Kai Wright: This is the United States of Anxiety. A show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future.
Renni Eddo-Lodge: When somebody tells me that they don't see race, I say “That's fine. You can choose not to see the sky, but it exists.”
John McHorter: There are a lot of things wrong with antiracism. There's some good things, but there are just as many that hold us back from helping Black people who need help.
Noelle Picara: I might be complicit in this system. I might be sustaining that same white supremacy and passing it onto my students.
Doll Test Researcher: Show me the bad child. Why is he the bad child?
Child: Because he is Black.
Jane Elliott: We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. White people are the free and people of color have to be brave. I want this situation to change.
Ashley Akunna: There are a lot of people who thrive in this system, but a lot of times they are killed, murdered, chased away.
Viola Fletcher: I have lived through the massacre everyday. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot. I will not.
Kai: Welcome to the show. I'm Kai Wright. I have spent my entire adult life as a journalist trying to foster smarter, better conversations about racial inequity for about 25 years now. I have genuinely never seen as many people ready to meaningfully engage on this as over the past year. Frankly, the intensity of the backlash is proof enough that something has shifted. One big reason for that shift is often cited, the pressure cooker of the past year after four years of a Trump presidency made a lot of people ready to hear new ideas.
Here's what's said less often. A bunch of really talented Black writers and thinkers and artists have been laying the groundwork for this for years and stepped into this moment with incredible work. Any list of those people would have to include Ibram X. Kendi. Ibram's book, Stamped from the Beginning, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America won the National Book Award back in 2016, but it came raging back onto many bestseller lists last year along with his 2019 book, How to Be an Antiracist, which shot to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, and the essay collection Four Hundred Souls, which debuted at number one earlier this year.
That's all before you get to the three children's and young adult versions of these books, all of which were number one bestsellers as well. Now after all that, he's launching a new publication modeled after Frederick Douglass' North Star and later this week, a new podcast called Being Antiracist. As we head into a new summer, hopefully one with continued reckoning, we wanted to check in with Ibram. He's a busy guy. I caught up with him in advance of the show. Here's our conversation. Ibram, thanks for joining us.
Ibram: Oh, it's great to be on the show.
Kai: You have been remarkably prolific over the last, I guess, a couple of years, and remarkably successful in connecting with readers in particular. I'll say one of my colleagues here at WNYC, she said when her seventh-grade daughter found out we were going to be interviewing you, she asked if she could come and watch like it was some kind of concert. You're a full-on teen pop idol.
Ibram: I certainly or obviously, the books for the adults are dear to me but as you know, Kai, there's something about kids and young people learning this. Really learning antiracist ideas so they won't have to spend their lifetime unlearning racist ideas or unlearning these notions that divide us or rank us or cause us to imagine that certain groups of people are dangerous or lazy or unintelligent. That the fact that just the beauty of a young person coming of age without that baggage, it just excites me.
Kai: Did you do that on purpose? Had you always planned, "I'm going to make these books into children's books," or did they just come to you?
Ibram: No, it did not. It was not planned. It didn't really start until I think after Stamped from the Beginning dropped. I was of course talking to people and talking about the book. There was so much feedback from people who were like, "Wow, I wish I would have learned this history of racist and antiracist ideas when I was in high school and when I was younger." I think because if we're talking about people in their 30s or 40s or 80s, they're like, "Man, I wasted away so much of my life. I wish I would have learned it early on." People would consistently be like, "No, young people need to read this book." The more people said that, the more I was like, "Okay, let's figure out a way to do it."
Kai: Sometimes I think about the guy sitting down to write Stamped from the Beginning, whatever how many years ago that was. This is a massive book. It's certainly an impressive piece of scholarship, but it is a piece of scholarship. It's not the kind of thing frankly in a book about races, normally, you would expect to resonate in the way that it has. I guess I also wondered did that guy see this coming? Either this for you personally or this moment we're in where these kinds of ideas, people would be so ready to engage with them.
