The Tulsa Massacre Warns Us Not to Trust History to Judge Trump on Impeachment
December 23, 2019 at 11:43 PM - Views: 12 #242282Judi LynnMember
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DECEMBER 23, 2019 5:35PM ET
America, a nation that is still digging up mass graves of massacred black people, fails too many tests of accountability to be trusted with the president’s impeachment
By JAMIL SMITH
Burned-out ruins of Greenwood, the African American section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 1921
White racists have long used bombing as a tactic, but they also dropped explosives onto black people from the air. You may have learned this recently from a popular television show. I doubt sincerely that you learned it in a high school history class.
The kerosene bombing of “Negro Wall Street,” as Booker T. Washington initially labeled the prosperous Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, stands out even amid the maelstrom of violence in the opening scenes of Watchmen’s premiere episode. (When it aired, explainers and even curriculums abounded online to help people understand that what they had seen, as horrible as it was, wasn’t fiction.) The superlative HBO series — which expanded the universe of Alan Moore’s seminal late-Eighties graphic novel — imagines a world in which that days-long 1921 massacre of black people in Tulsa sparked a series of events in the city that led to a reckoning 98 years later involving masked heroes and cops, a neo-Klan, two megalomaniac geniuses, and a fight for more power than any human can be trusted with.
Speaking of which, Damon Lindelof and the rest of the show’s creators experienced only dumb luck when Donald Trump, the white-nationalist president of the United States, became the subject of an impeachment inquiry during their run. The show offered a belated lesson on how the 1921 massacre manifested and later resonated throughout generations, much like an inherited cellular mutation, and it seems that the varied cruelties of Trump policy may experience something similar. More indirectly, though, the show is a reminder that history isn’t some objective record, carved into a stone tablet and preserved for all to judge objectively. History, when it isn’t used to manipulate and intimidate, has often been insufficient at holding officials accountable. In that way, the manner in which Watchmen educated the public about Tulsa actually helped expose the folly of much of the rhetoric emerging from impeachment coverage.
This may be Richard Nixon’s fault to an extent, ironic considering the Watchmen comic. The president who thwarted term limits in that world remains soiled by his crimes in this one, in the eyes of perhaps everyone but the Trump confidant Roger Stone, tattooed with Nixon’s visage. History has been on the minds of journalists and other writers tasked with evaluating the impeachment story.
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