time, but you know what? 20 years…
Onwuka: It’s not a lot.
Botteri: I know. 2000, right?
Botteri: That was yesterday. Imagine what could happen today if this energy was released. And I just wonder how much of a downer – for lack of a better phrase – maybe that’s a little bit too casual of a phrase to use for something so serious as Critical Race Theory.
It’s just it’s incredibly toxic, in my opinion. How much does that dampen the entrepreneurial spirit and the energy in the Black community, do you think?
Onwuka: It absolutely is disheartening. It is not empowering. It disempowers – if that’s a word – because I think it creates in the mindset this idea that every institution is built on racism.
Racism is in the DNA of every one of our systems of government and frankly, of private enterprise and civil society. And so to a young person, well, why even try if the odds are so stacked against me? Why even try?
And I think that is what Critical Race Theory, these diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, which may be well-intentioned but the unintended consequences create a mindset and a young person that they will never be able to overcome apart from the government interceding.
And you know what? This example of Greenwood and what happened in Tulsa is an example, not of government success, it was government failure. Honestly, in some instances, maybe government complicity because there were people who are deputized to destroy this neighborhood.
So it’s not the government that is the solution. It is the individual. It is self-reliance. It is the community working together. It is entrepreneurship. These are things that we have today. And I am heartened in part because I see so many young Black folks who are starting businesses.
I shop so many online boutiques of young Blacks today and I love it. What I hate is there’s this disconnect between, well the government needs to do something for me, the government needs to be reformed so that I can then advance.
No, you can advance apart from the government. What I don’t want to say is that there have never been racist institutions. I think Jim Crow laws in the 1920s are great examples of how racism was in fact institutionalized. That was systemic.
Today we have challenges and there are areas where the government does stand in the way of the individual. But it’s not the same as 100 years ago. And we need to stop telling young people these untrue voting laws being systemically racist or Jim Crow laws.
What it does is takes away that motivation. That striving and the grit and determination to be able to make something of yourself. While I tell the story about what happened in Tulsa, it was atrocious it was a stain on our history.
I think we can also take away some of the truth and some opportunities for progress by looking at the example of what those folks did. They didn’t have anything. They didn’t have reparations.
A lot of the business owners could not even get insurance claims paid out because the insurance companies didn’t consider what happened to them worthy of being paid for. So these people dug down deep and came together. Why can’t we do that today?
Botteri: Why, indeed, Patrice Onwuka? Join us after the break, won’t you?
Listen to the full first hour here:
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