Ibram: Kai, if you were to ask my wife, Sadiqa this, she will tell you this story. I might as well tell you a story, in which I finished the book, Stamped from the Beginning, and I printed out the entire book for her to read. She read it and read somehow 500 pages in a few days. After she finished with it, she said that this book is going to be a critical landmark book and it's really going to reach people and it's going to be big.
I got upset because I did not believe that. I just did not believe that people would be willing to really grapple with this history of anti-Blackness and a sweeping history from intellectual history book that doesn't really pull any punches. I just did not think and so of course, she got upset at me for getting upset at her, rightfully so. To this day, she hasn't let it down.
Kai: She's like, "Next time, believe me when I tell you something, I know what I'm talking about."
Kai: Well, it turns out she was right. A core part of your work is defining terms and defining the terms we use. You say there are three kinds of ideas. There are racist ideas, there are assimilationist ideas, and there are antiracist ideas. What is a racist idea?
Ibram: A racist idea is any concept that suggests a racial group is superior or inferior to another racial group. Then there are two kinds of racist ideas. As you stated, assimilationist ideas and segregationist ideas. The easiest way to understand the distinction between segregationist and assimilationist ideas is going back to the whole nature versus nurture debate. Segregationist ideas commonly state that let's say a particular racial group is inferior by nature while assimilationist ideas connote that a particular racial group is inferior by nurture.
Kai: An assimilationist idea, to use a good example of this, in Stamped you cite for instance, and this might be a surprise to some people, you say that Brown, Board of education, that that ruling is an assimilationist idea. That's a form of a racist idea. Why? Explain that as a way to illustrate what you mean.
Ibram: Many social scientists at the time, including Mamie and Kenneth Clark, talked about the way segregationist was, to use the Supreme Court's term, retarding, which of course is a slur now, but retarding both Black and white children in different ways. What the court found is that segregation is harming the Black child, not the white child. What it imagined is that essentially, segregated Black schools were a problem because they undermine and harm Black children. It didn't also say, the court didn't say the ways in which segregated white schools were also undermining or harming white children.
Then what happened is what? The problem became the Black space, the Black school, and the solution became the white space and the white school. Therefore, the solution was, let's get rid of all of those Black schools and bus or transfer all those Blacks kids from those inferior Black schools to those superior white schools and that will be the solution. Meanwhile, Black teachers were like, "What about us? Actually, we've been doing some good work around here. The problem isn't that. The problem is resources."
Kai: An assimilationist idea in that regard is anytime you situate the problem as somewhere in Black people, you've gone awry.
Ibram: Precisely, but then this assimilationist idea says the the problem isn't Black people, but it can be fixed by Black people becoming more white. That's why so long as these Black kids are going to these superior white schools, everything will be okay,while segregationist ideas would state no, it's actually impossible to fix those Black people by making them white, because they're like a different species like dogs and cats. You can't make a dog a cat.
Kai: That's the one we're all a little more comfortable with. We all know that we can spot segregationist idea. It's the assimilationist one that gets away from us sometimes. Before we move on to the antiracist, you have made the case that it's important to use the word racist. That we can't use some other word for that. Why?
Ibram: I just come from the school where you call a bird, a bird, but I also know that with other social ills in our society, can we imagine fighting the existential crisis of a pandemic without calling it what it is? Can we fight cancer if we're not willing to diagnose someone as having cancer because that person is going to feel devastated? No. In that vantage point, the person who receives the diagnosis recognizes that though I am feeling hurt, though I'm feeling bad right now, that doesn't mean that that person who diagnosed me is trying to hurt me. If anything, they want me to get treatment and the first step is that diagnosis, even though it hurts people.
Kai: Then antiracist ideas. What is an antiracist idea? What does that mean?
Ibram: If a segregationist ideas says that a particular racial group is inferior by nature, assimilationist ideas suggested a racial group is inferior by nurture and antiracist ideas says actually, no racial group is inferior by nature or nurture. That we're equals despite any color differences or cultural differences and if there are racial inequities in our society, they must be the result of systemic racism, not what's wrong or right about a particular racial group.
