100 years ago today, thousands of homes and businesses in Tulsa Oklahoma were burned to the ground. Hundreds died, hundreds more rounded up and jailed, turpentine bombs were dropped by civilians on homes and businesses. Rioters, supported by the police inflicted this damage on other US citizens. Why? They were black, and successful. And that seems to have been a problem.
Until recently, I did not know this event happened. Did you? Probably not, as it was buried in the mists of time with the hope that it would never see the light of day. Even most people in Tulsa did not know that one of the ugliest chapters in American history happened in their own back yard. As shown on a recent 60 Minutes program, this was more than a riot, it was violence against innocent human beings that were “different.” No one was ever held accountable for this act.
Tulsa is but one example of the price of hate and the rhetoric that demonizes people because they are different. We have all seen Black, Hispanic, Asian, LGBTQ+, Democrats and Republicans demonized by the rhetoric in the past 5 years. It continues to get worse, is encouraged be enemies of America and results from not challenging hate. Words have meaning. Saying nothing “because it doesn’t affect you” is not the answer because inaction encourages their action. It is tasset approval of their views and actions, encourages more hate and divides us further. With very few exceptions, we/they are not the enemy.
The Constitution does permit us to have free speech, which means we can say all kinds of stupid hateful things. And we do. We have few limits. But that does not mean that there cannot be repercussions for being stupid or hateful. Many of those that participated in the January 6 storming of the Capitol have been arrested, fired form their jobs, ostracized from their friends, etc. Be stupid and there will be consequences, just as those who do not follow the rules for using services will have services cut off. Private industry does not have to tolerate hate and violent rhetoric, stupid or abuse of their services.
Germany during the Great Depression found out the hard way about unchecked rhetoric. A portion of Germans elected Hitler based on grievances and demonizing people. They installed the Nazi party. It was all rhetoric – back then the demons were the Romas, gypsies, people living in certain portions of Poland and Czechoslovakia, Jews, disabled, etc. Anyone that was not Hitler’s view of Aryan. People ignored what was happening because “it did not affect them.” Until it did.
The day after Memorial Day 2021, 100 years after Tulsa, we should remember that over 100,000 US soldiers lost their lives, and 500,000 were injured to defeat the Nazism and their ilk in Europe. We no not need them here. Yet free speech guarantees them a voice and they do not try to hide themselves. Their views are all over the internet. We need to hold them accountable for their words and deeds. And we need to tone down the all demonizing rhetoric – all of it. Society depends on it.