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Teaching the Tulsa Race Riot

[ 116 ] June 2, 2013 |

This weekend was the anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, one of the most horrifying episodes of organized violence against African-Americans after emancipation.

Linda Christensen, a high school teacher in Portland, has some excellent thoughts on the importance of this event and the potentials of teaching it, especially to her group of mostly African-American students.

Like pearls on a string, we can finger the beads of violent and “legal” expulsions of people of color from their land in the nation: The Cherokee Removal and multiple wars against indigenous people, the 1846-48 U.S. war against Mexico, the Dawes Act, government-sanctioned attacks on Chinese throughout the West, the “race riots” that swept the country starting in 1919, Japanese American internment, and the later use of eminent domain for “urban removal.” The list is long.

This year, Tulsa was one of the instances we studied to probe the legacy of racism and wealth inequality. To stimulate students’ interest in resurrecting this silenced history, I created a mystery about the night of the invasion of Greenwood. I wrote roles for students based on the work of scholars like John Hope Franklin and Scott Ellsworth that gave them each a slice of what happened the night of the “Tulsa Race Riot.” There’s a jumble of events they learn: the arrest of Dick Rowland, a young African American shoe shiner, who allegedly raped Sarah Page, a white elevator operator (later, students learn that authorities dropped all charges); the newspaper article that incited whites and blacks to gather at the courthouse; the assembly of armed black WWI veterans to stop any lynching attempt—26 black men had been lynched in Oklahoma in the previous two decades; the deputizing and arming of whites, many of them KKK members; the internment of blacks; the death of more than 300 African American men, women, and children; the burning and looting of homes and businesses.

Because not all white Tulsans shared the racial views of the white rioters, I included roles of a few whites and a recent immigrant from Mexico who provided refuge in the midst of death and chaos. I wanted students to understand that even in moments of violence, people stood up and reached across race and class borders to help.

That’s some good teaching there. But this is even more important:

Sarah feared that bringing up the past would open old wounds and reignite the racism that initiated the riots. Vince and others disagreed: “This is not just the past. Racial inequality is still a problem. Forgetting about what happened and burying it without dealing with it is why we still have problems today.”

And this was exactly what we wanted kids to see: The past is not dead. We didn’t want students to get lost in the history of Tulsa, though it needs to be remembered; we wanted them to recognize the historical patterns of stolen wealth in black, brown, and poor communities. We wanted them to connect the current economic struggles of people of color by staying alert to these dynamics from the past. We wanted them to see that in many ways that historical black communities like Tulsa are still burning, still being looted.

For most of you, I don’t need to make the case why history is important, but I do get not infrequent comments from random people here on the irrelevancy of studying the past. The work I do on the history of organized labor and environmental history has important implications of understanding these issues in the present; in fact, I’d argue that an argument about what to do going into the future about the present without a grounding in the past is an argument likely to fail. Similarly, not understanding the history of discrimination and violence toward people of color in our nation founded on white supremacy allows people to blame current inequality on people’s laziness, bad morals, or racial characteristics.

Oil Pollution in Arkansas

[ 18 ] June 2, 2013 |

On March 29, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying oil from Canadian tar sands ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, northwest of Little Rock. Between 5000 and 7000 barrels of oil spilled into nearby waterways.

ExxonMobil and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality claim everything is safe for residents. But the residents’ own bodies tell them this is not true:

“I could smell that horrible smell. I got really scared,”says Sherry Appleman, who awoke to a nightmare on March 29. As the Exxon Tar Sands oil flowed through their town, residents of Mayflower reported strong odors that lead to headaches and vomiting in areas that Exxon deemed safe and not in need of evacuation. Some of residents, like Scott Crowe, were deemed safe to remain in their homes where a mere 300 yards from the rupture site. They say they haven’t heard from city officials or Exxon, but have experienced headaches, stomach pains, nausea, fainting, and have been prescribed inhalers for the first time.

Ann Jarrell reports that she stayed at home with her daughter and a 3 month old grandchild despite the smells because they were told they didn’t need to evacuate and were safe. Ann Jarrell is a beekeeper and found dead, oil-soaked bees on her porch. The state plant board agreed to evacuate her bees to a safe location, but deemed the situation safe enough for Jarell’s family. They later learned it was likely they’d been exposed to toxic chemical fumes, and are now suffering from breathing problems and have been placed on inhalers.