Kai: I'm Kai Wright, I'm talking with historian and bestselling author Ibram X. Kendi. Among his many exciting projects, he's got a new podcast starting this week. It's called Be Antiracist. Go out, subscribe now. After a break, we're going to get into some of the history that Ibram writes about. This is the United States of Anxiety. I'm Kai Wright, we'll be right back.
Kai: Welcome back. This is the United States of Anxiety. I'm Kai Wright, and I am joined this week by historian and best-selling author, Ibram X. Kendi. We're talking about his work, which has received a remarkable reception over the past year plus. He's now launching both a new publication and a new podcast called Be Antiracist which debuts this week, so go out and subscribe.
As I said, I've been in awe of how much you've been able to get people to engage with these difficult conversations that nobody wants to have, frankly. Black, white, purple, gray, nobody really wants to talk about racism. You have had a lot of success getting people to talk about it, but we are also right now in the middle of a very fierce backlash against that success.
The phrase critical race theory has become a household term, which is a bizarre thing to me. I guess a broad question I want to put to you is just how do you understand what's happening right now? Is it as simple as saying what you and other scholars like you have been doing in the last couple of years is working wildly and racist people want to stop it? Is that the end of the story or is there more to it than that?
Ibram: I don't think people realize this, but the 1619 Project and How to Be an Antiracist dropped the same week.
Kai: Oh, wow. I lost track of that.
Ibram: Obviously just a huge amount of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones is a creative vision in leadership of it. It caused the American people to really grapple with their past, with slavery, with historical memory in ways that certainly no other project that I can think of did. In 2019, the term antiracist was not a term that was widely used. People were still fixated on this idea that they're not racist no matter what they say or do. I think some of the backlash has to do with there's the incredible success of, I'm mentioning of course, Nikole and I, but there's so many incredible writers like yourself and thinkers and creators who have been able to reach people. As a result, there's a greater number of people who are aware of the existence of racism right now than potentially at any time in American history.
Ibram: Obviously, it's a response to that, but I also think something else is happening. When you particularly as a political party or if your organizations or your power is wholly dependent on suppressing the votes of Black, Brown and Indigenous people, of creating scenarios in which white people feel aggrieved, if you are trapping routinely and racist policies and ideas, then it's actually politically important for you to project yourself, not only as not racist, but then to go after those elements and voices in society that is actually instructing people to understand what racism is and what it looks like.
The more people understand racism, the more people will understand those racist policies and ideas and parties and institutions in our society. It's almost like a protective mechanism for particularly some of these far right wing forces in order to maintain their legitimacy among people who don't want to consider themselves racist.
Kai: It becomes a fun house mirror. That whole conversation feels like it runs through a fun house mirror to where you have-- I heard someone the other day criticizing critical race theory by saying, "Hey, you're painting light people with one broad brush and making this notion that white people have an essential trait and that's racist." I'm like," I agree that's critical--
Ibram: I agree too.
Kai: You are engaging in critical race theory right now as you demean critical race theory. It's just become so bizarre, the whole conversation.
Ibram: It is bizarre, and especially when that then is tied to my work in which one of my fundamental arguments based in research is this idea that racist and antiracist are not fixed categories. It's not something that's essential to human beings. Certainly, I reject the idea that that white people are inherently racist and I've taken all sorts of heat from people because I talk about the ways in which even people of color can be racist.
Clearly it's not tied to a particular racial group. It's really tied to what are we thinking? What are we doing in the moment? Are we challenging systemic racism or are we upholding it? Then people are saying, "Oh, that critical race theorist is saying that white people are inherently racist and evil." Clearly they haven't read my work.
Kai: They haven't read the book. Let's practice some of that right now. Let's walk through some of that because I agree, your assertions about who can and cannot be racist, have been, I would say, the most controversial part of your work. Let's start at the beginning. One of the things you write about is literally the creation of the word race and the idea. People forget this is an idea that did not always exist. You track it to 1606 when it first appeared in a French dictionary. Tell us that story. How did the word race and the idea of race come into existence?
