Monetizing a Massacre

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

The Greenwood Massacre or the burning of Tulsa's Black Wall Street was and is a horrific scene out of American history that was largely hidden for decades. Although archival pictures exist at the Tulsa Historical Society and some families passed down the details of what happened May 31through June 1, 1921, many adults in the U.S. are only recently learning about the atrocity.

The massacre has received international attention and with that came a strange impulse to monetize it. For the centennial, many events and projects were planned. From art projects to festivals, there was a full week of activities in Tulsa; nearly all involved selling items like T-shirts, candles, jewelry and calendars just to name a few. And I get it. For many Tulsans, these events were a chance to show black people are still thriving despite being robbed of generational wealth and despite dealing with continued disparities that the City of Tulsa has been slow to address. The events were also a way to spotlight the survivors and remind the powers that be of a debt that is still owed -- none of the residents were ever compensated for the destruction to their homes and businesses. But, many media organizations included special coverage of the centennial which means they also were able to make money from it. There were monetized You Tube videos, hundreds doing live videos on paid platforms and a plethora of other merchandise being sold outside of Tulsa to "commemorate" the anniversary.

Think about it: a thriving community and commercial district destroyed in a matter of hours while the white governance of the time worked to sweep it under the rug.

And here we are, 100 years later, designing T-shirts and mugs in profitable remembrance.

Consider what it must have felt like to run out of your home at the break of dawn, walking for miles in search of safety and not knowing what might happen along the way. You should be outraged that this happened. We should have great empathy and compassion for what the victims went through. I only wish that our capitalist sensibilities took a backseat to our efforts to remember and rise.

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