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Modern-Day Tulsa, Ongoing Racial Discrimination, and the Fight for Racial Equality

The history of the United States is a complex tapestry woven with contrasting threads, some bright, others mournful and grotesque. The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 represents one of the worst chapters in American history. It's a story we must confront today as a stark reminder of the long and challenging journey towards racial equality.

Greenwood, known as "Black Wall Street," was a thriving Black and Native American community that had defied the odds by accumulating wealth through early 20th-century oil discoveries in Oklahoma. The resilience and prosperity of this community proved to be a thorn in the side of white residents who resented the growing Black wealth. This resentment laid the groundwork for the tragic events of May 31 and June 1, 1921.

The Tulsa Massacre left over 35 blocks of the city in ruins, more than 1,200 homes destroyed, and an estimated 300 people dead, most of them Black. Ten thousand people were left homeless.

The events of 1921 in Tulsa aren't isolated incidents of hatred and violence. They are deeply woven into the fabric of systemic racism, a thread that extends to this very day.

In August, 2023, the American Bank of Oklahoma, a white-owned bank, was found guilty by the US Department of Justice of engaging in the practice of redlining. The bank systematically denied home loans and other mortgage services to majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Tulsa, Oklahoma Metropolitan Statistical Area, the very same area that was the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

The finding exposes a pattern of discrimination that continues to affect Black communities, despite claims by conservative courts and activists, as noted below, that we now live in a "post-racial" society. Redlining is not an archaic practice relegated to the past; it is an ongoing systemic procedure that underscores the continuing battle for racial equality in America.

Recent legal battles against initiatives designed to address racial disparities in business remind us that, as in 1921, progress in achieving racial equity continues to be met with fierce resistance by bigots.

Edward Blum, a conservative activist who played a key role in efforts to eradicate affirmative action in college admissions, is now targeting programs intended to support minority- and Black-owned businesses. His group's actions in suing the Fearless Fund, a Black woman-run venture capitalist fund, seek to block financial support for businesses primarily owned by Black women. Ignoring both history and current events, Blum argues that these programs violate civil rights law.

The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of Blum's efforts, halting the Fearless Strivers Grant Contest. This legal battle highlights the broader backlash against initiatives aimed at boosting minority-owned businesses. The fact that Black people represent less than 3% of business owners while comprising 14.2% of the U.S. population underscores the urgent need for these programs.

A key driver of these disparities is persistent bias and discrimination within the banking and venture capital industries. As shown in Oklahoma, systemic discrimination continues to limit access to funding for Black entrepreneurs. This systemic bias remains at the heart of the issue.

Addressing these issues is a long-term process that demands a united effort from the banking and investment communities and from society as a whole. It also necessitates a commitment to not whitewash the past but to acknowledge historical injustices, like the Tulsa Massacre, as part of the national narrative. Initiatives to eliminate bias, promote diversity, and create more inclusive funding environments are critical for leveling the playing field for Black and other underrepresented founders. Legislative efforts can play a significant role in addressing these disparities, but their impact will take time to manifest.

As we continue to grapple with the legacy of racial injustice in America, it's essential that we reflect on the events of Tulsa in 1921 and recognize that the fight for racial equality continues into 2023 and beyond. It is far from over. By acknowledging our history and working together to break down barriers, we can move closer to a future where every person, regardless of their race or background, has an equal opportunity to succeed.

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