Making things right. Twelve-step programs, in particular, teach about making amends for past misdeeds, and about making things right. The legal profession strives to settle conflicts over contracts by making the injured party whole. When a system is guilty of wrongdoing, of wrong thinking that has resulted in harm to others, how do they make amends, how do they make things right?

The law, in particular, actually puts time limits on claims for certain misdeeds, certain wrongdoing – statutes of limitation. You can’t seek redress for a robbery fifty years later. You can, however, seek redress for a murder forever. Who decides? Is the damage from a robbery gone after the time limit that has been set? Has the damage from a murder still lingering after fifty years, or more, and if it is what exactly will heal that? Sometimes it seems as though we are still dealing with the Calvinistic notion of simple revenge, like for like, eye for an eye. I doubt such remedies are truly satisfying.

I’m still delving through the history of the Tulsa massacre. There’s a lot out there, which amazes me since I am just discovering so much of it. But there it is, free for the taking on the interwebz. So, I am taking. I watched the CNN documentary, as I’ve discussed previously, and have toured through a few historical offerings on YouTube that document the Greenwood District and North Tulsa (Black Tulsa). South Tulsa was white Tulsa and was the other side of the railroad tracks from Black Tulsa.

What I saw this morning was footage of survivors’ testimony before Congress about their experience in the massacre. One is 107 years old, her brother 100 years old, and another is 106 years old. All three of the witnesses testified they see those events of May 31, 1921, in their minds every day. For 100 years, that horrifying day is repeated for them like a never-ending movie. They were small children when these events occurred, and they all describe how they felt safe and secure before May 31 that year, and that was all destroyed by June 1st.

The 107-year old told of her life with only a 4th-grade education, employed as a domestic worker in the homes of white people all her life. The centenarian gentleman spoke, after his sister had completed her remarks, and explained that he is a military veteran. When he returned from military service, he recounted that his re-entry was not the way he expected it to be. He said he was not able to receive benefits of the GI bill, which allowed many a veteran to purchase housing with low-interest loans, because of the color of his skin. His voice broke when he told the panel of elected officials that he served his country because he loved his country, and he still loves it. He still loves it, and still wants to see justice before he dies. That’s as basic as it gets.

This particular man saying that he was denied GI Bill benefits because of the color of his skin struck me as particularly absurd because if you did not know this man identified himself as Black, you would not question that he was white. He and his sister are very fair-skinned, so denying him benefits because of the color of his skin is just…insane. This is about assigning a label of “different” based on a lot of other things separate from skin “color”.

I viewed another panel discussion, with Ph.D. and activist participants, and heard about different aspects of the massacre’s aftermath. They were dealing with the question of what “repair” would look like, what reparations would make things right. I suppose a part of that involves going back in time, and intuiting what things might be like had the massacre not occurred. That seems daunting, if not impossible. But, financially, there is a value that can be placed on property destroyed and business income loss. Many of the business owners and homeowners had insurance coverage, but every claim was rejected by the insurers following the massacre. Seems like there were exceptions for damages caused due to a riot. Isn’t that interesting?

The riot exemption reminds me few insurance claims after Hurricane Katrina when a lot of claims for destroyed homes were rejected because homeowner’s policies included an exemption for “acts of God”. The hurricane was an act of God, so…it’s right here, in the small print, you can’t claim for flood damage if the flood was the result of the hurricane. You’d have to have been covered by a Federal Flood Insurance policy, which most people didn’t have because it was expensive. My mother had it, but she paid dearly for it on her school teacher’s salary. In the long run, though, no policy claim will ever restore exactly what you lost. That really can’t be done, but an insurance settlement can certainly help.

So, again, it’s systemic. I understand all about actuarial tables and probabilities of hurricane damage in certain areas, tornado damage in certain other areas, earthquakes in others, but riot coverage???

The “Black Wall Street” area in Tulsa was dealt a mortal blow on May 31st, 1921 and they are still recovering from that because there have been subsequent injuries. A few years later, urban renewal plans to “help” minority residents brought the interstate down the middle of the Greenwood District. Houses and property were expropriated for the construction, and adjacent land parcels remain vacant to this day. More importantly, there are vacant spaces in the once tightly knit community, to this day. Let’s not ask why Black people don’t have generational wealth any longer.

How is a systemic wrong made right? Financial reparation alone will not fix this. New playgrounds and building murals will not fix this. Acknowledgment and sincere amends, with pledges of changed policies and statutes, will go further. Again, back to twelve-step recovery – you make amends for your misdeeds by taking responsibility for them, acknowledging that you did them and they caused harm, and then you do everything you can do to make sure you don’t do them any longer. Don’t repeat the wrongdoing. This is what the Tulsa survivors are demanding – acknowledge there was systemic wrongdoing, and take steps to ensure that is corrected and won’t continue to happen. That’s pretty simple, albeit not easy.

I keep saying that Tulsa was a powder keg waiting to explode, so the trigger event of a Black man allegedly touching a white woman in an elevator was nearly inconsequential. Anything could have set those events in motion. When you have a large amount of gunpowder in a keg, it’s high risk and usually a matter of time before circumstances coincide to make the explosion a reality. It would seem responsible to reduce the risk by eliminating as many of the factors that might conspire for an explosion, but if the system that serves you is one of destruction cleanup, you don’t want to mitigate any risk factors. You’ll be out of work if there’s not an explosion at some point, so it doesn’t serve you to reduce the risk.