A local elementary school outside the evacuation zone had to send home eight students who became ill after breathing petrochemical fumes. Although Exxon had determined the air around the school safe, residents, including school officials, reported strong odors of oil in and around the building. These are just a handful of disturbing examples of illness in Mayflower after the oil spill. One Mayflower resident, despite being able to see the leak from her home, was told by Exxon that residents were merely suffering allergies. Some of the residents affected by the spill have filed a class action lawsuit.

It’s in the interest of both the company and a state who desires to serve corporations to deny any real problems are taking place. At the very least, the company should have to pay for long-term testing and be held financially responsible for any health problems that result from oil exposure. I guess this is what the class-action suit is for, but it would be better if residents didn’t have to come to this. Not surprisingly, ExxonMobil has tried to cover up the extent of the problem.

In the world of petroleum, this is an everyday event. It usually doesn’t happen in the United States, although it certainly has in the past. Normally, it is Nigerians, Venezuelans, Indonesians, and the immigrants who work the refineries in the Arabian Peninsula who suffer from direct exposure to the oil industry. But with the future of tar sands pipelines, Americans will suffer direct exposure more frequently.

The Leveraging Synergies for Matrix-Driven Perfomance Based Action Presidency

[ 77 ] June 2, 2013 |

It’s very exciting that the Romney Presidency would have been nothing more than an exercise in corporate cliches, with its leaderocity, core competencies, magnetic niches, and other meaningless words.

Nordic Diet

[ 64 ] June 1, 2013 |

The whole “Mediterranean Diet,” “Nordic Diet,” or whatnot is pretty silly generally. How about just eating relatively healthy and getting some exercise? But if you are going to do one of these, who on earth outside of a Scandinavian would follow the Nordic Diet over the Mediterranean? More pickled herring! More lutefisk! Please hold anything with taste!

Maybe I’m just permanently ruined by my own Lutheran background of hotdish. But no.

A Box of Grass

[ 20 ] May 31, 2013 |

The country music response to the hippies led to many songs that ranged from belligerent to hilarious to bizarre. Such as Buck Jones’ “A Box of Grass.”

Coal Companies Eliminate Pensions

[ 68 ] May 31, 2013 |

A couple of months ago, I noted how coal giant Peabody Coal had created a spinoff corporation called Patriot Coal with the explicit mission of sending it toward bankruptcy in order to eliminate 20,000 pensions.

A Missouri bankruptcy judge has ruled in favor of Patriot here. Mike Elk with more:

Unless the parties come to another agreement, the ruling means that Patriot Coal’s healthcare obligations will be turned over to the Voluntary Employees Benefits Association (VEBA), a fund that would be administered by the union. According to the UMWA, Patriot will only guarantee to pay in a total of $15 million, plus $0.20 per ton of coal mined, which the UMWA calculates will cover only $5 million a year in retiree benefits. Retiree healthcare for Patriot Coal’s 20,000 beneficiaries currently costs $7 million a month, the union says.

According to the UMWA, Patriot Coal has offered the union a 35 percent stake in the company that the union can choose to sell in order to better fund the VEBA. The union, however, says that “since the current and future value of the company is unknown, there is no way of knowing how much money this could provide for healthcare benefits or when such funding would be available.” The company has also proposed a profit-sharing mechanism to help fund VEBA, the UMWA says, but it estimates the plan would provide only an additional $2 million a year.

Basically, another judge has conspired with corporate America to send thousands of old people into poverty.

Battery Recycling

[ 7 ] May 31, 2013 |

As I’ve said before, the recycling business can be pretty nasty. We say something is “recycled,” which really means “I think I did something good and now I don’t have to pay attention to my role in the consumer chain.” But the reality is that once we put stuff in those nice green bins that our sanitation workers pick up or put an old phone in a box or I dispose of a car battery in way we are told is responsible, anything can happen and often does. Here’s a good piece on the problems with battery recycling and lead contamination, in the United States and around the world.

Given the very real effects of lead contamination on populations, exposing the impoverished people near these sites to lead could even lead to a higher chance of children becoming criminals.