Ibram: In 1606, that is really when people in Western Europe, from France to England, are traveling around the world. There's this vast and growing amount of what was called travel literature and travel accounts, which they're coming to of course, Africa and Asia, particularly people in Europe and certainly the Americas, and they're trying to understand these groups that they're seeing. The term race became a term in which they used to describe these different "groups." Ultimately, these races. The term though, because it was believed that different races were also different species of being.
The term race was also connected both to animals and humans. When people thought about racist in 1606, they were thinking, yes, you are a different species of animals, races, and different species of humans, races.
Kai: Then immediately began to then rank those races as a hierarchy, because the point of creating the race idea in the first place was to create racial hierarchy. Ibram, this then leads to this question about whether people of color can be racist because within that racial hierarchy, we don't actually have power. We don't have racist power. Explain how we can then exercise racist power.
Ibram: Sure, so we're correct when we say, Black people as a group certainly do not have first, proportional power to our makeup in society, nor do we of course, have more power than white people, and that's as a group. In order to practice racism, which is structural and systemic, that involves a group of people. What we haven't done, and this is what I probably could have done even a better job in How to Be an Antiracist, is recognize that racism is different than racist. If racism is structural and institutional and involves groups, racist is individual.
The question isn't do Black people as a collective group have power? The question is, does Clarence Thomas have power? The question is, does Daniel Cameron have power? The question is, does Ted Cruz have power? The question is, do that Black cop or Latinx cop or Asian cop have power? That's a different question. Do I as an individual have the power to resist racism or do I think the problem is Black people? I'm going after Black people as opposed to using my power to resist racism. That's, I think, where we get caught up because the question isn't can Black people be racist? The question is, can an individual who is Black, does that person have the power to resist racism?
Kai: Why is it important for you to make that distinction? Why is that an important distinction for people to get?
Ibram: If you're an individual and you don't recognize that you have the power to resist racism, or if you're a Latinx legislator and you literally may have some power to shape policy that can reduce inequities, or you're an Asian judge and you literally have the power to shape jurisprudence, to imagine that you as an individual shouldn't be using that power in an antiracist fashion that creates equity and justice, why would you even think about that?
Kai, I think the most important thing to know and people are always worried about, "Oh, Ibram, this can be weaponized." What's going to happen is now you're just going to have white people saying, "You see the problem isn't us, you're just as much responsible for this." First, they're going to say that anyway, but I don't think what people realize is that when you make the case that a person of color can't be racist, those who want to maintain white supremacy, those who want to maintain racism, what they're going to do is foster and nurture and put in positions of power people of color who are going to institute the same racist policies. Who are going to defend them with the same racist ideas.
Why would they do that? Because then they know that we're saying that, "Oh, we won't charge those people in the same way we charge the white people they replace because they're Black." People know that that's why, as you know, Kai, most of the people who are speaking out and calling Black people inferior, and talking about all the different ways in which Black people are a problem, many of those people right now are particularly from the right or Black. [chuckles]
Kai: You got a new podcast coming and it sounds like it's really an extension of all the writing and speaking you've been doing. The first episode is the conversation about ableism. Why start there in a podcast about being anti-racist?
Ibram: First, it is something that's deeply personal to me. I have an older brother, Akil, who's a person with a disability. I haven't ever really spoken about him and his experience and his experience as a Black man with a disability and the way in which he's faced not only racism, but ableism and its intersection. I also feel as if, to be honest Kai, I feel like a chapter in How to Be should have been on ableism, and that's one of my biggest regrets.
Then also Rebecca Coakley, who I'm talking to who's one of the foremost disability rights activists and advocates and champions in the country who also has a racial lens. I'm a huge admirer of her. If we're truly antiracist, we need to be fighting against all forms of bigotry, because they're all intersecting with racism in the lives and lived experiences of people.
