19 April, 2005
Tulsa race riot of 1921 is one of the saddest scars in America's modern
history. The year saw the burning down of the Greenwood neighbourhood
of the city - which falls in the Oklahoma state - by the invading White
crowd. Around 300 people, mostly Blacks, had died, and hundreds were
injured in the incident. Thousands were rendered homeless.
From the evening of May 31 to the afternoon of June 1, 1921, the city
witnessed the ugliest civilian killings after the American Civil War.
It was worse than the 1965 Watts riot, the 1967 Detroit riot, the 1992
Los Angeles riot and the 1995 Oklahoma city bombing.
The killings apart, the riot was aimed a crippling the rising economic
power of the Blacks. The crowd brought down around 1,500 African American
homes, destroyed more than 600 businesses, including 21 restaurants,
30 stores, two movie theatres, a hospital, a bank, libraries, schools
and the local post office.
In the American history, Tulsa is known as the "Black Wall Street".
In less than two days, the Black Wall Street had turned into volcanic
ash. Blacks' dream of creating their own bourgeoisie had died a dream.
On May 30, 1921, a rumour spread in the White locality of the town that
Dick Rowland, a Black youth, had assaulted a 17-year-old White girl
Sarah Page who worked as a lift operator. As Rowland was arrested, tension
began building in the area. As if the Whites were waiting waited for
this opportunity. The "Black Wall Street" had to be destroyed.
Rising from ashes of 1921, the Blacks are flying high in 2005. The American
magazine Fortune ran a story in June, 2004, titled The New Black Power
On the Wall Street. The story talked of Black brokers calling the shots
at the Wall Street, and how a number of Blacks are doing exceptionally
well in financial institutions.
As of today, there are three well-known Black billionaires - Robert
Johnson, Oprah Winfrey and Shiela Crump Johnson.
About half a dozen Blacks are about to join that club. There are around
a million Black-owned companies, with an annual turnover of $71.2 billion.
The spending power of the Blacks has reached $572 billion, equivalents
to the 11th largest economy in the world.
The Blacks have made their mark in the banking sector as well. There
are 25 Black-owned banks with assets worth $4716 million, 10 investments
banks with assets worth $677.3 million, 10 equity firms with assets
worth $2959 million and five insurance companies with assets worth $472.48
Companies owned by the Blacks might look tiny when compared to those
owned by the Whites, but the fact is that the Blacks have made their
presence felt in every sphere of the economy.
Compared to the American Blacks, the Dalits have nothing but small grocery
shops or manufacturing units here and there which don't find any mention
even in the community's media.
The history is replete with instances of the community leadership committing
mistakes. Mistakes sometime become so grave that they pre-destine fortunes
of the communities they represent.
The post-Ambedkar Dalit has committed a major blunder in understanding
Dr Ambedkar. Baba Saheb's resignation from Pt Nehru's Cabinet on October
10, 1951, is a case in point. One of the reasons for his resignation
was that he was not given the charge of the Planing Commission. He makes
a pointed presentation when he argues that "I was primarily a student
of Economics and Finance". Needless to add, in the post-independence
period, he wanted to usher in an era of economic emancipation of the
Dalits. He was doubly betrayed, first by Pt Nehru and latter by his
followers. The agenda of economic emancipation has withered away from
post-Ambedkar Dalit movements.
In sharp contrast, the Black movement kept its focus on the economic
question. Black teacher and reformer Booker T Washington had established
the "National Negro Business League" in 1900. The Carver Federal
Savings Bank, with assets worth $529.5 million, was established on November
5, 1948. It was the first Black-owned bank and it's there even today.
The Dalits are nowhere near those kinds of landmarks.
Unfortunately, Dalit movements attach little or no importance to the
economic question, particularly when individuals, communities and nations
are fighting for their share in the market. It is altogether a different
issue that most Dalit movements split on the question of "financial
irregularities". Can the community do something concrete so that
an Indian newspaper titles its story as New Dalit Power on Dalal Street?