That’s how systemic oppression continues to work. We just have to figure out who is served by allowing the risk to exist, by allowing poverty to exist, by allowing the crime to exist, by allowing the drugs to exist. There is money to be made in all of those negative circumstances, so…follow the money. When the Interstate highway bulldozed parts of Black neighborhoods all over the country, it behooved analysts to look at what was destroyed to make way and what could benefit from the completed project. Sometimes you can’t track that until after the fact, but sometimes you find there are plans for things like a new hospital district at the end of the off-ramp that demolished that neighborhood. Who makes money from that development is generally not the neighborhood residents.

After Hurricane Katrina, people continually asked what the problem was in getting houses rebuilt, why there was so much damaged housing still in disrepair months, years later. They concluded that people were avoiding responsibility for their property, didn’t want to return and spend the money to take care of the blight. That may have been true for a very small percentage of people, but if it’s not worth your while to return to New Orleans to deal with your property, it was probably not worth much to start with. In many cases, properties were not owned by the residents, only rented, and the property owner could not be located. In other cases, because once again there were so many instances of inadequate insurance coverage, there was no money to return and no money to effect repairs. The Act of God plunged many people into the Bowels of Hell, and they had no way of getting out.

So, until we can get people to acknowledge the systemic wrongdoing, we cannot begin to change the paradigm of systemic oppression. We have to stop the informal redlining of communities, the social engineering that goes on formally and informally to dictate where people live by race. Simply determining where potential Black homeowners can be approved for home loans is the root cause of how our cities and suburbs develop. Schools, hospitals, and infrastructure follow those lines, so before long, a municipality is in over its head. In New Orleans, the city very nearly drowned.

Reparations are a touchy subject. I believe there is a lot that is misunderstood about the subject, and many people believe we’re just talking about giving some people a handful of cash because of stuff that happened a long time ago. In some cases, that could be part of the remedy, but reparations have to go a lot deeper than money. First of all, people who have been directly impacted by systemic oppression (e.g. survivors of the event, descendants of others were were directly impacted) must be included in the design of the reparations. They must be allowed to contribute to the solution, must be allowed to speak their needs and how they could be made whole.

Second, those so horribly mistreated by the oppression and its legacy must be fully and publicly acknowledged in a variety of ways, such as historical representation. Don’t keep arguing about teaching true history in schools because it might cause discomfort to children. I don’t believe the discomfort people want to avoid is their children’s, I believe it is their own. We have to be willing to be earnestly and honestly educated about what has occurred, about how that history contributes to the mess we’re in now. We have to be willing to search our souls to learn about how much discomfort we’re all experiencing, and how we can stop doing what makes us all feel so badly, makes us do things that don’t work.

Third, we have to learn how to stop casting blame. That doesn’t help anything and keeps us impaled on events and trigger points but allows us to ignore the causal factors. How many times have people been able to get away with causing harm, only to face no consequence? How many times have policies been established to prevent consequences for misdeeds? How many times have policies been selectively enforced based on biases and prejudices? We have to have the courage to look at that. If we don’t, the word patriot should be expunged from our vocabulary, because we don’t know anything about patriotism. Patriotism requires courage, and commitment to the common good and not your own.

Some people in this country believe a civil war would be a good thing, that it would push all of these issues to a head. Interesting concept, but I fear that what they mean by “a head” means they would beat back the onslaught of undesirable people and circumstances so they are returned to a position of superiority. That’s not going to happen. We are now a multicultural nation, and we can’t reverse that or pretend that multiculturalism doesn’t exist. We’ve done a lot of damage with our mindset of superiority based on race and gender, and we can’t erase that damage. We’re going to have to repair it, heal, and go beyond. There may always be a scar, but if we do the healing correctly, it won’t hurt any longer.

I still love my country. I still have faith in my country. These so-called patriots? Not so much.

4th grade education, domestic servant, but I was happy before they destroyed my home when I was 7.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

2 thoughts on “Recovery

  1. For me the thing that was most of interest in this post was the reasons behind why the insurances and government policies were/are the way they are. I know this is only an aspect of the post &, for many, nowhere near the most important but for me it’s a look into the minds behind things. You made many other good points in this post but I’m just going to focus on this one which I can comment on.
    The thing that I’m thinking is that these are people who choose money over lives. Not just black lives but any lives that they feel are vulnerable. It’s also the biggest thing that came to mind when the previous president was elected in. It’s the thing that sticks in my mind every time I look at this world in flux and one which I feel gets lost so often.
    Yes, racism exists but greed of vultures can’t be ignored in the dangers in this world ( and, as you pointed out, if there’s a profit in racism then the greedy vultures would support it ) and just because a group of people become strong enough to be safe doesn’t mean that the vultures will be short of victims.


    1. Agreed – greed is universal and knows no race or creed. The annoying thing is seeing a large group of victims experiencing the vultures pecking at them when they believed they had taken the necessary steps to protect themselves. And by “annoying” I mean a much stronger feeling, but that word will do for now. Being victimized by someone else’s greed or selfishness can destroy optimism, trust in the system and its agents, and eventually rob people of hope. And you’re correct – the vultures will never short of victims.


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