Kai: In thinking about intersectionality, I do then immediately go to gender as well. Even in all of the conversations over the past year and year plus around racial reckonings, it is often the case that men and men of color in particular, are more part of the problem than we are part of the solution. We've talked about this on the show some, and I just want to put that to you as well. Where does gender fit into your How to Be an Antiracist framework?
Ibram: To me, where does gender fit? Gender is critical. There are Black men who claim that they are defenders of the Black community or that they are, "Fighters against racism," but in their mind, Black people are men. When they are thinking truly about racist policies and ideas, they're really only thinking about those policies and ideas that are affecting Black men.
Then those same Black men at the same time they call themselves anti-racist are repackaging and expressing racist ideas that have targeted Black women, or supporting policies that are maintaining inequities between, let's say, Black women and white women. I think my own growth, particularly in recognizing the ways in which I had internalized forms of anti-Blackness, part of it, what was critical was intersectional theory in Black feminist theory. I had not realized that on the one hand, I read books that describe racist ideas about Black women that are typically intersecting with sexist ideas.
I didn't realize, I believed many of those ideas. I had no idea that in many ways, I was a Black male nationalist, and I was really only thinking what's best for Black men at the same time I imagined that I was challenging racism. That oftentimes happens. We can disagree with ideas about our group of Black people, and then agree with those ideas about Black women or about Black poor people, or about Black gay people. Then cumultaneously imagine that we're challenging racism.
Kai: Before we let you go, we're talking just after the anniversary of the Tulsa massacre 100 years ago, in 1921, a white mob rampaged through a Black neighborhood, burning it down and killing hundreds of people. Just as we wrap up, I wonder if you have any reflection on that anniversary? What about it, if anything, feels relevant and important to you right now in 2021?
Ibram: There's so many different things that I think are relevant, but probably one of the things that is most relevant to me is there are people who go to different cities and see, in too many cases, this Black neighborhood is the neighborhood with the least amount of resources or higher levels of poverty and unemployment.
There's this assumption that it's because there's something wrong with those people. Then I think more and more people are thinking, "Oh, well, also it's because of incarceration. Also it's because of redlining." I think people are putting pieces together, which is great. Those racist policies or platforms or series of policies contributed to that, but what also contributed to it was literally thriving Black communities were razed.
What happened in Tulsa happened in other places around the country. When I think about what happened on Greenwood Avenue, to me is a symbol of what happened all over this country where somehow some way by the 1910s, by the 1920s, accused ventured races after slavery that Black people were able to build these thriving neighborhoods. When they started thriving too much that's when they were--
Individuals too. In the south, when they gained too much land, that's when they were white capped. That's when they were lynched. It's important for us to certainly talk about racist policies, but also know that when racist policies have failed to keep Black people down, when they failed to keep Greenwood down, there was also racial terror around the corner. So many Black people have been harmed because of their excellence. I haven't been able to really comment on what happened to Nikole Hannah-Jones publicly because it's so enrages me that she was harmed in a sense of being denied tenure because of her excellence. That is emblematic of African American History. We have to break that cycle.
Kai: Ibram X. Kendi is the author of How to be Antiracist, one of five best selling books he's published in the last year or so. His new podcast Being Antiracist launches later this week. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Ibram, thanks so much for this.
Ibram: Thank you so much for having me on the show.
Kai: Coming up, we'll reflect on that Tulsa history with my colleague KalaLea, host of a new podcast called Blindspot, Tulsa Burning. We'll take your calls. Are you learning about the Tulsa massacre for the first time this year or maybe learning something new about it? Call us with your questions and your insights 646-435-7280, at 646-435-7280. I'm Kai Wright, this is the United States of Anxiety, we'll take your calls after a break.
