File This Under Racism

The Tulsa Massacre and the Cultural Appropriation of ‘Hot Chicken’

Everything you need to know about this week in race and racism

Burning of a church where ammunition was stored during the Race Riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June 1921. Photo: GHI/Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

As spring keeps springing, Covid-19 vaccines become more available and pandemic restrictions ease, you probably have other things to do instead of comb the internets for the latest stories on race and racism. But you still want to stay woke. Well, lucky you — we’ve rounded up some of the important stories you won’t want to miss. Read about the fight to preserve Black Wall Street’s place in history, hot chicken as a case study in appropriation, and more.

Cementing Greenwood’s legacy

This year marks the centennial of the racist destruction and massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood district. But the remainders of the prosperous neighborhood once known as Black Wall Street still don’t have official federal recognition as a site worthy of historic preservation. Adding Greenwood to the National Register of Historic Places would qualify it for tax credits and funding that would preserve what remains and memorialize what was lost. This article in The Atlantic outlines how the Oklahoma neighborhood is a symbol of tragedy but also resistance — and how city government and “urban renewal” policies repeatedly stymied the area’s recovery. It also explains how the thing that makes Greenwood historically noteworthy — the total destruction of Black businesses and homes — left it without the physical structures needed to make its case for inclusion in the National Register. Read to find out how Greenwood descendants are trying to get the area the protection it deserves.

Is hot chicken’s popularity due to appreciation or appropriation?

Palate-searing hot chicken is now a feature on many “mainstream” restaurant menus, reaching far beyond the segregated neighborhoods of Nashville where it was created and into the bellies (and franchises) of White and middle America. This Eater essay traces hot chicken’s origins and explores its decoupling from the Black culinary traditions that birthed it. Cynthia Greenlee asks, “Is it possible to have Black culinary crossover without appropriation, in a country built on stolen Black labor? Because, in America, Black innovations are too often translated into crass or soulless reproductions (think Kardashiana), monetized by white culture for white culture. It’s an established pattern, one that hot chicken exemplifies.”

Black Lives Matter backlash in Iowa

Organizers of and participants in anti-police brutality protests in Des Moines, Iowa, have found themselves facing arrest and criminal charges and discrimination from landlords and potential employers, NBC News reports. Law enforcement conflates their involvement in the Black Lives Matter protests of last year and this year with property damage and “rioting.” But some marchers have also found a calling in activism and measurable success in making the city and its police department more equitable and accountable. It remains an uphill battle, and interestingly, almost none of the local government officials contacted for the article responded to calls for comment about antiracism measures or the arrests and harassment of activists.

“Black Mothers are the Real Experts on Gun Violence”

You definitely need to read this Arionne Nettles’ opinion piece in The Trace, in which we can read about Black mothers speaking about their experiences in their own words. The moms speak about losing children and partners to gun violence but also racist policing, being a Black gun owner, suicide among Black boys, and the lack of resources for those injured but not killed by guns. “The priorities of some people concerned about racist violence at the hands of the police — those who want to reduce the presence of officers — are often framed as being in tension with those of Black people who want their communities to be safer,” Nettles writes in her introduction. “That’s simply not true. It’s a misconception that exists in part because we don’t hear enough from those who are touched by both components of the crisis and lead the fight against it.”

News from the diaspora

Germany, like many European countries, doesn’t really collect specific data about its Black and African-descended residents and citizens. It doesn’t collect racial data at all. Modern Germany is very aware of the way Nazis used racial and ethnic information to persecute and murder Jews and other minorities during the Holocaust. But the lack of data poses a problem: It leaves the Black German community (and other minorities) without the statistics they need to tackle institutional discrimination and make the case for anti-racist policies and specific services. The AfroZensus, organized by a German Black empowerment organization, aims to change that with a survey that asked Black Germans about their daily lives, needs, and experiences. Find out more in this article at Public Radio International.

Black Joy in color and in museums

When was the last time you visited an art museum and saw nonstereotypical representations of African Americans just chilling and being happy? It’s a lot less common than it should be. As galleries and private collectors seek to diversify their collections, the bold colors and celebratory figures of Black painter Derrick Adams are in global demand. His work features Black folks blissfully floating in inner tubes, cuddling with children, and wearing party hats. Some canvases are fetching six figures in the art market, and his work is up to be featured in exhibitions from Shanghai to Cleveland, Ohio.

Stephanie Siek is a writer and editor who loves cats, cookie dough and aborted alliteration.

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