The Ultimate Slatepitch

[ 320 ] May 31, 2013 |

Um, no.

Showgirls, as certain critical circles have begun to embrace, is not “so bad it’s good.” Showgirls is good, or perhaps great, full stop. But one of the more intriguing things about the film is that it has so widely and so consistently been misunderstood by critics and audiences alike, despite the fact that its director, Paul Verhoeven, made a career in Hollywood out of highly commercial satires that freely indulge in the trash they’re mocking. It’s a constant throughout Verhoeven’s career: nearly every one of his American films, each of which is fiercely intelligent and provocative in its own way, was received at the time of its release with a combination of confusion and contempt, each in turn not so much rejected as a failure as, more frustratingly, dismissed as unworthy of serious thought.

Has Slate already signed Calum Marsh to a multiyear contract?

Furnishing Color

[ 53 ] May 30, 2013 |

There haven’t been enough forestry posts here lately and since it’s been determined that my interest in extremely obscure things that no one else in the world cares about is what’s allowing this blog to break the trend of liberal media to lose followers in recent months, here’s something especially tasty.

In 1965, the Willamette National Forest (which is the national forest in the Cascades in the mid-portion of the state west of the mountain crest) published its timber management plan. In 1965, all the United States Forest Service cared about was cutting timber, but they had to pay lip service to the idea of multiple-use, which meant pretending to care about tourism. This is what the plan said about clearcutting:

“Clearcuts break the monotony of the scene, and deciduous brush in these areas furnish fall color and spring flowers for at least 10-15 years.”

Can’t you see the beauty?

Today in the Coming Republican Coalition

[ 192 ] May 30, 2013 |

Like every day, the Republicans are moving forward in their plans to stay relevant in the 21st century.

We have Phyllis Schlafly calling for a return to openly white supremacist politics.

Erick Erickson is saying that female breadwinners are defying nature.

Tea Partiers are making jokes about shooting Susan Collins

In other words, a normal day in the coming Republican coalition.

Must Be the Cat Boxing Videos

[ 72 ] May 30, 2013 |

It seems there’s a general decline in the liberal media since the election, both at MSNBC and on liberal blogs.

On the other hand, LGM readership is up slightly since the election and saw none of the expected post-election readership slump.

Are MOOCs Soon to Be Obama Administration Policy?

[ 144 ] May 30, 2013 |

Well, this is disturbing to anyone who cares about the future of higher education:

On Wednesday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the online courses could increase access and keep costs down. “I am very, very, very interested in MOOCs,” he said. “We need some disruptive innovation in higher education.”

No one doubts that the cost of higher education has skyrocketed in unacceptable ways. And everyone would like to increase access to education. However, Duncan’s statement on MOOCs screams of the classic “we need to do something and here’s something so let’s do it!” style so frequently used by those who seek to turn social institutions into profit-making enterprises. Why exactly do we need “disruptive innovation?” Precisely what is the problem in higher education that requires “disruptive innovation?” If it is the cost, there are plenty of things we can do. State legislatures can return funding levels to what they were 20 years ago. We can reduce administrative positions to what they were 20 years ago. We can cut expensive college football programs, most of which lose money.

Do we need “disruptive innovation” in order to increase access? We can do that through increasing on-line access in small virtual classrooms with real interaction between students and between students and faculty through discussion forums and the like. We can reduce the prohibitive cost of education through the funding mechanisms I discuss in the previous paragraph.

Turning our higher education system into the University of Phoenix seems like precisely the kind of “innovative disruption” we don’t need. The idea of teaching writing, critical thinking, public speaking, or intensive reading in a MOOC is laughable. While MOOCs assauge the egos of scabs certain highly-paid professors, they will likely lead to terrible retention rates and little real progress toward meaningful degrees.

The Obama Administration’s record on education is probably at the bottom of all its domestic programs. Obama’s support of Arne Duncan, Rheeism, and now, one wonders, MOOCs is a sign of the perniciousness of the so-called education reform movement, by which reform equals profit for investors and lower standards of education for students.

It’d be nice to put pressure on Obama and Duncan to take back this statement, but of course that isn’t going to happen.

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