Kai: Hey everybody, a quick program note, your weekly recommendation for companion listening. As I talked to Ibram Kendi, I kept thinking about my conversation with another historian, Saidiya Hartman that came up in last week's episode as well. I really urge you to go check it out if you missed it. Saidiya tells all these rich stories about the kinds of Black people who too often get written out of the community's history. We talk about why that happens. It relates to the assimilationist form of anti-Black racism that you just heard Ibram describe. The episode is called the Beautiful Experiments Left Out of Black History. You can find a link to it in the show notes for this episode. Check it out and thanks for listening.
Kai: Welcome back, this the United States of Anxiety. I'm Kai Wright. At the end of my conversation with Ibram Kendi in the last segment, we talked about the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa massacre, in which organized white mobs burnt down a thriving Black community and killed hundreds of people. It was part of a nationwide spate of racial terror in the year surrounding World War I, targeting a generation of Black Americans who were simply refusing to accept their place in the racial hierarchy.
I'm joined now by a friend and colleague who spent the past several months looking back at that time in order to bring it to life in a new podcast from WNYC and the History Channel. It's called Blind spot Tulsa Burning. It's hosted by KalaLea, who joins me now. Hey, thanks for coming on the show.
KalaLea: Hey, Kai, thank you for having me.
Kai: Listeners, we'd like to hear from you as we talk. The 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa massacre has brought a lot of new attention to it. If you're hearing about it for the first time this year, or you've got questions, KalaLea may be able to answer them, 646-435-7280. That's 646-435-7280. KalaLea, as calls come in, it is the case that this history has been truly obscured. One of the striking things I heard in the first episode of your show is that a lot of Black Tulsa natives grew up without knowing about this. Were you surprised to learn that?
KalaLea: I was somewhat surprised, definitely. I think as the saying goes, two things can be true at the same time or at once. I explain it as if, you know how you might have a father, say your father's an alcoholic? Well, the guy at the bar knows that, the man at the liquor store knows that, maybe your best friend's father knows that, but you don't know that. I think that is the best way to describe why a lot of native Tulsans are not aware or were not aware of the massacre, because it was a dirty, deep, dark secret.
Kai: You had an exchange about this in the first episode that I want to play, it's a short clip. You were talking with Chief Egunwale Amusan, who is a native of Tulsa, and a grandson of a massacre survivor. He now does these walking tours of Greenwood with the mission to set the record straight. You asked him to reflect on the psychological impact of this violence. Here's the exchange you guys had.
Egunwale Amusan: When you're abused and you keep it a secret, what happens? You turn in on yourself or each other.
KalaLea: Many of the Black people who stayed in Tulsa after the massacre say they received threats that if they talked about it or sought restitution, it would happen again. Keeping this tragedy a secret meant that their loved ones were protected. You can't be afraid of something if you don't know what's possible. For white people, many were ashamed or scared to expose their more violent neighbors, or even that they would be held accountable for the actions of their parents or grandparents. The result? Generations of Tulsans didn't know about the massacre at all.
Kai: I was so struck by the shame part of that. Both this dual shame in one group and fear of stating what they see in the other group. I guess I just wonder, do you feel like that's changed at all in Tulsa? Has that been shaken up at all yet?
KalaLea: Definitely. I think that's changed quite a bit. I first want to say that it also was not a secret when I said two things could be the same. The day after the massacre, pretty much every newspaper across the country had reported what happened. They called it a riot back then, but there were reports of this. I think what was happening internally in Greenwood, people were actually, their lives were being threatened. If you say anything about this, it will happen again. You will be dead, we will harm you.
I think people who experienced it firsthand, they kept quiet. Those people have loved ones and people close to them. Something that devastating and detrimental, I keep saying think about your one block being set on fire and then multiply that by about 30 blocks, 35 blocks. It's hard to keep something that significant and that devastating a secret. I think as that knowledge and as that story was passed down to younger generations, they didn't experience it. They're more enraged. Therefore, they will fight for their parents, they're fighting for their ancestors, and more and more people got to know, and that's where we are now.
