It’s 2020, so I went looking around on the Internet. The more I read, the more upset I became. Amy and I then watched the first few episodes of The Watchman, and I suddenly had a desire to get a full picture of what happened.
I do this by reading a book. I’m not a history buff, so I don’t spend a lot of time going deep on a particular historical event. Most of the surface level history I know comes from high school in Dallas (where, of course, we began with Texas history), a lifetime of museums, occasional TV documentaries, Wikipedia, or conversations. And books.
When I’m interested in something, I read a book on it. Since I’m reading one book on racial injustice each weekend this summer (and, given the pile of books I’ve accumulated, I expect I’ll continue into the fall), I decided to make my Saturday book Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre.
I chose it carefully after reading the backgrounds of a few other books. I was looking for a reporting of the event, which I expected would be challenging given both the time frame (99 years ago) along with what I expected to be a lot of historical bias. I chose this book because the author, Randy Krehbiel, has been a reporter for the Tulsa World (Tulsa’s daily newspaper since 1905) for over 40 years and a Tulsa native. I figured, if anyone, he’d be able to mine the history from a reporter’s perspective, while balancing the topophilia he had for Tulsa, against the backdrop of a horrific event in the city’s history. Finally, Karlos K Hill, the Department Chair, African and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, wrote the foreword and endorsed the book, giving it more credibility in my eyes.
I lost myself in Tulsa in 1921 yesterday afternoon and into the evening. The Tulsa race massacre was an injustice on multiple levels. It included the willful destruction of what at the time was one of the most successful Black communities in America. In addition to the 24-hour destruction of the Black community by a variety of White Tulsans in pogram-like fashion, the ensuing several years of efforts to relocate the community, rather than allow the Black property-owning residents to rebuild, was deeply disturbing. Alongside this was a continual denial of any sort of meaningful redress or compensation by the White leadership of Tulsa.
During this period, the KKK had a new resurgence, which reinforced many aspects of systemic racism, both related to this period in Tulsa, as well as across the entire United States. Black leaders, with a few White allies, fought for justice for the residents, victims, and families of Greenwood. They also fought against the corruption, blame-shifting, and systemic racism that existed at the time in Tulsa. The Black Tulsans of Greenwood eventually prevailed and rebuilt their community.
Krehbiel handled this story exceptionally well. There are many ambiguities and unknowns. Rather than rendering an opinion, he tried to acknowledge the biases, the potential perspectives, and citied whatever he could find in history. Rather than tell the reader what to think, he painted a full story, incorporating many voices from different frames of reference, and allowed the reader to form a view and decide when the record was ambiguous, what had happened.
While an emotionally challenging book to read, I ended my day Saturday with another layer of understanding of how systemic racism is and has worked, for many years, in the U.S.
I’ll be part of a fireside chat with Rodney Sampson (CEO, OHUB) and Ben Hecht (CEO, Living Cities) where, among other things, we’ll discuss the introduction of Racial Equity Pledge.
Rodney is one of the dozen or so Black colleagues that I reached out to and talked to over the last two weeks to learn more about what I could get involved in and immediately support with time and money. Ohub is one of those organizations and I’ve already learned a lot from Rodney, such as several different ways to think about changing the equation around racial inequity in tech. A framework I got from him that I immediately related to is his Economic Development Pyramid.
Rodney did an interview with CNBC several weeks ago that lit me up with enthusiasm for working with him.
Foundry Group is closed on Friday in celebration of Juneteenth. We had an email thread go around yesterday among the entire team discussing what we are doing tomorrow, which includes attending a number of Juneteenth events, along with reading and reflecting on racial injustice.
If you are available and interested, please join us for the Juneteeneth 4.0 Celebration.
I started with the Wikipedia page for Wallace Thurman.
Langston Hughes described Thurman as “…a strangely brilliant black boy, who had read everything and whose critical mind could find something wrong with everything he read.” Thurman’s dark skin color attracted comment, including negative reactions from both black and white Americans. He used such colorism in his writings, attacking the black community’s preference for its lighter-skinned members
I didn’t know the phrase colorism nor had I ever thought about bias around it. Over the weekend, Lucy Sanders pointed me at an NCWIT article on Colorism Bias in the Tech Industry. I then went down a rabbit hole on colorism, which caused me to realize how oblivious and ignorant I was to this type of discrimination.
Emma Lou Morgan, the protagonist of The Blacker The Berry, geographically follows Thurman’s life, from Boise, the USC, to Harlem. The book is beautifully written and deeply engrossing as Emma’s story unfolds. Some of it is a coming of age story, but also a continual struggle, from a Black woman’s perspective, on dealing with discrimination from all sides, since she is darkly colored and subject to endless colorism.
The book was written in 1929. It was Thurman’s first novel. Per Wikipedia:
The novel is now recognized as a groundbreaking work of fiction because of its focus on intra-racial prejudice and colorism within the black community, where lighter skin has historically been favored.
Thurman died in 1934 at age 32 of tuberculosis. He only wrote two other books: Infants of the Spring and The Interne. I just purchased Infants of the Spring but couldn’t find The Interne.
So that I’m unambiguous about my perspective, #BlackLivesMatter.
Amy and I have been philanthropically supporting Progressive Public Policy and Social Justice Organizations for over 20 years. However, just providing financial support is not nearly enough, and I’ve decided to put much more time and energy into understanding and helping eliminate racial inequity. While I’m not sure that I have the right words (and am asking my Black friends to make sure I do), I believe that the correct term is being anti-racist.
I have no interest in virtue signaling. Since Monday, I’ve had several conversations where this phrase came up and it has been a confusing distraction in each conversation.
Stating one’s position is important. Backing it up with actions, consistently over a long period of time, is more important.
While I have tried to be an ally to many diverse communities over the past 20 years, especially around entrepreneurship, I haven’t focused nearly enough on Black entrepreneurs and investors. I regret that.
I decided that rather than issue specific statements about what I was going to do, I would use this week to learn. With everything I engage in, I believe in playing a long-term game, so rather than simply doing one thing today, I need to do many things over the next decade.
As a starting point, I’ve been having conversations with Black entrepreneurs and investors and asking one question.
“What are two initiatives you are involved in right now that I could put time and/or money into in support of you and your activities?”
If I haven’t talked to you and you are a Black entrepreneur or investor, if you have the energy or desire, I’m very interested in the answer to this question via a comment here, email, or @bfeld on Twitter.