Kai: What about you looking back on this as a Black person? I hear in what you're saying there's some of this tension that we're all very familiar with in a contemporary time about wanting to bear witness to anti-Black violence, like in these videos that circulate on the internet. Also then fearing the fetishization of it and wanting to turn away from it. I just wonder about you as you've done this work looking back on this time and what it's been like.
KalaLea: I feel bad about this, but I'll just say that for Dr. Crutcher, for Terence Crutcher, the video that was posted of his death, his killing, I actually asked one of our producers, Caroline, and I feel bad about this, but I asked her to watch it and write a description of it because I just felt like I had been reading so much about the massacre and it was just already very intense and heavy for me. I knew what these videos-- Till this day, I haven't watched the entire George Floyd video. I definitely struggle with that. One thing that I did in doing this research is I watched a video of a white man who was being pulled over by police. A guy by the last name of Ware, David Anthony Ware, and last year he was pulled over.
Kai, I'm not lying to you, the amount of patience and compassion that they gave to him while he was cursing them out, resisting arrest, refusing, not following their commands. They just had a flashlight held up to his face, not guns, no weapons, just flashlights for several minutes. I think it is important sometimes-- I was enraged by watching that even more than probably if I would have watched Terence Crutcher video, which I ended up watching, because it just shows you the difference in how a young Black man is treated versus a white man.
He actually shot both police officers in the end, that white man. He actually had a gun, even though he asked him if he had one. He had a gun. It was fatal. It's really awful. I think when you gain that knowledge, when you get that kind of knowledge, it's-- I don't know. It just brings everything to light.
Kai: Just so that listeners know what you're talking about, the Terence Crutcher video it's discussed in the first episode, but one of the people who is helping bring this history back to light in Tulsa, her family member, Terence Crutcher, was shot and killed by police. Let's get in some calls. Let's go to Joy in New Jersey. Joy, welcome to the show.
Joy: Thank you for having me. I've called the number of times, I haven't gotten in.
Kai: This is your lucky moment.
Joy: Yes, I know. Thank you so much. In this past year I learned two things which I did not realize previously. One of them is that the New York Police Department was engaged, first of all, in eliminating the safe guards, all of the bodyguards and the assistance for Malcolm X and then they murdered him. It was the police department, our New York State Police department murdered Malcolm X.
The other thing I did not realize so fully as I've come to understand is that our government has been engaged in this systematically, a systematic elimination of key Black people. It's the government that's been involved. It's not individuals. The Tulsa, Oklahoma, was the government. It wasn't a mob of white people. It was the government was engaged in that, orchestrated it and carried it out.
Kai: Thank you for that, Joy. This is something you cover in the podcast, the official nature of the violence.
KalaLea: Thank you for calling, Joy. It actually was both or all of the above. There were white Tulsan residents that were involved. There were white people from neighboring counties throughout Oklahoma involved. There was the Sheriff's department, the police department, the city of Tulsa, the state of Oklahoma, the home or Oklahoma National Guard. You're right, but I want to stress that. That there were definitely average white residents of Tulsa who were involved. You're talking about somewhere up between 5,000 and 10,000. By the end, there was 10,000 people who invaded Greenwood. Yes, because you're talking about thousands of homes and businesses, and for that to all happen within a 14 to 16-hour period, it took an army, literally an army of people.
Kai: Let's go to Mayet in New York City. Mayet, welcome.
Mayet: Yes. Thank you, Kai. One thing I didn't know until this year is the reason why the language of riot was used for, I guess, decades, is because that was how the insurance companies, that was their excuse as to why they didn't have to pay any claims. My question is that it seems to me that in 2021, that the handful of survivors such as what we heard from mother Fletcher, no question she probably just gets SSI, whatever it is, where the state she's in. She had told us she's living in poverty, struggling to pay bills, et cetera, during a pandemic. If you have any insight, I mean either any aspect of the government or philanthropy has to make sure their last year, because they're up in the hundreds, would have some peace. I listen over the air. Thank you.
Kai: Thank you. What about that? Just to be clear about who we're talking about there, this is one of the survivors who has been profiled in media who is living in poverty now. Anything that you know of that's being done for survivors?
KalaLea: I can say for Mother Randall, who was the third known survivor that testified, she was the one that testified virtually, that actually Dr. Crutcher and the community had provided her, pretty much renovated her childhood home or her childhood home in Greenwood for her because that was something that she really wanted. That was one of her dying wishes or her birthday wishes rather. You're right, there hasn't been any reparations given from the city or the state of Oklahoma, but community organizations and members like Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, Justice for Greenwood organization, they have been doing their best to support those three known survivors.
Kai: Let's try to sneak in one more call. Carolyn in Neptune, New Jersey. Carolyn, welcome to the show.
Carolyn: Thank you for taking my call. I love your show. I heard there's a young man from North Carolina State University, I thought there were maybe 120 Black towns across the country. He said, no, there were about 600. He's going to research each one of them. A book should be coming out relatively soon on all the different towns that were burned down, well water was poisoned, the train through the main center of the Black business district, were taking the train 20 miles outside of Black town so they couldn't get their goods themselves to the next place. It should be very interesting to see what he finds out.
Kai: Thank you for that, Carolyn. KalaLea, I know you're passionate about this. We've had this conversation that there's so many places beyond Tulsa that had this experience.
KalaLea: Oh, yes. In Oklahoma alone, which I was really, this is one of the surprising things, is that there were 50 identifiable all Black towns in Oklahoma alone. I think there are 11 remaining, somewhere between 9 and 11 that still remain. Yes, all over the country, this is not an exception. Tulsa Greenwood is not an exception. It's not an anomaly. This was happening all over the country. Massacres, destruction. Like Carolyn just said, the poisoning of well water. It was very systemic and very cruel and vicious destroying these communities. We're going to get into that in our next episode, episode three.
Kai: Where are all of you going? In our last minute or so here KalaLea, what can we expect to come up?
KalaLea: What I'm really excited about is the next episode, because we have all had our feel of Black pain and suffering but we don't care enough about Black resistance. We really wanted to include an episode or include stories about people who were resisting. We're featuring or going to talk about one organization. It was a relatively small organization compared to Marcus Garvey's UNIA, but a very powerful and influential organization called the African Blood Brotherhood.
We are going to go over what they stood for, which very much was about the liberation of people of African descent, but also their role in encouraging people to defend themselves at any means necessary. I'm really excited about sharing that. You can say that they are probably the Black Panthers of the 1920s.
Kai: All right. KalaLea is host of Blindspot Tulsa Burning, a new podcast from WNYC and the History channel. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. KalaLea, thanks for joining us.
KalaLea: Thank you Kai for having me.
Kai: Sorry to all the callers we couldn't get to. You can reach me at email@example.com. This is the United States of Anxiety. You can catch up on all of our shows and here's some stuff that doesn't make it into the Sunday show by subscribing to this show wherever you get your podcasts or through the wnyc.org/anxiety. I hope you'll check out last week's show in particular with jazz composer, Jason Moran. It's one of my favorites, such a treat. Keep in touch, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow me on Twitter at Kai_Wright. I'm Kai Wright. Thanks for spending time with us. Talk to you next week.
The United States of Anxiety is a production of WNYC studios. Hannis Brown mixed the podcast version. Kevin Bristow and Milton Ruiz were at the boards for the live show. Our team also includes Carolyn Adams, Carl Boisrond, Emily Botein, Karen Frillmann and Christopher Werth. Our theme music was written by Hannis Brown and performed by the Outerborough Brass Band. Veralyn Williams is our executive producer and I am Kai Wright. You can keep in touch with me on Twitter at Kai_Wright. The inbox is always open at email@example.com. As always, I hope you'll join us for the live version of the show next Sunday, 6:00 PM Eastern. Stream it at wnyc.org or tell your smart speaker play WNYC. Until then, thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves.
New York Public Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline, often by contractors. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of New York Public Radio’s programming is the audio record.